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Why Michael Franti Hasn't Worn Shoes for 14 Years

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Photo via <a href="http://instagram.com/michaelfranti">Michael Franti</a>/Instagram
Photo via Michael Franti/Instagram

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Once in a while a musical performer will complain that life on the road is stressful and say they miss their family. And the rest of us roll our eyes and think, "Oh, poor you, with your champagne and parties." But regardless of how fun it may seem, there's no denying that the rock and roll lifestyle can be unhealthy. So Michael Franti, a San Franciscan and often-touring performer, found a better way to cope. Instead of downing PBRs, he opts for copious downward dogging.

Franti has become quite a yogi, and while touring the country over the past decade-plus has collected favorite instructors. Now, he's gathering them together, along with some like-minded musical performers, for a traveling yoga and music tour that's the first of its kind called Soulshine. A mass yoga session accompanied by Franti and friends playing acoustically will be followed by performances from Michael Franti and Spearhead, Soja, Brett Dennan and Trevor Hall. The yoga instructors will include Baron Baptiste, Sean Corn and Ryan Leier. Soulshine is coming to the Greek Theater in Berkeley on June 21; buy tickets ($45 to $155) here. And read on for our sit-down with Franti, who reveals why he loves yoga, how growing up in the Bay has influenced his music, and why he hasn't worn shoes for 14 years.

Where did the idea for Soulshine come from?
"I've been practicing yoga on tour for 13 years now. I really found it was a great way to keep myself together as I would be getting into an airplane or a tour bus, eating bad restaurant food and staying up late. I needed something that would keep my body-mind-spirit connection, and I found yoga.

In each city I would go to a different class. I met lots of instructors and I started inviting people to come practice backstage or in a parking lot. Then we did a show at Red Rocks in Colorado and we invited fans to come. I would play acoustically and we'd do yoga. I thought maybe 100 people would show up—we had 2,000 who came. So I thought why not take that concept and do it all across the country? We hope that people who have never practiced before will have the chance to try it for the first time, and those who have would have the chance to practice with the best teachers—or just to have fun.

So we'll do yoga for a couple hours and after that it will turn into a proper rock concert."

Soulshine is also the title of one of your songs, what made you name the festival after that particular song?
"Yoga is a something that helps my soul to shine. It helps me get up when I feel like I'm too tired or stressed out or if I'm not feeling super confident today about anything in my life or I'm having a bad hair day or whatever it is making me feel like I'm not living my full life. Music is the other thing that helps me do that."

How did you choose the yoga instructors?
"There are about five or six different teachers across the country. They will all take turns being on the road and being on the tour bus with us. They're all people who I've practiced with before and have known and love their teaching."

When you're composing music do you think about the song's relationship to movement? Like dance or yoga or other types of exercise?
"The connection between my music and yoga is mindfulness. I try to make songs that inspire people and make people think about the world in a different way than they had before. And where i think music and yoga are similar is that they both open windows to your soul. There are times when your body says stop, but your sould says you can stay in this pose a little longer, or you can go a little bit deeper, and you challenge yourself or find that connection even when you think you can't.

Music does the same things for me. If I'm feeling tired or worn out, I turn on music and feel like there are greater possibilities out there. Maybe a song will make me cry or laugh or dance around just when I need that to change the way I'm feeling in that moment."

How did growing up in the Bay Area influence your music?
"Being in San Francisco, where I've live since 1984—it's a city of incredible diversity. We're a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water. That makes it impossible to run away from each other. If you can't learn to get along with difference you're going to have a hard time living here. So it's really affected my life in a very positive way to be in the Bay Area."

Has being adopted affected your music or the trajectory of your career?
"My birth mother held me for one hour before I was adopted by the Franti family. They are Finnish-American and had three kids of their own when they adopted myself and then another African American son. So I grew up in this very mixed family. I have one sister who's lesbian, a brother who's a police officer, another sister who's an engineer, and another who's an artist. We're all very different people and at times I felt lonely. I felt like, 'I'm different, I don't fit in with all these people,' and that led me in life to want to speak to that experience in my music. Also in my political beliefs, I've always believed in speaking for people who don't really have a voice. But at the same time, my mother was really insistent that all of us be given the same opportunities to succeed, and even though we were really different, she supported us in being unique and tried her best to make us feel like our uniqueness was what made us beautiful. So I think that experience of being adopted really has shaped me and my music. It also created in me an empathy for people who feel different or who feel left out or under-appreciated."

You've been recognized for your political activism and you've made a film about the Middle East. Is that something you're still interested in?
"Yes it is—I guess I'm not so interested in politics as I am in ways that people make a difference in the world. Sometimes people feel like the only way you can make a difference is by voting for someone who will do it for you.

I'm soon releasing a documentary called 11:59 about three people who have inspired me in my life. One is a midwife in the Phillipines who has set up midwifery clinics in many countries around the world and has brought thousands of babies into the world in families who can't afford medical care. Another is a man who's living with very advanced stages of ALS. He was a fan of mine and he came to a concert. I met him and his family and I was really moved that even though his body was slowly becoming more paralyzed, he was able to find this amazing spirit to persevere and keep a sense of humor. Third is a man in Indonesia who has been reforesting places that have been clear cut with bamboo. He's working with locals to find ways to earn a living and finding new technologies to make products out of bamboo."

Sounds amazing, when will the film be released?
"It's coming out probably at the end of summer in August."

We are kind of shoe obsessed here at Racked SF, so we're very curious about your no-shoes lifestyle.
"My better half Sara is actually a jewelry and clothing designer, and when we first met, she was not so sure about this no shoes thing. I've been not wearing shoes now for 14 years."

Whoa! You must have some serious callouses by now.
"I do! I started going without shoes because I'd travel to places where people couldn't afford shoes. When I first tried it my feet were so tender, I couldn't do it. So one day I thought, let me see if I can go three days. Three days turned into a week, and then a month. At 10 years, I started partnering with Soles4Soles, which helped out after hurricane Katrina. We now send shoes to 50 countries.

Speaking as someone who loves clothes, and who lives with someone who loves clothes, not having to think about what shoes I'm going to wear adds about 20 minutes to my mornings and nights out."
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· Soulshine [Official Site[