An Ani DiFranco tale in three parts:
For about one year, I worked as a stagehand at chain club House of Blues, helping famous artists’ road crews set up their bosses’ musical gear. I was honored to hand cables to DJ Shadow while asking him questions about his samplers. I giddily carried guitars beside Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of The Cramps (and even saw them in broad daylight, yikes). I was blessed to spend seven hours helping GWAR, the band itself, set up its very detailed stage show with cages, massive lockers full of “bloody” body parts, and a 10-foot dinosaur. Then after the show we spent another three hours breaking it all down.
But the artist whose set-up took the absolute longest out of the maybe 300 bands that I worked with, was righteous babe and folk artist, Ani Difranco — who, incidentally, lives in New Orleans.
DiFranco’s tour rider insisted that we switch out all of the House of Blues’s speakers and monitors with her own speakers and monitors that we unloaded from her semi-truck. We were tasked with also removing and replacing all of the club’s lighting with hers. No other artist I worked for ever asked us to do either of these things. Ani’s people even made six of us remove the House of Blues’s front-of-house mixing desk — as big as a couch, but heavy as a Chevy! — and replace that board with her slightly larger one! Then after the show, we of course had to take all of her shit out of the club and put it all back into her semi, and then reinstall the House of Blues’s gear that every single other artist who has ever played there has used.
Between these two brutal jobs, I noticed that we hadn’t set up a drum kit. I don’t remember unloading any amplifiers, even — because Ani Difranco finally walked out on stage that night alone. Just her and an acoustic guitar. Fuck. Me.
I can only assume she musta held a grudge against the ClearChannel owned House of Blues, or maybe some promotor who worked there. Or maybe she hated the person who suffered most that day: fuckin me.
Years later I made friends with a very cool soundman fellow who’d once been married to Ani Difranco, and I loved telling him that story.
I did not meet Ani DiFranco that day, however. There was another night I ran into her, when my family and hers were sat at adjoining booths at Juan’s Flying Burrito, and our baby daughters ended up playing together the whole time. Loudly. Yet we didn’t meet that time, either. Not mad at her for breaking my back at HoB (but then also not a fan of her music), I tried to look her in the eye like I would a regular person, just to touch base and smile and nod hello, maybe exchange pleasantries about how damned cute our kids were together. But no matter how loud our children got while playing over the next hour, she wouldn’t look at us. No matter how many times I looked over just to nod approval, she seemed to be refusing to look up and acknowledge the other child’s parents. At the time, it almost seemed likely that maybe she had stolen a secret glimpse of us, and assumed by our mid 30s age and our bohemian style of dress that we were fans of hers who might freak out if she interacted with us. This actually felt slightly more offensive than her pretentious (or vindictive) House of Blues nonsense.
Ani Difranco and I did not actually meet until I ended up interviewing her via phone, just after Prince died. I was writing an article about various New Orleans residents who had met and/or worked with Prince. Difranco and Prince (supposedly a big fan of hers) had collaborated on her song “Providence,” and then again on his song “Eye Love U, but Eye Don’t Trust U Anymore” from the mostly terrible album Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (my soundman friend, her former husband, actually sat in on that recording session at Paisley Park — a story I’ve made him tell me a few times).
“At the height of my infamy,” she recalled for me, “I’m playing at a ballpark in Minneapolis. A white limo pulls up backstage. And everyone’s like ‘Ani! Ani! Come quick!’ And I go up to the tinted window, and it rolls down and there [Prince] is like, lounging on white shag. The most vivid purple creature I’ve ever seen: eyelashes for days, lookin’ up at me. I was done, from moment one…”
On the phone, talking about Prince, Difranco was actually very sweet and gracious, and I did not bring up the House of Blues thing, or Juan’s Flying Burrito, because I am a fucking professional.
Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.