Soul and roots rocker Michael Franti is a Bluesfest favourite and this year he and Spearhead return to the iconic Byron Bay festival for the first time since 2015.
Michael's history with Bluesfest dates back to 1998 and his first performance there with Spearhead. Since then he has appeared no less than 9 times over 18 years and Michael himself has said that Bluesfest is one of his favourite places in the world.
That sentiment is echoed by Bluesfest co-founder and organiser Peter Noble who shares an extended friendship with Michael. “I have been working with Michael for around 20 years now,” Peter says.
“We both also live part-time in Bali as do a number of his band members. [We] have become friends, yet I still love experiencing his performances.”
Peter goes on to explain what makes Michael Franti & Spearhead such loved and valuable members of the Bluesfest family that keeps them, and audiences, coming back time and again. “Michael Franti & Spearhead are simply one of the best festival bands around,” Peter says.
“They transform their audience into a peace-loving whole, as if they were one mind – which is what Michael actually calls 'The Transformation'. The joy experienced at a Franti event is palpable; there is none better in music at achieving this.”
As well as being a critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter and musician, Michael is a man who wears many hats including that of spoken word artist, poet and activist.
It is Michael's spirit of togetherness and the transformative nature of his live performances that Peter says aligns with Bluesfest's own charter of community and inclusivity the event has maintained for the past 28 years.
“Bluesfest believes in the power of music to transform and enlighten,” he says. “Michael Franti & Spearhead are exactly what we are about – using culture, music and good vibes to make a better planet.”
Michael's collected discography is truly immense, spanning 30 years form his early days with The Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy, through to his ongoing work with Spearhead.
In 2016, Michael Franti & Spearhead released their ninth studio album 'Soulrocker', which garnered attention from fans and critics alike and found its way to number five on the Billboard US Top Rock Albums chart.
In Australia the album only peaked at number 65 on the ARIA Albums charts, but nevertheless Michael's popularity in Australia is yet to wane.
Michael has defined the term 'soulrocker' as: 'One who lives from the heart, with compassion for all and possesses a tenacious enthusiasm for music, life and the planet.'
In this spirit, recently Michael has combined the soulrocker philosophy and his passion for music with that for yoga to create a combined music and yoga experience at his own Soulshine hotel and retreat in Bali.
In a 2017 interview published in the Colorado Springs Independent (12 July), Michael tells Chris Parker: "[Yoga's] the only thing that keeps me from being a total jerk to the people that I love," he laughs.
"When I feel super stressed out like I'm going crazy, I get on my yoga mat and 45 minutes later I feel like I can at least approach things from a place of not being totally pissed off.
"There are so many things that we see that are in a state of crisis right now... if you want to help the world, right now it's like shooting ducks in a barrel."
In the same interview, Michael also discussed the challenges he and his family endured when his son was diagnosed with a chronic kidney illness.
"By the time we found out he'd already lost 50 per cent of his kidney function, and yeah it's a really hard thing. You sit there and go, 'why this kid? He's the nicest kid ever', and he's my kid.
"Slowly but surely, our family started to pick up the pieces," he says. "It's actually become something that brought our family together. Something I thought was going to destroy us brought us together as a family, and my son just graduated high school."
Outside of music, Michael has also strayed into filmmaking and in April he will premiere his new documentary 'Stay Human', which he describes as:
“An experimental journey through music and stories of some of the most inspiring people on the planet that I've met along my travels, who have chosen to overcome cynicism with optimism and hope – and remind us all what it means to say human.”
The film will have its world premiere at the Ashbury Park Music & Film Festival in April.
As part of his musical philanthropy, Michael and his wife started their own charitable organisation in 2013 called Do It For The Love, which works to make live music dreams come true for disadvantaged people.
“It’s kind of like Make A Wish for music,” he explains to Ashley Bulayo in a 2016 interview on 'The Young Folks' culture blog.
“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.”
Getting up close and personal with his fans is just one of the many reasons he is a beloved artist and performer, and Bluesfest is no exception. Few in attendance would have forgotten his 2014 appearance when he invited a young fan on stage who was recovering from a stroke, in an inspiring onstage moment that left many touched and not a dry eye to be seen.
Michael's career is replete with such examples of humanity and compassion, using his music as a vehicle for positive change and connecting people globally through a united vision for a better world.
With all the wonderful Bluesfest memories and moments Michael has been a part of already, it's looks certain that his performance this year will be another uplifting experience that will become treasured memories for years to come.