Jersey Arts 5 Interview: Ani DiFranco
Ahhhhh, what to say about Ani DiFranco? When I first saw the Appel Farm line-up, her name jumped out at me. I am not a super zealous fan – though she has thousands, maybe millions, of those – but I’ve long been an appreciator of her work. And her performance on Saturday at Appel Farm, coupled with the conversation we shared afterward, amped up my respect for her and what she does even more. I mean, you gotta love a young woman artist who managed dissatisfaction with the state of the major label environment by starting her own record company, which Ani did more than 20 years ago.
And, even if her beliefs and opinions don’t exactly align with yours, I think it’s hard to disregard Ani, whose beautiful and intelligent songs seem designed to expand people’s visions and open doors to greater understanding.
When she took the stage, she bemusedly commented about being sandwiched between two high energy acts, Gogol Bordello and Trombone Shorty. But Ani, who was solo with just her gaggle of guitars, had no trouble holding her own or holding the attention of her audience.
On semi-hiatus from the road life since becoming a mom 4-1/2 years ago, Ani says she’s instead chosen to “relax and spend time with my daughter." I asked if she missed touring. She hesitated momentarily, looked away and then back, and said “I really haven’t, but …” and she gestured to the expanse of space and faces in front of the stage, “it is wonderful to be here”. When I asked what’s on the immediate horizon, Ani replied, “not too much”. And, those of us who saw her on Saturday should consider ourselves very fortunate. Appel Farm was her ONLY festival appearance this summer.
Ani has a treasure trove of material – some gentle, some harder – and I asked how she tailors song selection to the venue and location. “I try to pick more upbeat songs for an outdoor show,” she told me. “I don’t want to lull people with softer stuff. But this crowd,” she remarked appreciatively, “seemed to like everything I did.”
Get excited! Ani told me that she has a new record coming out this September. It will be all originals, with the exception of the Pete Seeger song, “Which Side are You On?” that she performed on Saturday. This will be her first studio record since 2008’s Red Letter Year.
Ani has lived in New Orleans for about 8 years – “that’s how you do it,” she said from the stage, “fall in love with someone from New Orleans and you get to live there” – and replied with a huge smile that she does get the occasional opportunity to play with other local musicians. I was at the back of the stage during Trombone Shorty’s set and glanced over to see Ani quietly watching the band. It was a sweet moment.
We'll have more of Shen's thoughts from the Festival later in the week.
And if you want more of Ani--here's a great video of her re-recording her breakout hit from the 90s, "Both Hands," in 2007: