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Michael Franti Spearheads the Virtual-Concert Revolution While Keeping His Small Business Afloat

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Michael Franti has been around a minute. The 54-year-old Northern California native first debuted on the music scene in the mid-1980s as part of underground noise-rock raconteurs The Beatnigs. By the early '90s, he'd moved on to seminal political hip-hop outfit The Disposable Hereos of Hiphoprisy. But it was his next and ultimate project — the band Spearhead — that brought all his influences to the fore, leading to more significant airplay on radio and MTV and a following that has endured for more than a quarter-century.

Today, Spearhead remains a melting pot for Franti's excursions into everything from rap and punk to jazz and dancehall reggae, with a steadying emphasis on melody and uplift that tracks with the singer-songwriter's evolving spirituality — as well as his decision, in 2011, to open the Soulshine Bali Yoga Retreat Hotel with longtime creative and business collaborator Carla Swanson.

Nine years on, Soulshine is still in business, and Franti is very much still in demand as a performer. But the pandemic created immediate challenges to both sources of income. (His wife, Sarah Agah Franti, is an entrepreneur in her own right, helping to run Soulshine while selling custom jewelry.) Naturally, he tried to address them both by launching a series of paid-admission, livestream virtual concerts from the Soulshine property, the next of which takes place September 19.

Flexing a high-profile white cap embossed with the words "Stay Human" in all caps (a nod to a popular Spearhead album and a 2019 documentary of the same name) and otherwise flanked by a simple indoor palm plant and acoustic guitar, Franti connected via Zoom video with us one recent, hot August night from Bali, where he's been quaranting with his family and the Soulshine staff. Over the course of a half-hour conversation, he reflected on summoning the kind of chemistry he's accustomed to at packed venues for fans tuning in remotely, the brass tacks of keeping Soulshine's doors open and people on the payroll, and what he learned from all those years as an independent musician that's helped him navigate the current circumstance.

Related: If the Black Crowes Adapted to Ecommerce During the Pandemic, So Can You

You have a pretty irrepressible spirit, but has this cirumstance challenged that, even for you?

When I started earning a living in music, I said to myself, "I'm not going to spend my money on stupid shit like cars and jewelry or clothes." I would invest my money in things that could make me money in the future. And so I built this hotel here in Bali. Little did I factor in a global pandemic. I have optimism in the sense that when music does come back, it's going to be a sign that........

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