Ani DiFranco at the Rio Theatre, by Kate Haley

Ani DiFranco (photo: Kate Haley)

Words by Kate Haley

Ani DiFranco has always brought it. Her poetry, delivered in percussive lyrics, makes the personal political and the political deeply personal. Couple that with her ability to tune her guitar any damned way she pleases changes things. A lot.

Her tour was as heavy on the “Rise Up” as ever, and her one-woman army continued to gather ranks at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz. I was against the stage, next to children with hearing protection who were being carefully lifted to get a better view. Two mothers next to me proudly told me about their twin sons, tucked in at home, and we discussed bringing our kids next time. You could almost hear the crowd sigh, stretch, and become woke. It was safe. It was time to organize.

This Ani DiFranco show was 29 years in the making. Having released 20 albums over her career, she played many favorites, old and new. Covering Woody Guthrie has always been of great impact, and she sang “Deportee (Plane Crash at Los Gatos)” this night. “Shy” also stands out as one of the stronger openers I’ve heard her do, and “Play God” was its own kind of social justice holiness.

Todd Sickafoose was on stand-up bass and keyboards and Terence Higgins was on drums. Jenny Scheinman, who opened with the ever brilliant Allison Miller’s Parlour Game, fiddled in on some of the Ani songs, and Deportee was an especially good pairing. The encore, “Overlap,” overlapped a tad too much between the two and it felt like a less organic evolution of the night but it was overall the best Ani show I’ve caught, which says something as she’s been a regular rotation in my playlist for 25 years.

Check out the full set list here.