Michael Franti Trio brings ‘Soulrocker’ to Belly Up Aspen

Michael Franti photographed at the Labor Day Festival in Snowmass Village in 2012. He plays Belly Up Aspen with the Michael Franti trio on Thursday.
Aspen Times file |

If You Go …

Who: Michael Franti Trio

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Thursday, Dec. 8, 9:30 p.m

How much: $75-$135

Tickets: Belly Up box office;

When he goes on the road with his trio, fans get to see another side of Michael Franti.

The singer and activist is coming off the European leg of a tour in support of “Soulrocker,” which he released this summer. He’s doing a quick three-show Colorado tour with the Michael Franti Trio — his lineup with bassist Carl Young and guitarist/DJ J. Bowman — that comes to Belly Up today.

The trio of concerts offer a folkier stripped-down acoustic version of Franti’s mix of rock, reggae and hip-hop — a slightly different take from his solo performances or shows with his longtime band Spearhead.

“It gives me a chance to do a little bit more storytelling,” Franti said from Whistler, British Columbia, on Monday. “To tell the soulful and often hilarious stories behind the songs, especially songs that are about what’s happening in the world, about how they relate to what’s happening right now.”

For example, “We Are All Earthlings,” a standout track on the new record that touches on familiar Franti themes of equality and environmental stewardship, traces back to an aboriginal man in Australia sharing the creation story through a traditional song that takes days to sing.

But on “Soulrocker” and on 2013’s “All People,” Franti has integrated some electronics and dance beats into his eclectic sound. His sunny, celebratory dance tracks also have their place in the setlist when he goes out with the Trio.

”It all wraps up in a giant dance party,” he said. “It’s this gigantic, acoustic party vibe.”

With the Trio, Franti also takes some of the more elaborate, bass-beat dance compositions of recent vintage and breaks them down into more lyrics-centered acoustic performances.

“You hear it in a different way and it takes on some new meaning,” he said. “But we still like to rock out. We like to get people on the floor and we might do a version where we start it acoustic and then go into something with a beat that people can rock out with.”

So, if you’ve seen Franti a million times — and many in Aspen have, between his regular performances at Belly Up and headlining slots at Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day Experience — the Trio show promises something new.

It’s also Franti’s first time back in Colorado since the presidential election. In a time of despair for many like-minded progressives, with the U.S. acrimoniously divided, Franti says telling stories — and listening — are the key to finding unity.

“There are so many stories to be told, and when we understand each other’s stories we can have greater empathy and we can find places where we can meet,” he said. “That’s the thing. It’s about finding ways to tell those stories.”

Since Election Day, Franti has played at a handful of rallies and protests. The singer has a long history in activism for peace, social justice and environmental causes. He said the election of Donald Trump has already changed his role as an artist and brought urgency to his work.

“I think it’s ‘11:59,’” he said, referring to his 2013 song. “Really, it is, for people who have been called to protect water, to fight for social justice, to speak up and be allies of the LGBT community, who believe that America can be a place for all people and not just some. If you believe in standing up for inclusion instead of bigotry, and not bullying, then now is the time when all of us have to kick it into gear and find ways to apply our skills and energy to really standing up.”

The recent protests at Standing Rock, North Dakota, bringing native peoples and military veterans together to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from digging through sacred land, Franti said, are proof that resistance is not futile.

“We’re going to be tested, and perhaps that’s a good thing,” he said.

After today’s Belly Up show, Franti will play Vail Snow Days on Friday and the Ogden Theatre in Denver on Saturday. He’s developed an intimate relationship with Colorado over the years, including volunteering with the Buddy Program and Aspen Yoga Society and launching his nonprofit Do It for the Love Foundation in Aspen in 2013. His affinity for Colorado is linked to the people’s traditions of environmental stewardship and connection to nature but also, of course, to its love for music.

“Nowhere else in the world do people say, ‘Hey let’s hop in the car and go to a concert’ and that’s a four-hour ride,” he said with a laugh. “It’s the best music fans in the world.”