Ani DiFranco Played Tarrytown Music Hall with Treya Lam on 11/9/19
Words and Pictures by Rose Lamela
When I was 16 years old, I wanted to be a rock star. I wrote painful songs from the heart which I shared at a local open mic, a classic "Lilith Fair era" thing to do. I was going through one of the hardest times of my life. I had feelings for other girls, and I didn't know what that meant. I went through a rough time because it was the late 90s. The LGBTQ community existed, but we were hiding in the shadows. We were in "the closet" as my generation called it. For me, I never thought I could be out in the open and love someone without the hatred I felt for being so different.
One day a girl came up to me after I finished playing. She asked me if I had ever heard of Ani DiFranco. She suggested I get the album Not a Pretty Girl. Little did I know that Ani's words would help me embrace the confusion I was feeling. Songs like "Light of Some Kind," where Ani refers to dating a woman and her battle with being bi-sexual. "Not a Pretty Girl" goes into her issues with feeling "outside of the box" when it came to gender roles fabricated by our society for women with lyrics like, "you think I'm usually wearing the pants just 'cause I rarely wear a dress."
Many pop culture icons and TV shows have taken credit for helping our community. Even though people like Ellen deserve a lot of credit, I feel like a courageous artist like Ani sometimes goes unknown for her contributions. She, at least, changed my life and helped me have strength. She had very little fear at a time where many artists that wanted to be mainstream kept quiet.
I was also not interested in political issues at the time. She always spoke of the state of our country, writing songs about racism, patriarchy, feminism, corporate america, and the music industry. She inspired something in me to reflect on the important topics that affected my generation and the generations to come. Songs like "'Tis of Thee" that highlighted our obsession with Jerry Springer. We as Americans "take swings at each other on the talk show TV."
Fast forward a million years later, and I get a press pass to Ani's show in Tarrytown, NY. It had been a long time since I saw her, and I am sad to say I haven't kept up with her latest albums. A part of me didn't reflect on that too much when deciding to cover her. I remember how great she was live years ago, and I knew that could not change. Not for someone as talented as Ani DiFranco.
I got in the car and put on Little Plastic Castles. This album will always hold a special place in my heart. It truly got me through some rough breakups and disappointments. Her words always made me feel like we understood each other in another life perhaps. She has a bond with her fans that is very personal. Her angst and poetic use of words took all of us with her as she learned the tricks and lessons of life.
Now to the show...
Treya Lam came on stage and gave us a taste of her soft, melodic vibes as her voice filled the great acoustics of Tarrytown Music Hall. The crowd welcomed her lyrics and what she called her "nervous" banter. She introduced some of her songs to us and we all accepted her language. My favorite song of hers was "6s+7s" from her latest album Good News. She humbly expressed her joy for opening up for Ani. She made me remember the days of acoustic melodies and the power of a woman's voice as she opened up her heart to us. If you dig some good female folk with a positive message, check out her music.
I got super nervous as I paced back and forth in front of the stage as the solo photographer of the night. When the lights came down and the cheering started, she appeared. When she started to play, I almost forgot to start shooting. It's been awhile since I've been star struck. Ani played "Two Little Girls" at the beginning of her set. I sang along as I tried to do my best to capture her and her greatness. She played my favorite Bon Iver song, "Skinny Love." She also covered "Deportees" from Arlo Guthrie which I had never heard before. It was the perfect song to reflect the times we are facing now. She played "Why We Build the Wall" from the musical Hadestown which is a project she was part of from its conception. She played many songs I never heard before, but if there is one thing for sure, it never matters if you hear a new song at an Ani show. They are crafted with strong lyrics and sometimes a political punch that reminds you that you have to be doing more. She was joined by other musicians including a woman on a fiddle, another on a synth, and Treya Lam to play the song "Which Side Are You On?" -- a song that reminds us to vote and to find our place when it comes to our nation's progress. She chose to play the song "Swan Dive," my favorite song on Little Plastic Castles. It was the first time I heard her play it live. Ani ended the show with "Shameless" and came back with "Joyful Girl" for the encore. It was a well accepted performance.
I walked out of the venue remembering my love for music. My taste has changed so much through the years, but all the different genres of music have played intricate parts in my life. There have been so many times that artists got me through the hardest of times. Whatever life brings me, there is always a soundtrack to the madness. Ani DiFranco was a huge part of that. She helped me fit into my skin, and Saturday night's performance reminded me of how music has been an important part of my development. Ani DiFranco emboldened a 16 year-old to turn into the adult that stands here today.