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Anthony Theon Michael Franti
Michael Franti had lived a life fueled by optimism and positivity. But in 2020, when the musician and humanitarian found himself stranded in Bali as the world shut down due to the Covid pandemic, he couldn't help but feel helpless.
"I remember getting a call from my manager, because we were supposed to go out on tour with Kenny Chesney, and the first show was at the Dallas Cowboys stadium for 80,000 people," Franti, 56, remembers in an interview with PEOPLE. "The tour had been postponed for 30 days. It felt like the world was over, you know?"
Little did Franti, or anyone else, know that the world and all its plans would screech to a sudden halt for far more than 30 days.
"We had just done finished leading a retreat in Bali, and my wife Sara and I had to make a decision whether we were going to stay or come back," remembers Franti, who has had hits with songs like "Sound of Sunshine," "Say Hey (I Love You)" and "I Got You." "The more we thought about it, the more we thought it would just be fine to stay where we were."
But when the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 grew more dire and borders around the world closed, the musician found himself marooned, both physically and emotionally. "We were left to ask the big existential questions of our life," says Franti, who suddenly found himself unemployed for the first time after having spent 30 years on the road.
And then, just when it seemed as though things couldn't get much worse, they did. In April 2021, Franti lost his biological father, with whom he'd reconnected as a young adult, to COVID.
"We had to have a Zoom funeral," Franti, who was adopted as a child, says quietly. "I didn't know my father growing up. I didn't meet him until I was 22 years old."
The experience, while somber, left the artist with a renewed mission for his life. "The down time I had after my dad died gave me this chance to do everything with my son [Taj, 3] that I never got to do with my dad," says Franti, who also now serves as the owner of Soulshine Bali, a 32-room top-rated boutique retreat hotel located in Ubud, Bali. "That was my way of grieving. Every day I'd say to Taj, 'What do you want to do?' And it was almost the same answer every day at five o'clock, when he'd say, 'I want to find a stick.'"
And it was there they would go. "We'd find a stick and we'd play with it in the creek, and we'd sharpen it and roast marshmallows and pineapple," Franti remembers. "And then he would look at me and ask me why I was crying. And I'd say, 'Because I never got to do this with my dad.'"
Anthony Theon Michael Franti
It was these little moments that inspired big things for the California native, including the creation of Franti & Spearhead's most recent album Follow Your Heart, a record filled to the brim with lessons and lyrical treasures held within uplifting songs such as "Good Day for a Good Day" and "Brighter Day."
"I've always written from a place of great emotion," Franti explains. "Sometimes, it's from a place of happiness, but other times, it's just me trying to figure out the big questions of life. I wrote songs that reminded myself how to best tackle life's hard moments. I needed that reminder during this time. I believed that if I needed this reminder, so would the people."
Among those songs is the album's title track, which Franti says "was the answer for me to every question for a long time."
"When I look back on my life, there were times when I didn't follow my heart. And those were the times when now I look back and I go, 'God, I really wish I had,'" says the singer, whose wife and son are set to travel from Bali to his tour bus next month as he and his band continue on their Follow Your Heart world tour.
Even in his darkest times, Franti has always been committed to finding the underlying lessons of it all. "I have learned that happiness isn't necessarily the goal," he says. "The goal is to have ease of heart so that whatever is inside can passthrough easily. If I need to cry, I cry. If I need to take a walk and scream in the woods, I do that. If I need to have a dance party at eight in the morning with my wife and son and we jump on the bed and we turn the music up super loud, we do that, you know?"