Michael Franti is on the road. He is touring with his new documentary and album “Stay Human.” He is a storyteller and a gatherer of stories. One of his happiest places is surrounded by people telling theirs, laughing through the curves of life’s mercurial highway. He loves people and they love him. He gathers them because he needs them. They fuel his spirit and shed light and laughter on his dark places.
Yes, this larger than life (6’ 6”) musical force of positive energy has his demons, his days where he can’t see the way. His music is an anthem to being human, a good human, the kind of person who faces adversity and lends a hand. Because these are the people he honors and emulates via documentaries, lyrics, barefooted singing interaction. The songs are his own life-giving mantra because he sees the beauty and the ugly and he wants the beauty to win: within himself in his own battle with anxiety and depression and outside in the world he admits is often “an alarming sh** show,” especially these days. He’s got Woodward’s “Fear” bookmarked on his bedside to try to make sense of it all, to research like a good citizen of the world what the heck is happening on what he gently but boldly laments, “this alarming” world stage.
His album “Stay Human,” with his self-directed documentary “Stay Human,” is a strong fusion of his funky beats from early albums and the message of his matured worldview that joy gets you further than rage. Victoria Canal, a new addition to his playlist and tribe, comes in with strong co-writing and vocals that compliment Michael’s on compelling new cuts like “Flower and the Gun.” “We could be the healing/When you’re feeling all alone/We could be the reason/To find the strength to carry on.” That’s the vibe and Canal’s harmonies layered over Michael’s vocal, his often verging on soothing, spoken word, make us feel we can be all of this. The music is truly uplifting. He wrote the plaintiff “Nobody Cries Alone” for his own household and nobody would cry alone on this planet if he could have it his way.
He sounds better than ever. His listeners will find the ever-present and addictive pulse to follow Michael’s urging to “stay positive in an environment of adversity” as he belts out lyrics in appealing grooves like “When The Sun Begins to Shine.” The production team from Nashville, with Zac Brown Band cred, definitely get a nod for a new flavor harkening back to “Wayfarin’ Stranger” but with a Nashville sound update, in this cut and others on this album hot off the presses. “Stay Human 2,” a reworking of an oldie that never grows old and the convivial “Summertime Won’t Last Long” are a light layer for the getting-down-to-business message Michael has taken on sharing as troubadour. The documentary travels the globe to where people are facing challenges and, doing what inspires Franti himself so much, ordinary people doing extraordinary things, “finding a way to get through with optimism and tenacity.” He gathers his voice with others old and young in far reaches that are far from his San Francisco sheltering sky. This pure life energy is reciprocal for Michael. We are to him as he is to us. “People inspire me to know I can do it too. I can find a way through my depression and anxiety and go forth!”
The little “p” in politics keeps him going, “the little “p” is what makes the difference in lives. Take time to listen to a teen, a stranger, volunteer in your community. It has an immediate effect. And you feel better too.” His Do It For The Love Foundation gives magical moments through live concert experiences to those suffering. “Through the healing power of music, our goal is to inspire joy, hope, and lasting celebratory memories in the face of severe illness or trauma.” More than a mere mission statement, it’s making a difference and touching countless lives. One of those lives we get the privilege of watching, as he bravely weakens physically and strengthens spiritually, as the documentary follows fan and human Steve Dezember on his path to live with Lou Gehrig's disease. Steve’s valiance empowers everyone around him. That’s the power Franti needs and channels. The strength of Staying Human through it all.
And so we go. Audiences at his shows literally clamor to touch him as though he is the fountain of an unnameable elixir. We follow this pied piper in the colorful life parade the likes of which feel like a march on the streets of New Orleans as the high stepping sounds of “When The Sun Begins To Shine” lead us out of the powerful faces and stories of the documentary, out of this album and onto the streets to do our own good, to do what Michael encourages us to do, which is simply “do what you can.” He has used the tools he was given: big heart and personality, internal rhythm and compelling presence. What are yours, he beckons us to find? How will you stay human? How will you touch the life of another? How will you heal yourself in the process?