Ani DiFranco in Kansas: I Think That I’m Happy, I Think That I’m Blessed

When Ani DiFranco laughs, you hear each “ha, ha, ha!” syllable.

It’s a lusty, full-throated cackle. The sound of a broad who lets it all out. And she’s wearing a plain gray tank and brown pants– maybe even cargo pants.  She doesn’t roam the stage much this time– she inhabits maybe a four foot area. But she jumps, she squats, she makes eye contact and connects with her band.

Tonight was my second time seeing her LIVE, my first time in Kansas. Second consecutive summer. Three months ago, I went for it and bought a ticket solo– second row. I’ve been counting down ever since!!

Live music is my home. I just moved to Kansas in November, eight months ago. And I gotta be honest, right now I’m missing all the amazing artists that come to Chicago — especially in the summer. But tonight I realized that I’m gonna continue to love living here. Because right here in Wichita, there is an incredible music venue, Wave. It’s in Old Town. Bands can play inside or outside.

It wasn’t packed. But that was the beauty of it. There was plenty of space to dance, to lounge, to chill and enjoy her show from one of the tables farther back. Staff was not strict about expecting people to stay in their seats– people surged to the stage. I got right up front and center, even better than last year! Being 4’11” sure is phenomenal sometimes.

In Chicago, it would be crammed. Also, another Wichita perk: parking was FREE, directly across the street and I was out of the lot within minutes. Wichita seems to be one of the best-kept secrets of the Midwest, as far as culture. It’s actually a pretty sophisticated city, with cutting edge restaurants, bars, music venues and many other attractions. All of it is within a 25 minute drive from my current home in Derby.

I wandered a bit, and then asked a table where they had procured their food: nachos. They were all really welcoming (three of them) and invited me to sit with them. Two women and a man, all excited to be there and obvious liberals like me. They were laughing, dancing, rocking out to their favorite songs.

I adore living here in Sedgwick County, but it is MIGHTY RED here. I respect the differences of my friends and family and do not push to convince them differently. But I do need to meet more people who share my political ideology. Coming from such a Blue state as Illinois, the culture shock is pretty harsh. I was aware, and I made that choice because I wanted to live near my family after spending the majority of my life a 13-hour car ride away. We could only visit every few years, for a few days or a few hours at a time.

Today was a perfect day. I was on the go the entire time, since Mass this morning.

Today I visited a kick-off party for a local Democrat candidate for Mayor of Wichita. And THAT’s the same day Ani is here, in this exact city!! She would be so excited for me.

Sadly I’ve tried and there does not seem to be any activity here for national candidates for President in the General Election 2020. But I can volunteer for local Democrats. And I’ve met some wonderful, #woke, damn smart friends working on campaigns. Working phone banks and canvassing is also a great way to get to know your community. So today I stopped in long enough to give my name, e-mail and phone number, along with my availability, to the volunteer at this candidate’s table.

I felt good. And then I went to a family birthday party, and then Ani.

I think Wave is going to become one of my favorite places in the ICT.

I also realized tonight that I have BECOME one of the Ani fans I was admiring last summer, at my first show. I took a ton of pictures and a few videos. Sadly my phone died right before the song I wanted so much to hear: “Play God.” Followed by all my other favorite songs: “Shameless,” “32 Flavors,” and “WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?”

I stayed till just after 10 and then left. The event flyer said it would go till 11:30 p.m. tonight but it seemed the set was over and most people were leaving. Either way, I left at the perfect time. I also got to hear “Dilate,” “Napoleon,” and “Swan Dive.”

Which side am I on?

The #BlueWave side.

The #WOKE side.

 

 

Advertisements

“Shameless”: First Ani DiFranco Concert

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..

Riseup

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.

Aniplaying

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!!

Making the Hard Choices

I spent most of last year juggling too many social commitments, and this fall I’m making needed adjustments.

I loved being in gospel choir at my parish, but told my choir director this week that I need to drop out. Today I went to Mass for the first time in two months, when our parish priest left. I’ve delayed meeting the new pastor. Today, people were so happy to see me and I was surprised that they all asked if I was singing again with choir. They seemed disappointed. I didn’t have time to explain in these quick conversations, but felt touched just the same.

Our rehearsals are fun, but I need to focus on establishing a sleep routine for myself. I’ve been struggling in the mornings and need to go to bed and wake up earlier.

Our energy encompasses all that we do and feel. I’ve made sacrifices in order to be of service and help others, but I was putting my own needs last.

I’ve made some wonderful strides this year, but still tried too hard to please others.

In just over two months, I’ll be 36! This year is about my future, my happiness.

Already, I feel a change.

My first allegiance needs to be my own health before I commit to anything else.

I need to run more. I’ve planned on four 5k’s between September and October and already signed up for one. I’m so excited!!

On my last run I set my goal higher and I achieved it! I am ready to push myself.

I went to a wedding Friday and ended up sitting next to the mother of a friend, who asked why I haven’t been blogging– she’s on a my subscriber list! Again, I was touched that she noticed. She told me something incredible– that she had attended an Ani DiFranco concert this year and had printed out a few blogs I’d written about her daughter, who had taken her own life. Ani had been one of her heroes, and my friend’s mother included my blogs, in which I’d also mentioned Ani since my friend was such a fan and it was impossible to write about her without mentioning her heroine. She delivered it to someone selling merchandise, and Ani replied to her! She showed me a picture on her phone of the letter. The letter didn’t mention my blogs, but she must have read them.

When I started this little blog I never imagined someone famous would read my words. Let alone an artist as amazing as Ani!

And one of the things Ani said was that it helped her to know that through her music, she had been able to be there for my friend in some tough moments.

You never know how your words or even just a small thing you do can impact someone’s life in a positive way. Just because it doesn’t feel significant to you at the time does not mean your actions aren’t important to someone else.

And thus, I’m blogging today.

 

Milkshakes and Laughs

Just got home from a night out with two female friends of mine, it was just what I needed!

We met up at a ’50s diner, my idea. It was perfect– I couldn’t stop jamming along to all that old-school rock n’ roll! The three of us sat down and just caught up. Hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes. We usually hang out in a larger group but I wanted to get to know the two of them this time. I like plans one-on-one or groups of three best. It’s just easier for me to hear and keep up with the conversation.

All of three of us don’t do drugs and and they aren’t heavy drinkers either. It’s just so refreshing to go somewhere wholesome and enjoy each other’s company without having to say no to alcohol. It wasn’t even on the menu! Without dodging pot smoke, or smoke at all.

As much as I love my other friends who are different from me, it’s been an incredible comfort this year to get closer with and meet a few more female Catholic friends, as well. They’re both married, but I didn’t feel left out at all. The conversation was naturally light-hearted and flowed well between us. It was a lot of good news, laughing, questions about our lives.

When I had been having a rough week, just being around their calm influence balanced me out. As much as I’ve got a rebellious streak in me, I’m really a pretty simple woman. There’s no tension between us, we all have the same core beliefs. I need that relief once in awhile.

I think I know why Catholicism is important to me. It’s the closest I come to a feeling of family. As much as I love my family, we all work and don’t get to see each other often. These two women are conservative and I realized that deep down, so am I. We are sisters in spirit.

They reminded me of something wonderful: when you have a deep faith, life is generally happy and relaxed. Good things happen. You have stability and less worries. They are the example I need.

I know I’m on the right track!

And with great girlfriends like these, I’m not worried about when I’ll arrive wherever I’m going.

I know I’ll get there.

Poster Girl with No Poster: Goodbye, Dear Andi

All day, I’ve been thinking about my sweet friend Amanda (Andi) Blank, and what I’m going to write about her.

Last night, we all said goodbye to her. Sooner than any of us expected.

She died suddenly last Tuesday, and the obituary is HERE. I found out Wednesday, when a friend called me. I was shocked, but didn’t cry yet. I texted another friend Thursday who I assumed knew already. She didn’t. She called me and I listened to her heart break. It was Friday when the tears came– at work. I had to take a break and get myself together. I cried again last night at the service, and again today, trying to honor her.

Andi had a heart bigger than Ani DiFranco’s talent.

Her poster was neon, radiating bright enough that the stars could see it. Her poster stood for love, creative expression and freedom.

I make this comparison because Andi was born in 1990, the same year Ani changed music forever. And Ani was her favorite artist, important enough that two of her songs were played last night: “32 Flavors,” and “When I’m Gone,” a cover of a Phil Ochs song.

I thought it was thoughtful that her mother, Leta, chose to play those two songs rather than something more traditional. Also, she was buried in a black hoodie and a gray t-shirt, with a red guitar pick worn as a necklace. Her nose ring and labret piercings were left in. I was touched by this because it shows how much her mother knew her– and that she wanted her daughter to be comfortable the last time we would all see her. She didn’t put her in something dressy– she let her daughter be who she was.

Her family and older friends refer to her as Amanda. But when I met her, she was Andi.

This isn’t the first post I’ve written about her– it’s actually the third. Regrettably, I deleted the first one awhile back. I’ve sporadically deleted archives, when I felt unsure about if I wanted to keep this blog going. The second time was when she planned a roadtrip with her best friend, Michael, and I was so in awe that she got it together to make it happen!

That post is HERE: “The Free Speech of Andi: Comedy, Dreadlocks, and a Yurt”. 

That story about her really sums up who she was: a free-spirit who was creative to an enviable degree.

I was lucky. Right after she met me, I told her about my blog. I’m pretty sure it was that day she immediately followed it. The next time I saw her, she brought me a gift. I brought it last night to her service, and I almost wanted to put it with her in the casket. But it means too much to me– I want to keep it, and I will forever. I wasn’t sure what to do with this blog– I’m still not. But as another creative spirit, she understood that ambivalence. She made something to encourage me to keep writing. That’s the kind of woman she was– she would just make you a gift after meeting you once. And it would be something personal and detailed and beautiful.

I took a picture of it back then, and I’ll show you why. The detail is stunning.

Andi Calamity art

 

Everything about it is so meticulous, so thoughtful. She took care to craft margins, three paper holes, and individual lines like you’d see on a sheet of loose leaf paper. She included quotation marks, and even included screws and a wire so that I can hang it up.

On the back she signed her nickname, Andi Calamity.  No one has ever made me a gift that was so special or perfect, or well-made.

Andi was the sort of girl who didn’t need make-up. And I don’t remember ever seeing her in it– she had beautiful skin, natural blonde hair, and large blueish green eyes framed by thick long lashes. And just as she was modest in her appearance, she was genuine about how she felt, as well. She was always happy to play the clown and ready with a joke if you needed it– and that could snap you out of the worst mood.

But she also felt everything deeply and was in touch with her feelings. That’s such a gift. She expressed herself in myriad ways, but the most important thing to know about her is that she was an indefatigable friend. Loyal, attentive. A woman who gave everything she had, who was the person you could call anytime. In this age of disconnected digital relationships, Andi actually LIKED talking on the phone.

She wanted to have conversations, to really connect with you. This is the third time I’ve now cried about this loss.

The first was last Friday, when I was at work. I didn’t cry when I first found out, on Wednesday– I knew it would hit me at some other time. And it happened at work, because the last time I saw her, I was working. I sell dog food, not the most glamorous or important job. But about a month ago I was feeling a bit sad and bored during my shift, working a pet store. And I looked to my left, and saw Andi and her mother, walking toward me from the main aisle.

Andi walked over to me and just gave me the most amazing hug. It was perfect timing.

She had a talent for hugs. I mentioned this last night, but it’s worth repeating. Not everyone can REALLY hug you– but she was one of those people. She didn’t hold back or give you some lame little pat on the back. She hugged you with everything she had. Every time I saw her, she greeted me with a giant warm hug. The kind where you just stand there for a moment.

I am really going to miss those hugs.

One last thing I can say about her. Although she had her moments of struggle like all of us, she also radiated this confidence. I sadly only have one picture of her, and none of us together. It’s from July 2012, the same time period I was writing about in the above re-posted blog. She was doing stand-up at City of Champions that night. And I’m so glad I have this picture: because her posture shows you everything about her you need to know.

Andi Comedy

 

 

She stood with her shoulders back, her feet planted comfortably astride. Holding a beer bottle in one hand, gesticulating with the other hand to illustrate her story. What you don’t see behind the mic is her gargantuan smile, as she brought the crowd into her comedy set.

That’s how I’ll remember her. Confident. Her hair was in braids, and she had dreadlocks in mind. She had a ton of mini-rainbow rubberbands holding these braids together, and they looked kind of ridiculous!  Last night I was talking about this at the service and the girl I was talking to, Jen, started laughing, because she said SHE was the one who had done the braids! She had told Andi she should get them done professionally, but Andi was confident her friend could make it happen by sheer force of will. Andi was not worried about it! It makes me laugh remembering, because she was convinced the dreadlocks would evolve in time. From the road she called me and said the dreads were more work than she anticipated, and after awhile she gave up. But she rocked her baby dreads as well as any white girl can, and she was in on the joke. She had the balls to try it.

I know this is getting long. But bear with me! Almost done.

The last phone conversation I had, she was telling me how excited she was to have joined a roller derby league recently. She was still learning to skate and hadn’t competed yet in a bout. But She told me about a pair of skates a team mate had given her– they were white leather with pink flames.

Andi Second City t-shirt and roller derby gear

And of course, white leather AND pink was unacceptable. So what did she do? Paint them black, with blue and RED flames. She made them her own. It’s just another confirmation of her character. She didn’t insist on brand new skates– she was just happy someone wanted to give her a pair. She probably loved these skates that much MORE– because they were a gift.

She gave so much of herself, every day, to everyone. I’m glad that she was given something special by a new friend near the end of her life.

Andi would have been one righteous roller derby hellcat! Her name was A. Calamity, her number, 15. Her mother thought to display her team jacket, skates, and also a t-shirt from when she studied at Second City at the service.

Her team is the Southland Slashers. And they were there at her service, despite only having known her a short time. That says a lot about their loyalty to her, as well as how special Andi was.

Andi was a bright spark in my life, but I have wonderful memories. And because I went to her service last night, I met some of her friends, who I get along with too. Now we are friends because of her, and can trade stories and laugh and cry together.

Until we meet again, dear Andi, I hope you’re skating in the clouds up in Heaven and elbowing the other angels– just for fun.

The Free Speech of Andi : Comedy, Dreadlocks, and a Yurt

This blog is for a 22-year-old friend of mine with guts beyond her years.  Today, she’s leaving.  In the morning.

I’m excited for her– but also selfish, and sad that she’ll be gone.

Andi is about to embark on her own American Dream, which she’s been planning four years.  She quit her job and is going on the road with her friend, Michael, 21, and a Boxer named Jefferson. They’re leaving Illinois in her truck and heading South.

They don’t know where they’re going. They’re just going.

The first official destination is New Orleans. And beyond that, who knows?

She’s packing light. Some clothes, a cigarette rolling machine, guitar, sleeping bag, and a yurt. She procured a grill. She’s bringing a notebook, where she’ll jot down ideas for her comedy routines and song lyrics. She and Michael are going to drive and perform their way around America.

She’s got her blonde hair in braids, in the process of becoming dreadlocks. With her independent spirit, the confidence, and the hair, Andi has a bit of Ani DiFranco about her. And DiFranco would approve. The Feminist icon who started her own record label and eschewed mainstream industry approval chose her own destiny, just as Andi is doing now.

Andi has already taken some heady risks– she’s been an out lesbian since age 12. She embraces her identity with valor, including it in her comedy acts. At 22, she is more sure of who she is than many people are at 40.

I’m so full of admiration– and yes, a bit of envy. Andi is doing what all of want to do and most of us never will– she’s daring to travel and taking a risk. She’s driving her truck and going on the road, open to Kerouackian adventure.  She’s wearing her hair the way she wants, not the way society dictates.

And her smile just keeps getting bigger. This is actually the second blog I’ve posted inspired by her– the first was when she made me a wood-burning in the shape of a piece of loose leaf paper, with a quote about writing engraved. In gratitutude, I wrote  a TRIBUTE to my artist friends, and now it makes me happy to see that Andi is showing the same excitement for her OWN art that she showed for mine last fall.

I’ll never forget is watching her comedy set last Tuesday night. It was the same venue where I bombed last week– and much more crowded. She was the first comedy performer up, and no one was paying attention.  People were talking, no one stopped to listen.

But that didn’t stop Andi. Her stance was confident– shoulders back, legs astride. She started out strong, identifying herself as a lesbian and making jokes about it. People started to listen. Andi kept going, very at ease.  Last week when I hadn’t gotten the crowd after a few minutes, I blushed and stopped my set. Not Andi. She kept going– until the crowd quieted down, and got used to her presence. More people listened. Laughs began. Andi relaxed further, and began to really shine. Like a true performer, she wasn’t intimidated.

And she had some great jokes,  the laughs got bigger and more frequent. She was secure in her own talent– it was beautiful to watch. She’s the reason I tried stand-up at all– I went to watch her open mic, and she encouraged me to try. She subscribed to my blog right when she met me, about a year ago. She made me a wood-burned gift with a quote encouraging me to write.

Four times this week, I’ve gotten to hang out with Andi. Tuesday night, for an open mic where we both tried some stand-up comedy. Then for a few hours on 4th of July, I took her to my favorite local karaoke dive– a prerequisite before she leaves town. We went to Wal-Mart to buy her grill and do some last-minute shopping, and we hung out again for a few precious hours tonight before she had to finish packing.

I’ve had friends move away before, and a few more are planning to move within the next year. But I have to admit, I’m really going to miss this girl. She’s got a light about her, and has become one of my closest friends. I don’t think it’s hit me yet that she’s leaving– and that once she does, I don’t know when I’ll see her again. She may come back to Illinois to live, or only to visit. It could be years before I see her again.

She was part of my inspiration to delete facebook earlier this year. When I hesitated about following through, Andi encouraged me. She deleted hers in January, and hasn’t looked back. She doesn’t miss it, and plans to at least stay away for a full year. And even when I did return and sign back up, Andi didn’t judge me. She was supportive regardless.

She’s considering starting a blog to chronicle her travels on the road– which I hope she does.

In the past year, I’ve watched her grow up so much.  She’s an old soul, my indefatigable Gemini sister. She listens well, doesn’t judge, and cracks a joke when you most need it. She points out things of astonishing insight.

I gave her a rosary bracelet for protection on the road, and wrote down some quoted some song lyrics I thought were applicable, like a good luck charm. I couldn’t stop hugging the girl, and the tears happened.

I’m so incredibly proud of my brave friend, for re-defining her life on her terms. For daring. For doing.

Every time I do comedy, I’ll do it for Andi. If she’s not afraid to create her own American Dream on the road, I’m not afraid of a mic.

And the next time I see her, she’ll be a different woman– even more grown up, with even better stories. But for now, I await my first postcard, as she sets out for the life she wants– on the road.