As the rest of us were running around downtown for MFNW, our intern Shae was kicking it in the woods with a folk legend. Here's what she heard and saw (because the cell phone photo doesn't exactly do it justice).
Ani DiFranco stepped onto the Edgefield stage at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday to a sweaty and eager crowd. With highs in the upper 90s, the general admission ticket-holders melted across the lawn, bellies full with booze and sun, glutted but instinctively reaching for the last available crumbs of summer exposure. Young gender-benders and older outwardly progressive folks rose from their seats and danced their way towards the stage to greet the little, feisty folk singer from Buffalo, NY. In reference to the ultra-conservative billboards off of I-5 North, DiFranco recounted all of the “spooky stuff” between Seattle and Portland. “Hm, lets see, do I have any Christian songs?” mused Difranco. She teased the chords for “God's Country,” and then broke the song open in tandem with the audience's laughter.
As special guest to John Prine, DiFranco played for a full hour in anticipation of having her “mind blown open again by the master.” She spanned the decades by reaching back for songs released as early as 1993 and interspersed her set with several new tracks from her upcoming album. DiFranco was noticeably strongest on her oldest cuts and seemed to lose the crowd along with her edge while sampling her more recent material. Highlights included a sped-up staccato remix of “As Is” off of her 1998 album, Little Plastic Castle, and a thoughtful throwback of “Angry Anymore.” Taking pulls from a sweaty 22 oz. beer bottle, DiFranco seemed giddy with excitement and genuinely engaged with her audience—a dynamic that longtime fans know not to take for granted. Ani closed her set with a gentle nod to John Prine, slowing down during the chorus to emphasize: “if you're not getting happier as you grow older, then you're fuckin' up.”
John Prine personified Difranco's lyrics a half hour later, shuffling on stage, wrinkled and smiling. Dressed in all black, he launched into “Spanish Pipedream,” backlit by a classic glow of soft yellow lights. Accompanied by Jason Wilber on guitar and Dave “Shakey Legs” Jacques on bass, Prine and his boys played 16 songs while the nearly-full moon inched its way above the outdoor venue.
At 64 years old, Prine's body moves more stiffly than many of his baby-boomer peers, but his fingers tap-danced effortlessly over 40 years of material. While Prine's strong, relaxed growl mostly complimented his slow-paced and thoughtful lyrics, his vocals occasionally slipped, casting a shadow of vulnerability over his performance.
But true to form, Prine charmed the crowd with slow and endearing banter that seamlessly connected his more light and humorous ditties (“That's the Way the World Goes 'Round”) with visceral insights on aging and tragedy in his most sobering tracks (“Hello in There,” “Lake Marie”).
Prine's performance proved that behind his old eyes lies a mind that won't quit. Amid stories of wigwams and wing-tipped shoes, Prine crooned with a gentle and truthful depth that encouraged his audience to sit and listen much closer than usual. He wiped his face with a hankie, misheard shouts from the crowd, laughed at the life that he puts to music and played on into the night.
DiFranco returned to the stage to help blow minds with the master for an encore rendition of “Paradise.” The duo closed the set and turned the lights on, leaving family and lovers wrapped around one another in the afterglow.
Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
Six O'Clock News
Grandpa Was a Carpenter
Fish and Whistle
Glory of True Love
Angels of Montgomery
That's the Way That the World Goes 'Round
Hello in There
Bear Creek Blues
She is My Everything