Singer-songwriter Michael Franti is no stranger to the Bottlerock Music Festival in Napa, California. Having performed on the festival’s stages for three years out of four is an incredible feat. This past weekend, Michael Franti and Spearhead rocked the main stage late Friday afternoon with nothing short of an epic performance. The next day, we got to sit in on a press conference with Michael Franti and bass player Jay Bowman where they talked about their experience with the festival, Franti’s Do It For The Love Foundation and even politics.
What is the biggest difference between playing a solo bill and playing a big festival like Bottlerock?
Michael Franti: Jay [Bowman] and I do a lot of gigs together without the whole band. Some days it’s for 30 people at a radio station, some days it’s for 30,000 people at a festival with the band. Sometimes it’s just Jay and I waking up at like two in the morning and going, “Let’s go play out on the street corner in whatever town we’re in.” Always the goal is to try to create intimacy. You want to create a connection between to you and the audience and break down that barrier. When you do that with more people it can be more exciting, but sometimes it’s more intense when you’re just doing it in small situations. We like doing it both ways and any opportunity we have to play music, we relish the opportunity. It works great with what we do.
So this isn’t your first year at Bottlerock. What keeps bringing you back here? What’s your favorite thing about the festival?
Franti: This is my fourth time here out of four years. The first year we played and the second year we didn’t but we had so much fun being here that I just brought my family and we just hung out. I think the thing that makes it great, you know we’re San Franciscans and there’s no big real Northern California festival like this that has so many genres and styles of music that appeal across generations and across musical genres. So we love being here. It’s a welcome break to come out here and get away from the city and kinda be like in the Napa Valley. And there’s wine, of course. It’s just a great experience for Northern Californians to have a festival of this scale that’s why we love to come back.
I know you have this Do It For The Love Foundation and you grant wishes to concerts. Did we have any wishes granted at this Bottlerock festival this year?
Franti: My wife and I have a foundation called Do It For The Love. It’s kind of like Make A Wish for music. So we bring people with advanced stages of life-threatening illness, children and adults with special needs, and wounded veterans to see any concert they want to see in North America. I never imagined that I’d buy as many Taylor Swift concert tickets as I have in the last two years. We do every kind of concert. Everything from Jay Z and Beyonce to Metallica to Clint Black, Garth Brooks. Anything. We get people to any show they want to see. Yesterday we had a family that was here, we did a wish grant for, and the last two years we’ve done over 500 wish grants. Probably by the end of this year we’ll probably be closer to a thousand because more and more people keep hearing about it. We’re super excited about it. We did a benefit here that was sponsored by Bottlerock festival. Bottlerock has really gotten behind the Do It For The Love Foundation. We did an event last year and we did an event this year that was bigger, raised twice as much money. We’re super grateful to have it happen.
Would you talk about the Do It For The Love Foundation and what brought that on? What’s the significance of that for you?
Franti: Sure. Well, Do It For The Love was started when we had a couple who were tweeting us and the husband had very advanced stages of ALS which is the worst possible disease you could ever get. One day your finger doesn’t work, a week later your whole hand doesn’t work, a couple months later your leg doesn’t work and eventually your whole body becomes paralyzed and you die of the atrophy. So, his wife was tweeting me saying “Michael, you’re his favorite artist. He wants to come see you play and if he could possibly meet you, that would be incredible.”
So, we invited them to come and the day I met Steve, he was in a wheelchair he could barely speak in whispers. His wife had to guide the wheelchair around with a joystick. And we brought them out on stage during the show and they got to come out and dance with us on the song “Life Is Better With You.” And I Iook over at Steve and he whispers up to Hope, and he says “Hope, I want to get up and dance.” So with all of her strength she lifts his rigored body up out of the chair and they have this beautiful slow dance in front of 20,000 people. I started to cry and I looked over at Jay, he’s crying. I look over at Sara, she’s crying, the whole audience – 20,000 people – are moved by it. And, afterwards Steve told me that during the previous two days of the festival he was like the weird guy in the wheelchair that everybody tried to walk away from.
After having the experience of being introduced on stage, suddenly everybody came up and he was Steve. People said, “Hey Steve!” “Nice to meet you, Steve.” “It was great to see you on stage.” So Sara and I said, “Let’s do this for as many families as we possibly can.” So it started from there and it’s continued to grow from there. I think the best part of it is not just for the person who’s sick but also for the whole family because a lot of times it becomes a full-time job taking care of someone who is dying. And, the other great part is to see how it’s affected the artists. To get an email from, like Ed Sheeran. He tells me he’s done over twenty wish grants and to see how he’s been so inspired by it, how it’s touched him and how other artists along the way have been so moved by it. So it’s been a win-win for everybody. We’re just super grateful for doing it.
This is for Jay. You did that long, sweltering gig last night. You were DJing and bopping until, I don’t know what time. Are you tired?
Jay Bowman: I’ve been tired since I was fifteen. [laughs] I just got used to it. You know, adrenaline is a great thing actually. Just being apart of something that has such a positive momentum. It’s amazing what the human body can endure.
Michael, you talk a lot about politics in your music and yesterday you reminded everyone to get out and vote. Can you just talk about the importance especially for young people to be involved in politics this year?
Franti: Well, you know this year I’ve been looking at the election and I think to myself, “This is the most important election our nation has ever had. Perhaps for the world.” And then I think to myself, “Four years ago I thought the exact same thing.” And four years before that, I thought the exact same thing.
We live in a democracy that only 50 percent the population is registered to vote. Half of those are either Republican or Democrat and only half of the people who are registered end up voting. So it’s half of half of half that end up actually electing the president. It’s somewhere around eight percent that actually vote for the candidate who wins. Right now, it is a very important time. I said at the end of our set that I believe in building bridges, not walls. I really feel like we need leadership in this country that does that. That reaches across the aisle in Congress and in Senate. That reaches across neighborhoods. That doesn’t look at things in terms of the one percent versus the ninety-nine percent. We need to have the best that science has to offer, the creativity of entrepreneurs, the wisdom of indigenous people, the enthusiasm and energy of youth.
Everybody has to be involved to address the things that we see that are big in the world today like: climate change, the refugee crisis in Syria, those 2.7 million refugees just in Turkey alone who’ve traveled out of Syria just because their homes being destroyed and their lives being at risk. These things are huge, huge issues that the world faces today and America, we have a really big role to play as the most prosperous nation in the world. We have so much good that we could do and there is so much that needs to take place in our country before we can have that overspill into other places. We need leadership that is committed to that. And I don’t think it happens just one day a year when you vote for president. We have to vote 365 days a year with the way that we spend our dollars, the issues we get behind, the way we support our communities. So, I want people to vote not just in November on the election, I want young people to feel like they can vote every day of the year by the things that they do.
[Note: Questions are from members who attended the press conference]