Michael Franti has been practicing yoga for 13 years and making music for much longer; recently he figured out how to combine these two passions in a unique way. His Soulshine tour brings audiences together with an hour long yoga class accompanied by a relaxing acoustic set, followed by Michael Franti and Spearhead’s energetic reggae-infused folk rock along with performances by SOJA, Brett Dennen, Trevor Hall, and Sonna Rele.
Driving through the Ozark Mountains between tour stops, Franti took some time to chat with me about why yoga and music aren’t so different, his one-year experience living in Edmonton, and his Do It For the Love Foundation.
“I started doing yoga 13 years ago on tour as a way to take care of myself,” explained Franti. “I wasn’t getting enough sleep and eating bad food. I would go to different yoga schools in every city, and I met hundreds of yogis.”
Franti made it a habit to practice yoga before his shows and began inviting people to come early and join him. It was five to 10 people at first, but then he did a pre-show acoustic set and yoga class before his show in Red Rock, Colorado, and 2,000 people came out. “We thought why not do this across the country?” With some of the best yoga teachers and a few other great bands to play alongside Franti’s Spearhead, the show is the best of both worlds.
Once you put two seemingly different things together, it’s easier to see their similarities. Music and yoga do have some things in common, said Franti: “The main thing is they both open windows to the soul — you learn to breathe into [yoga], and music is the same through sounds, music, lyrics — they open your heart.”
Practicing yoga before a concert brings the crowd together and creates a different audience dynamic. “I really love the idea of one mind,” said Franti, explaining that the crowd is united at the end of the yoga session. “Everyone is jumping together and dancing together by the end of the yoga class. It’s great to see that take place in yoga — most of the time it’s an inward practice, but at the shows it always ends up with everyone dancing,” he said.
For Franti, yoga is a very personal experience. “There’s a real commitment to yoga and it brings up a lot of questions for me when I’m on the mat,” he said. “It brings you back to experiences, you live through it and you let go — transform and let go. When you’re doing that it’s different than just showing up and forgetting.”
Franti is looking forward to the first of two Canadian stops on this tour (the other being Toronto). “Vancouver was the first place I ever did a concert outside of America,” said Franti, so the city will always have special meaning for him.
Although he has lived in the US most of his life, Franti has a few Canadian connections. When his mother got a teaching job in Edmonton, Franti lived there for a year during grade nine and explained that it was a big city compared to his hometown in California. “The last thing you want to do is be ripped apart from friends, but it was one of the best experiences — to see America from the outside and experience a different culture. It really shaped who I am today.”
Franti’s other Canadian connection is his girlfriend, Sara Lua, who is an emergency room nurse from Saskatoon. Looking to combine their two careers of healthcare and music, they created a foundation called Do It For the Love, which provides concert tickets to people with life threatening illnesses.
The couple was inspired when they met one particular couple, Steve and his wife Hope. Franti said that when Steve found out that he was dying from ALS, he said to Hope “I would understand if you leave, but if you don’t, will you marry me?” Hope wrote to Franti and said that Steve’s last wish was to see his show. “We were so inspired by their love,” said Franti. There are many artists participating in their initiative including Kings of Leon, Train, Santana, and Third Eye Blind.
With all that love in the air, Soulshine is sure to make your heart smile. Vancouver-based yoga guru Ryan Leier will lead the yoga class in Vancouver, and Franti said that it doesn’t matter what age, size, or shape you are. “We want to bring music and yoga to all people.” He also emphasizes that “it will be incredible music. We want Soulshine to be a tour that is a kickass musical concert.”
Soulshine will be at the PNE Amphitheatre on June 26. For more information, visit soulshine.com.