Ani DiFranco’s recent tour took an abrupt turn just days before reaching the Algonquin Commons Theatre on Sept. 18.
Canadian folk artist Garnet Rogers was supposed to be DiFranco’s opening act during her week-long tour, which extended from New Hampshire to Ontario. But after the first three shows, Rogers fractured his leg in a car accident and had to pull out.
DiFranco, an iconic feminist and musician from Buffalo, N.Y., was left in the lurch mid-tour. The setback was quickly remedied by the addition of Ariana Gillis, a fiery, up-and-coming singer and guitarist from Vineland, Ontario.
“It was really great to be opening for Ani,” said Gillis. “The crowds were amazing.”
Unlike Rogers, who is already an established artist, Gillis, 24, had to win her own followers from the throng of DiFranco fans. She took to the stage with confidence, quickly engaging the crowd with her humour and powerful voice.
“Most of you probably haven’t even heard my old material – it’s all new,” she said. “So f*** it.” With that, Gillis launched into one of her older songs. The audience responded with cheers and whistles.
During her set, Gillis said that she has struggled to handle an onslaught of advice and criticism, saying that it really got into her head. She kept asking herself, “Well what’s good? What sells?” Eventually she decided to go back to pursuing the music she loved.
DiFranco is living proof that such a thing can work. At 18, she started her own label, Righteous Babe Records, to gain more freedom with her music. She has become known as a pioneer of social issues and someone who created her own success story.
DiFranco, a poet as well as a musician, mingled spoken word with her songs, taking control of the room with her restless energy. Her lyrics covered topics such as politics and religion with raw honesty.
“I mean, why not be obvious?” she said, laughing. “Life is short.”
DiFranco spoke with casual familiarity to the audience, as though it were a group of eight friends in her living room, not the packed ground floor of a theatre.
“I don’t know what ya’ll did to deserve this next song,” she said at one point. Her self-deprecating humour drew laughter from the crowd. But as she started to play, her fans cheered, recognizing the tune.