On June 6 I witnessed the magic of Ani DiFranco LIVE for the first time!! My lateness to the party is humbling. I’m 37 and have probably been hearing about her since I was 19, circa 2000. Where else, in college! I remember buying an 8 x 10 glossy picture on a campus sale of Ani sitting in a men’s bathroom, meditating in front of the urinals. She was wearing a black stocking hat, maroon shirt and yellow pants with black combat boots. Typical Ani, claiming a male space as her own. Sue Ellen was a fan, as have been the majority of the self-aware, Feminist friends I’ve known since then. I almost bought an album randomly once: it was “So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter,” but I was not adventurous enough at that age. I now own nine Ani albums, with “Dilate,” and “Not a Pretty Girl,” and “Binary,” among my current favorites..
I am changed. I want to bathe in her lyrics and see her as many times as able. Where she plays, I will go. I want to allow all my feelings and work through them on paper. Her rampant courage flares up the writer in me. Most inspiring is how she seems to just accept all feelings: her lyrics demonstrate such range of emotion. And she is a live wire of energy, her arms strong as cables, her voice bigger than Donald Trump’s narcissism. Her freedom overwhelms you, sharpens you and wrenches open your heart. Her cargo pants with floral patterns defiant, it’s obvious they are true anachronisms.
And I realize that activism is not limited to marching, protesting and voting. It includes supporting artists like Ani whose identities are based in a strong sense of personal responsibility and yes, activism.
Being an Ani DiFranco fan is itself a political act.
It was special because my friend Leta and I went together in tribute to her daughter, Amanda (Andi), whose favorite artist was Ani. Even more magical, my ticket was a gift. Four years ago, Amanda left this world after fighting depression all her life. I like to imagine she was jamming with us, up in Heaven. But she was a singer and songwriter and tried to get some blonde dreads going. She only got as far as small braids with multi-colored rubber bands, but she went for it! Andi also admired Ani for her open bisexuality, as Andi herself was a young lesbian. She was boiling over with emotions and saw a role model in this powerful woman who had always stood against the grain, committed to being herself and running her own record label, Righteous Babe Records, the industry be damned.
And now as I watch Ani’s interviews, I’m struck by how much she reminds me of Andi, in turn. The kindness. The compulsion to look inward and wrench art out of it. The wildness in her. It’s calming. Another interesting angle to my story is that last year, Andi’s mother Leta saw Ani live and brought with her a letter about how much her music had inspired her daughter’s life. She included a printed out copy of one of two blogs I’d written about her. She asked the merch table woman to please deliver it to Ani. An astonishing two months later, she received a hand-written letter in response from Ani herself. This year Leta recognized that same woman at the merch table and thanked her.
I left work an hour early that Wednesday and arrived at Leta’s home right on time. We relaxed a few ins and we left to pick up two of her friends on the way, Rich and Dave. We took a small road trip to the Castle Theatre from Braidwood to Bloomington, IL; about an hour. When we pulled up we I was shocked and excited to find an old-time theatre with a big neon marquee bearing Ani’s name and her opening act. It was my first time driving more than an hour for a concert! It was even more exciting on a weekday. I had taken the next morning off till noon, knowing that I probably wouldn’t be able to sleep and we’d get back late.
The night was perfect. I never expected the venue to be so intimate! This woman who has traveled the world and probably played to millions– Less than 20 feet away! My friends sat in the balcony but were cool with me being downstairs up front. It was GA and by the end I was front row, off the right. I’ve never been in an audience so diverse– mostly adults, but also families with small children. Babies. The core seemed my age and older but there were plenty of youngins– Ani is universal. It was the most chill, UN-produced show I’ve ever attended and I loved that about it. Her set consisted of she and her rotating guitars, her drummer, and an upright bass player. There were some lighting changes, and one image on a purple velvet curtain: RISE UP. A fist clenching lightning bolts.
How appropriate. And her talent is almost unfathomable. She doesn’t merely play acoustic, she beats them as a war cry. She plays harder than Melissa Etheridge, and that’s damn hard! She’s part song, part spoken word. Ani is soft and raw and always haunting. She crams so much content into her songs and delivers it faster than some rap artists.
My goal was to recognize a few songs in the set and I was FLOORED when the number one song I wanted to hear, “Shameless,” was the OPENING SONG! I had even commented it on the facebook link to her event that night! Someone, maybe Ani herself, had asked what songs we wanted to hear. I was the first comment.
I also heard “Not a Pretty Girl,” “Dialate,” “Play God,”and “Gravel,” and several others I didn’t recognize. My only complaint of the night was that the other fans weren’t very generous in helping me identify songs during the set. They were all in their own Ani world. It seemed if I didn’t know, that was my problem. I frequently ask those around me at shows for help identifying songs and most people are happy to help.
But otherwise, it was a dream. The merch table was well-staffed by one woman and she was friendly and patient. Everything was reasonably priced and affordable. Her latest album, Binary, was $15 dollars with beautiful packaging. Shirts were $25, whereas most venues jack them up to $35 or $40. She had $1 and $3 stickers. Old albums, live DVDS. I had brought money to spend and commemorate the night. I love my shirt and her new album.
I felt like the best version of myself there. Before the end of the show, I ran upstairs with Leta and the boys. On the drive home, we were all in awe. I even met a new friend in the lobby and we added each other on faceook.
How many more times can I see Ani perform? I can’t wait to find out!!