Ani DiFranco is a goddess and everybody should see her.
Her show on Friday at The Egg is deservedly sold out, for the same reasons everyone should see her next time: She takes her music seriously, not herself.
I once nervously asked her about mainstream observers describing her, somewhat dismissively as angry. She laughed, for real, and said, “Oh, yeah — the angry little folksinger,” noting she’s indeed littler than some but sounding less angry than anybody.
She is punk-rock, folk and hip-hop — and fierce. In her earlier, somewhat louder days when she toured without a band but worked hard to be one, she armored her fingertips in black electrical tape to protect them in her ferocious strumming. She holds back nothing, in writing or performing, and makes music as broadsides against racism, sexism, oppression in any form.
She’s sweet, and deep. Many of her songs concern love: yearning for it, offering it, lamenting its departure, glorying in its revival or rediscovery, celebrating all its confusing joy and pain.
She’s loyal. A national concert promoter once told me she’d rebuffed his offer of “stupid money” (i.e., lots) to play bigger venues than the coffeehouses and theaters where she started performing — and continues. When she brought old friend Hamell on Trial to open at Proctors, she knew his mock-macho jokes and songs would make some squirm in her mostly female audience.
She runs her show. She founded Righteous Babe Records (at 18!) for her own music and that of others. The 75 Righteous Babe releases include her own 24 studio albums, plus live releases and vinyl; and music by Utah Phillips, Toshi Reagon, Nona Hendryx, Hamell on Trial, Andrew Bird, Anais Mitchell, Sara Lee, Kurt Swinghammer, That 1 Guy, Drums & Tuba, Bitch & Animal, Arto Lindsay, Buddy Wakefield, Jennifer Knapp, Animal Prufrock and others.
Righteous Babe released her “Allergic to Water” album last fall. She also organized Buffalo’s Babeville complex of venues and studios.
She moved to New Orleans, where she’s raising two children with husband Mike Napolitano. She’s continued there the activism she began in Buffalo, joining efforts supporting music and musicians including replacing musicians’ flood-ravaged instruments. She joined forces with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Allen Toussaint and others in a benefit last October for the Preservation Hall Foundation and its programs for schoolkids.
She learned artist-activism from Pete Seeger and Utah Phillips. She has made music with both and said, “Pete taught me you are never too old or too male to be a radical feminist.”
In 2006, she received the “Women of Courage” Award at the National Organization of Women Conference and Young Feminist Summit in Albany; one of the first musicians ever to receive this honor which has also gone to Barbra Streisand and Sen. Barbara Boxer. In 2009, she received the Woody Guthrie Award and sang at Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden.
Fortunate ticketholders for Friday’s sold out show at The Egg will see Ani DiFranco play with Todd Sickafoose, bass; and Terence Higgins, drums; plus the superb-in-her-own-right Anais Mitchell, who opened for DiFranco at Albany’s Palace Theatre in 2008 and on other tours together.
“It’s a great honor and a lot of fun,” said Mitchell back then of touring with DiFranco, whose Righteous Babe Records releases Mitchell’s albums. “No two Ani shows are alike, so it’s great to get to see so many free ones!”
Mitchell said DiFranco “crashed through a wall none of us even knew was there with her music, and we all rushed in after her.”
The Lost Leaders and The Sea The Sea play WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany) on Friday. Lost Leaders are regional fave Byron Isaacs (bass, guitar and steel with Ollabelle, Levon Helm’s bands and The Weight, including a November show at Saint Rose’s Massry Center) and New Yorker Peter Cole (guitar, vocals). They made an unreleased album and a more recent one, featuring Woodstock heavyweights.
The Sea The Sea are singer-songwriters Chuck E. Costa and Mira Stanley, harmonizing on songs including those on their debut album “Love We Are We Love.” 8 p.m. $15. 465-5233 ext. 4 www.wamcarts.org
On Saturday, Old Songs (37 Main St., Voorheesville) kicks off its 2015 season with a Sampler Concert (plus bake sale and raffle) with the New Salem Serenaders, Amanda Fry, George Wilson, Debra Burger & Carole Fults, Drew Jacobs, and Bluegrass Banjo Bob Altschuler & friends. 8 p.m. $20, $5 children under 12. 765-2815 www.oldsongs.org
Also Saturday, Beatles scholar Scott Freiman presents “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Deconstructing the Early Beatles” at Proctors GE Theatre, combining music, film and lecture on the Fab Four’s early years. Two shows: 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. His previous three Beatles presentations sold out. $25 and $20, students $10. 346-6204 www.proctors.org
Next Wednesday, roots-rockers Dale Watson and Rosie Flores play The Hangar (Ale House annex at 675 River St., Troy).
Watson is a honky-tonk hero with the songs and the scars, the power and the pompadour, the miles and melodies to prove it. Like Ani DiFranco, he was an emancipated minor, leaving home to make music early. Pal Rosie Flores suggested he move from Austin to LA; later he returned there via Nashville and Baltimore, losing his girlfriend to a car crash and paying tribute to her in an album and Zalman King’s film “Crazy Again.”
With 22 albums since 1995, he’s almost as prolific as DiFranco. His latest, “El Rancho Azul,” opens with “I Lie When I Drink,” a troubadour’s mission statement for sure. His band the Lonestars are bassist Chris Crepps, drummer Mike Bernal, pedal steel player Don Pawlak and Danny Levin playing piano and fiddle. Flores has released 13 albums, led the all-women Screamin’ Sirens, toured with Wanda Jackson, as a member of Asleep at the Wheel and on her own. 8 p.m. $25 272-9740 www.alehousetroy.com
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]
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