Michael Franti Talks Soulshine Tour

Ahead of Michael Franti’s tour, the musician talked to Pollstar about the connection between his two passions and what yoga means to him since he started practicing 13 years ago while on the road.

The 31-date excursion launches June 19 in Santa Barbara, Calif., and runs through Aug. 2 in Whites Creek, Tenn.

The afternoon portion of each Soulshine stop is devoted to a mass yoga session led by teachers including Baron Baptiste, Seane Corne and Ryan Leier, while accompanied by an acoustic music jam with Franti and friends. The evening festivities feature full music sets from Michael Franti & Spearhead, SOJA, Brett Dennen and Trevor Hall. Sonna Rele will appear as a special guest during Franti’s performance.

There will also be an evening DJ tent, art gallery, sustainable living activities and local musicians’ platform.

With the tagline “Music and Yoga For All,” longtime yogis and newcomers alike are welcome, no matter your experience level, age, shape or size. Mats will be provided and artists will be practicing side-by-side with fans.

Franti – who has been featured on the cover of lifestyle publications including Yoga Journal, Origin, Mantra and Yoga – is supporting his 2013 album, All People.

Photo: facebook.com/michaelfranti

Can you talk a bit about why you created the event and what yoga means to you?

Well, I started practicing yoga 13 years ago and I was on tour. And it was a way for me to refresh my body and my mind and connect my spirit – all three things together – during a hectic life in airplanes and buses and restaurants and shows and stuff. And I started attending classes in every city that I’d go to. I’d go to a different yoga studio every day. And I’ve been to tons of yoga schools all over America. Eventually we started inviting fans to go to our shows and practice either in a park or a parking lot or wherever we could before our shows. Usually it would be like five to 10 people and [as] it started to grow spontaneously over the years, more and more people would come.

And then last year we played a show at Red Rocks in Colorado and we decided to do an acoustic music and yoga event before the show. And we expected maybe 100 people to show up – but we had 2,000 yogis.


Yeah! So we decided this year, why don’t we do this in every city that we are going to travel to. So we invited some of my favorite teachers, Baron Baptiste, Seane Corne, Ryan Leier and many other teachers, to come out – different teachers in different cities. We’ll be playing acoustic music as they lead the asana and then it will turn into a big rockin’ rock concert.

When you first envisioned creating the Soulshine Tour, were you mainly hoping to reach the segment of your fan base that was already practicing yoga or were you trying to inspire newcomers to give yoga a try?

Well, our tagline for the tour is “Music and Yoga For All.” We have a lot of fans who already practice yoga who we are expecting will really dig coming out to this tour. But we’re also hoping to get a lot of people who are first-timers, people who said, “I always wanted to go to a yoga class,  but I thought yoga was only for flexible people or skinny people or for people who have the right yoga clothes (laughs) or whatever.” And we want to make it accessible for everybody to try it and just experience it in a really fun way, a playful way, with music. That is going to be a class that’s exciting and fun for people who have practiced yoga for many years, and also fun and exciting for people who have never practiced before.

During the afternoon yoga session, some performers will play acoustic music while other acts practice side-by-side with fans. Will you be performing or taking part in the yoga session?

I’ll be playing music but usually when we do the yoga jams I get on the mat a little bit. And we’re going to have so many great musicians on tour so hopefully I’ll be able to talk them into taking their turn on stage so I can practice a lot. But we’re also going to have a tour yoga session for all the bands and crew to be able to practice early in the day before the doors open for the festival. A time to really hit the mat.

Will the tour be providing mats for fans?

We’re going to have some different mat companies that are going to be providing mats on tour. But if you do have your own mat you should bring it. But we will have extras there.

Photo: Jay Blakesberg

Did you handpick the lineup for the tour?

Yeah, we picked all the different artists because they’re bands that I know and love. I love them as people and I love their music. But they’re also bands that I hear in a lot of yoga classes around the country. They’re all really incredible performers and they’re all involved in yoga and health and fitness and taking care of themselves on the road. So we we’re really happy to have all four of the bands. And there will be a lot of jamming that takes place. I’m sure you’ll see Trevor and Brett and the guys from SOJA on stage with us, all in different various formations.

Can you talk a little bit about the combination of yoga and music?

Well, where I think the similarities between yoga and music really occur is that they both open the windows to your soul. You know, there’s times when my body feels incredibly tired and my mind feels really taxed and I’m saying to myself, “Gosh, how can I go any further? I’m just feeling really challenged today.” And it’s my soul that kicks in and says, “You know what? You can love a little more, you can work a little harder, you can take more time to just sit down and ground yourself.” And music is one of those things that really uplifts me in that way. Yoga does the same thing for me. It really lets me know that when I feel the most challenged in my life, I can get through those times and still remain challenged and focus. That’s where I think the power is in bringing the two together.

What’s your favorite music to listen to when you practice at home?

It really depends on my mood. There’s time when I love to just listen to old reggae from the ‘70s: that’s probably what I turn to the most. But there’s times, if I’m in a really emotional place and I know I’m going to get on the mat and start crying, I’ll turn on U2 really loud. Or there’s other times when I just want to dance and will make a selection of hot dance tracks. I love going into classes where other people are teaching and being surprised on the mat. There’s some times in class where I’m hearing a song for the first time and I want to get a piece of paper and write it (laughs) or write in the corner of my mat [to remind myself] to ask the teacher, what is the name of that song at the beginning of class?

Photo: Jason Moore
Raleigh Amphitheatre, Raleigh, N.C.

Do you have a favorite yoga pose?

I love practicing vinyasa yoga and doing sun salutations, getting into my body and moving and sweating. I really need that after all the jumping around that I do on stage. I love to do inversions so if I had to maybe pick one I’d probably pick the headstand.

I have yet to master that one.

It’ll come.

After practicing for 13 years, is there still a yoga pose out there that you’re still challenging yourself with?

There’s so many. I mean, the thing about yoga that I love is I always feel like I’m just scratching the surface. There’s always a place to go deeper in my practice. And not just in the poses but in my breath and mindfulness. I’ve had very tight hips for a long time and worked on trying to get into lotus for 13 years and have still yet to do it. But every day that I’m on the mat I feel like I get a little bit closer to opening my hips up. So that would be one.

Photo: John Davisson
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, Tenn.

I like how you said there’s still so much to learn, whether it’s mindfulness or working on your breath. It reminds me that there’s a reason we call one’s personal journey with yoga a “practice” – because you never really master yoga. You can always get back on your mat and continue practicing.

Yeah. I mean that’s the thing about practicing as a musician, it’s the same thing. After a while you start to get comfortable and you feel like, “Oh, you know, I can master this kind of music or I know these chords on the guitar.” And then you see something that just blows your mind or you hear somebody play something in a different way and it gets you. It brings you passion again for music and passion for trying something new. And I feel the same way about yoga.

What type of yoga will be taught during the sessions on the Soulshine tour?

It’s mostly vinyasa flow classes. Teachers that we have are from all different walks of life. We have some really incredible acro yoga teachers, who are going to be coming out and joining us from Australia. So we’re excited to be doing some partner yoga as well as yoga on the mat. All the different teachers are all so incredible – just voices for life and [they’ll be] sharing their wisdom and their activism and their love for the planet. It’s going to be really fun.

And you’re also going to be partnering with local yoga studios?

Yeah, in every city that we go to we’re going to be connecting with local yoga studios there, getting their teams and their teachers out to assist in the classes. If there are any studios that would like to get involved you can just send us an email or just [contact us via] our Facebook page.

Photo: facebook.com/thesoulshinetour
The musician/yogi demonstrates Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II).  

Upcoming dates for the Soulshine Tour:

June 19 – Santa Barbara, Calif., Santa Barbara Bowl          
June 20 – Los Angeles, Calif., Greek Theatre          
June 21 – Berkeley, Calif., Greek Theatre    
June 22 – San Diego, Calif., SDSU Open Air Theatre 
June 24 – Jacksonville, Ore., Britt Pavilion       
June 26 – Vancouver, British Columbia, PNE Amphitheatre          
June 27 – Redmond, Wash., King County’s Marymoor Park           
June 28 – Bend, Ore., Les Schwab Amphitheater    
June 29 – Troutdale, Ore., McMenamins Edgefield Amphitheater  
July 1 – Missoula, Mont., Big Sky Brewing Amphitheater  
July 2 – Hailey, Idaho, Sun Valley Center for the Arts       
July 3 – Salt Lake City, Utah, Usana Amphitheatre
July 5 – Santa Fe, N.M., The Downs of Santa Fe    
July 6 – Morrison, Colo., Red Rocks Amphitheatre 
July 8 – Kansas City, Mo., The Crossroads  
July 10 – Chicago, Ill., FirstMerit Bank Pavilion @ Northerly Island         
July 12 – Des Moines, Iowa, Simon Estes Riverfront Amphitheatre           
July 13 – Indianapolis, Ind., Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn At White River State Park
July 15 – Toronto, Ontario, Echo Beach      
July 17 – Asbury Park, N.J., Stone Pony Summerstage       
July 18 – Boston, Mass., Blue Hills Bank Pavilion  
July 19 – Gilford, N.H., Meadowbrook       
July 21 – New York, N.Y., JBL Live at Pier 97      
July 22 – Philadelphia, Pa., Skyline Stage @ Mann Center For Performing Arts    
July 25 – Wilmington, N.C., Battleship Park           
July 26 – Portsmouth, Va., Ntelos Wireless Pavilion           
July 27 – Charlotte, N.C., Uptown Amphitheatre At The NC Music Factory         
July 29 – Boca Raton, Fla., Sunset Cove Amphitheatre
July 30 – St. Augustine, Fla., St. Augustine Amphitheatre  
Aug. 1 – Atlanta, Ga., Masquerade Music Park       
Aug. 2 – Whites Creek, Tenn., The Woods At Fontanel

For more information visit Soulshine.com and click here for the tour’s Facebook page.