A longtime San Francisco resident, Michael Franti discusses life in the city, his neighborhood in Hunters Point and his new Soulshine tour that that pairs yoga with music from Michael Franti & Spearhead, Soja and Brett Dennenn this Saturday at the Greek Theatre.
There’s no shortage of topics for a socially conscious musician from San Francisco to discuss. What are your thoughts on the recent turmoil with gentrification and other related issues over the past year?
San Francisco has always been a great place for creative people to live and it’s a very diverse place—we have people from all walks of life, languages and sexual identity. When it costs more to live here, it’s difficult for that diversity to stay here. That’s unfortunate because that’s what really makes the Bay an attractive place.
We, as a community, need to make sure people can earn a living wage in our community and stay here and keep that diversity and creativity that makes the Bay Area special.
You’ve been here for a long time. Does this change feel any different than past changes in the city, for example, the first dot-com boom/bust?
When I first moved to San Francisco, it was a very different place, especially when you look at areas like the Western Edition, the Fillmore and even the Lower Haight. There was a lot of black neighborhoods there that aren’t here anymore. Projects and housing developments were turned into high-rise apartments and other things.
I still see that taking place, not just in the Bay Area and around the country. I’m not sure it can be totally prevented from happening. People go where the rent is cheap and they take over and things change.
I’ve lived in Hunters Point now since 1996 and my neighborhood is pretty much the same as it was. I’m sure eventually that will change, too.
When did you first move to San Francisco?
I moved to San Francisco in 1984. I went to University of San Francisco and played basketball there for a few years. While I went to USF, I would go to the Haight and hang out and go to bars and concerts and meet people just hanging out on the street—punk rockers, hip hoppers and deadheads. It became a place where I really fell in love with music.
Probably doing all the things that your coach told you not to do.
You mentioned your home in Hunters Point—a part of the city not a lot of people make it out to—what should people know about your neighborhood?
Hunters Point came to be from the Hunters Point Shipyard. During WWII and afterward, a lot of people came here from the South to work in the shipyards. When the Naval base shutdown—I think it was finally shutdown in the early 90s—a lot of people lost their jobs. At the same time, crack really came into this community, so there was a lot of unemployment, a lot of drugs and a lot police and community conflict.
There is still a lot of that urban activity that is out here, but the community itself is really strong. I lived in other neighborhoods and didn’t know the first name of anybody in my building for years. Out here, people spend a lot more of their life out on the street.
I know all of my neighbors by first name and we look out for each other and help each other out. There is a deeper sense of local community than what I felt in other parts of the city.
What do you enjoy doing in your downtime when you are home?
I have a tiny, little garden, probably 15 feet by 15 feet, and I love to spend time in my garden. My son Ade is 15 years old now and we love to go to concerts together.
Right before I went on my last tour, we went to Oakland to see Childish Gambino and we were in the middle of the crowd jumping up and down. In San Francisco, there’s always something to do and I try to take advantage of it as much as I can.
Across the bridge, you are bringing the Soulshine tour to the Greek Theatre with yoga and music. What inspired that tour?
I started practicing yoga on tour 13 years ago, and every city I would go to I would find a yoga place and show up for a class. I started inviting fans and yoga teachers to come to our shows and practice yoga backstage at our concerts.
Last year, we did a show at Red Rocks in Colorado and invited fans to come practice yoga while we did an acoustic set. We thought maybe a couple hundred fans would come, but we ended up having about 2,000 fans show up. We decided to take that concept on the road, so we assembled some of the most well-known yoga teachers in North America and we’ll be performing acoustically with the other artists on the tour. It will turn into a proper rock concert after that.
Another big show you used to do is the free Power to the Peaceful concert in Golden Gate Park. Do you think that will ever return?
Yeah, we want to bring it back. It got to the point where the city was telling us it was too big and we needed to charge money and fence it off to limit the amount of people that could come to it. We didn’t want to do that, and at the same time, the city kept increasing our costs to be there from a few thousand dollars to almost $200,000. We have taken some time off, but we want to do it again. Hopefully, next year we can bring it back.
The Soulshine Tour is at the Greek Theatre on June 21. Yoga is from 3:30pm to 5:30pm with instructor Nicki Doane. Doors for the concert open at 6pm. Tickets start at $45.