Music and Her Message: DiFranco at Shea's

On April 10, 2002

With a guitar that looked three times too big for her body, and yet half the size of her voice, the tiny singer with the dreadlocks should have looked small, all alone on that stage.

Yet Ani DiFranco's presence, energy, and passion seemed too big to be contained at Shea's Performing Arts Center Monday night, as she performed a solo show and donated her proceeds to help aide the under-funded Buffalo Public School system.

DiFranco, a native of Buffalo, joined forces with Aiding Buffalo's Children (ABC), a group of parents and teachers. Together they created the Aiding Buffalo's Children Fund as a way to spare Buffalo's art budget from the deep cuts it has recently received, forcing teachers to struggle with outdated equipment and virtually no resources during the school year.

She contributed half of her salary to the ABC Fund, and reserved the other half of her fee for donation to the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, which DiFranco attended during her youth.

"Art saved my life as a kid," DiFranco said, "It was my road to joy."

DiFranco's road has been a long one, since her days performing at Essex Street Pub and Nietzsche's. Now, 15 albums and several collaborations later, she found herself welcomed back to Buffalo with open arms, in her first solo concert tour in eight years.

Her unique vocal style, with its variance between angry growls and soothing lullabies, combined with her poetic mastery of the English language, has intrigued listeners across the country for years. But it's the message that her music sends that hits closest to home for residents of Buffalo.

Many of her songs are laced with subtle reminders of her hometown, and the problems that DiFranco feels plague Western New York.

"The ghosts of old buildings are haunting parking lots in the city of good neighbors that history forgot," DiFranco sang in "Subdivision."

Christa Pijacki, a graduate student in English, has followed DiFranco for years because, like herself, the singer has a "fierce dedication to the economic rejuvenation of Buffalo."

DiFranco's poignancy and truth are usually mixed with a dash of her characteristically wry humor, making the often bitter lyrical pill a little easier to swallow.

In "Two Little Girls," DiFranco sang about her encounters with an ex, singing, "Love is a piano dropped from a four-story window and you were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

DiFranco also delighted the audience with many of her older tunes, usually omitted from her repertoire when she travels with her band, such as "Out of Range" and "Buildings and Bridges."

In Monday night's performance, DiFranco spoke for longer periods of time than her last Buffalo show, as if she were sharing memories and catching up with an old friend. She spoke about the last year, her views on Sept. 11, and her opinions about the outpouring of community involvement for issues like Children's Hospital and the Buffalo Public Schools.

"You're either a subject or a citizen," DiFranco said, "and citizens make noise."

DiFranco urged these citizens to follow her lead, and donate one day's pay to the ABC Fund on their way out the door or in the upcoming weeks.

Kate Willoughby, a teacher in the Buffalo public school system explained that the school system is $47 million short for next year, reminding the audience to be generous.

"Everyone deserves an education," said Willoughby.


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