Ani DiFranco at the Park West

Poetry has the ability to uplift people struggling with the day-to-day challenge of living a good life. Great artists like Leonard Cohen, Charles Bukowski and Maya Angelou have enlightened humanity and revealed hidden truths to everyone who is fortunate enough to come in contact with their verses. It is in this company that Ani DiFranco finds herself as she continues to write prolific lyrics that timelessly speak to the highs and lows of life, deepening each revelation with the beauty of her ever-strumming guitar.

Chicago’s Park West, where DiFranco performed on April 6, provided the perfect sonic atmosphere to hear each phrase, word and note, whether soft and somber on tracks like “Allergic to Water” or ferocious, as was the case in the peak of “Two Little Girls.” Some guitar confusion at the top of the set led to a song change, which resulted in “Shy” as the opening number, much to the delight of everyone in the packed house. “Not a Pretty Girl” soon followed, with DiFranco baring her soul with each verse.

Accompanied by Todd Sickafoose on the acoustic bass and Terence Higgins on drums, DiFranco commanded the stage with grace and strength as fans reveled in each moment. Touting the merits of an “uppity folk song,” she evoked the first of many sing-alongs of the night with the Dilate” track, “Napoleon.” Prior to playing “To the Teeth,” DiFranco announced that the song is 17 years old, but her poignant lyrics felt as relevant as ever. Updated lines calling for “Open fire on Fox News, CNN and NBC” generated impassioned cheers from fans, thirsty for truth rather than televised propaganda.

It being election season, it was only fitting that DiFranco took time out to encourage everyone to do their civic duty. “People fought for our right to vote,” she said. “To squander it would be a crime.” Her subsequent delivery of “Fuel” filled the room with great resilience in the face of social injustice. While many of her songs speak of sadness, regret and even rage, DiFranco has a gift for getting a powerful message across all the while creating a vibe encompassed by happiness.

Prior to DiFranco’s set, Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter Chastity Brown performed soulful songs with a pinch of Tennessee twang. Her track “Colorado” connected with the audience as did her powerful rendition of Nina Simone’s “Baltimore.” Brown also took a moment to celebrate the joy within the Black Lives Matters movement while paying tribute to Sandra Bland and Laquan McDonald.

The epitome of a strong woman, DiFranco fearlessly shared her experiences in song throughout the night, allowing each emotion to be absorbed not only by herself, but by all of her fans. Rather than putting up a wall or developing an aura of sadness, she feels deeply and moves forward from a place of strength and knowledge that can be heard in her songs, especially when performed live.

DiFranco will be returning to Illinois for the Summer Camp Music Festival at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, Ill., on Memorial Day Weekend. Head over to for a full list of tour dates and follow DiFranco on Twitter for the latest news.

Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and...

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