Ani DiFranco

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Ani DiFranco: The Righteous Babe hard at work on another album, her 20th

:: Ani DiFranco ::
:: Mile High Music Festival ::
:: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park ::
:: July 18 ::

By Ryan Lappi

After releasing nearly twenty albums in just as many years, it is safe to assume that Ani DiFranco has created one of the most comprehensive, creative, and strikingly intimate scrapbooks in modern music. Since establishing her own label, Righteous Babe Records, in 1990, DiFranco has offered a rare portrait of unrelenting creativity independent of the traditional trappings of corporate music, resulting in a sustained outpouring of unabashed personal and social commentary that not only chronicles her own evolution as an artist, but also holds a finger to the pulse of democracy in America.

That early declaration of independence from the commercial record industry continues to pay huge dividends for DiFranco. Her 2008 album, Red Letter Year, was perhaps her most vast in scope, chronicling everything from politics to her new found – dare we say it – domestic role as mother, to the song-filled alleyways of her new home in post-Katrina New Orleans, to the majesty of existence itself, exemplified in the song “The Atom.”

For longtime fans, Red Letter Year showed a surprisingly joyous, reflective and hopeful side of the notoriously edgy folk singer, ushering in a new phase of life without sacrificing the boldness and experimental flair that has sustained her career for two decades.

Yet, given that the album was recorded before the 2008 presidential election, Red Letter Year seems to be more of a prelude to the new found sense of optimism that she has experienced in the post-Bush era. Never one to fall behind the times, she has already begun production on a new album, which, she contends, re-establishes her political convictions. Fans will have the opportunity to hear many of her new songs at Denver’s Mile High Music Festival, as she road tests the new tracks.

“I think it’s a really exciting time,” DiFranco told The Marquee in a recent interview. “The last eight years – and I would say 30 years, since my political coming of age with Ronald Reagan — has been a tough time to be a progressive thinking person in this country. There’s been a lot of backwards movement, laws being changed so the rich get richer and the poor get left behind. It seems like finally some of these capitalist instincts in Washington are being questioned. Maybe not quickly and furiously enough, but certainly I appreciate the reinvigorated faith in democracy that this election brought. I’m writing about all that stuff,” she said.

This may not come as a surprise, but the recent shifts in American politics have brought a new dynamic to her role as an artist in relation to government. Perhaps seasoned by motherhood and her hope for the future, it has offered an entirely new platform on which to preach to those who have always seen DiFranco as a representative for progressive and feminist values.

“My instinct is to support what’s good, rather than continuing these uphill battles,” she said. “I was just at a big festival on a panel and there were some people speaking very disparagingly of Obama — that he’s just cow-towing to the Republican agenda, that he’s so disappointing. And instinct is, ‘Jeez, ok, so who is the answer? ‘He’s there. He’s listening. He’s open to new ideas, so let’s educate him. Let’s build on this forward momentum, to support everything good that’s happening rather than staying in these patterns of major criticism that kind of zap us of our energy and our momentum.”

Luckily, DiFranco is in good company. Residing in New Orleans has presented her with living proof of the power of joyful catharsis in the face of suffering. Similarly, she recently performed at folk legend Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday party at Madison Square Garden, which brought together many generations of her folk heroes (she performed duets with Kris Kristofferson and Bruce Cockburn, among others), embodying the reinvigorating power of like-minded artists coming together for a common purpose.

“I’ve learned from my great folk teachers that lightheartedness is almost necessary in political movements,” she contends. “If you’re going to address the great evils of society, you better have a sense of humor, or it just becomes overwhelming. It’s mostly people who are not participating in the struggle who don’t see the fun in it. I think it’s very joyful to fight for your own empowerment or especially other people’s empowerment. As any activist knows, it makes you feel great. There’s a lot of love and laughter involved, and it’s so much more joyful to be a fighter in the struggle than to be a watcher of the T.V. I think that when you are able to embody not just a righteousness in your political convictions, but also humility and a sense of humor, you can take them a lot further.”

:: Ani DiFranco ::
:: Mile High Music Festival ::
:: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park ::
:: July 18 ::

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