Michael Franti lifts spirits in Tahoe, across the globe

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

Michael Franti & Spearhead rise to the occasion before a packed MontBleu Theatre on Sept. 15.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

Musical warrior Michael Franti answers the phone with a road-roughened voice.

“I’ve had a bit of the flu, but my spirits are high,” he says, managing to bring a subtle brightness to his weary tone.

Franti and Spearhead just completed one of longest world tours of their career, a soul journey that took them from England to South Africa, Indonesia and Japan.

“It was out first time in South Africa, an incredible country of people and culture, ” he says. “The dichotomy of the remnants of apartheid are still there and they are painfully trying to make their way toward healing the nation. There is an incredible amount of poverty that is still largely based along color lines. “

Larry Sabo / Tahoe OnstageFranti believes the difficult political situation in South Africa only makes people’s love of music more potent.

“Everywhere you go there are people singing in large groups,” he says. “In every school we visited there was choir of 50 people waiting to greet us. I would hesitate to call anyone a musician there because everyone makes music in South Africa.”

Long revered as both a musician and activist, Franti rarely hesitates to make his opinion known, most recently regarding the polarizing events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and elsewhere throughout the nation.

“First of all, there should never be any moment of hesitation when being in opposition to racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and misogyny,” he says of President Donald Trump’s belated response to the tragedy in Charlottesville. “There should never be any hesitation in us standing up to those things. They are the antithesis of America values.”

Franti has words of advice for both the white nationalist and anti-fascist (Antifa) movements. The two sides engaged in violence at protests and counter protests sparked by the planned removal of a statue of Confederate war hero General Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. Political activist Heather Heyer was killed when she was run over by a car at the protest.

I would ground my son for the things the president tweets every day. What that is telling to our children is not cool. I’m happy to engage in discussion about any of things that are dividing issues, but I draw the line at being an asshole.

“When we are opposing political violence we have to be nonviolent,” Franti says. “Protest is form of communication so you can either communicate love or communicate hate. I believe everyone should be able to have their voice heard. I believe firmly in freedom of speech, but the freedom to drive a car into a group of protestors is not a right and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Franti believes that truly effective protest celebrates what people are in support of, not necessarily what they are against.

“Right now, we really need to be waving a flag for the importance of diversity, fairness, kindness and humanity,” he says. “Unfortunately, we have a president at the moment who is a bully. I have a lot of friends who are diametrically opposed to what I believe in politics, but they are not bullies. I would ground my son for the things the president tweets every day. What that is telling to our children is not cool. I’m happy to engage in discussion about any of things that are dividing issues, but I draw the line at being an asshole.”

Last month, Franti participated in a protest for peace and equality in San Francisco that was scheduled to counteract a white nationalist rally the same day.

“We intentionally chose not to go to where they are because we didn’t want there to be a skirmish,” he says. “We want the conversation to be about equality and unity.”

According The Associated Press, the white nationalist protest was subsequently canceled due to fears of violence between opposing sides.

Aside from taking the “Love Out Loud Tour” around the globe and fighting for world peace and equality, Franti has recently been working on a new film about how music helps get people through challenges.

“It’s been a really amazing journey traveling around the world and talking to people about how music lifts them up,” he says. “When there’s no hope, they turn to music like medicine. It’s affirming for me because that’s what I’ve always done.”

-Sean McAlindin

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

About Sean McAlindin

Sean McAlindin is a writer, musician and educator based in Truckee. When he's not drafting new story ideas, he can be found jamming with his Celtic bluegrass band, Lost Whiskey Engine, hiking for a local backcountry powder stash or hanging out with his daughter, Penelope.

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