Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Quik-eeze - Ani Difranco and the Little Girls of California

Quik-eeze will be a new recurring feature in Growing Old With Rock & Roll;
short, fast, tight stories without the usual belaboring of points
normally conducted by your humble auteur, Ricki C.

My first experience on a big-time rock & roll tour was with Hamell On Trial when he opened ten shows for Ani Difranco and her band all up & down the California coast in April, 2000.  I learned a TON of stuff on that tour - how to conduct myself as a professional road manager (or, more to the point, how to fake and/or bluff my way through conducting myself as a professional road manager); how to travel quick & light and present shows in a lot of different venue configurations (theaters, college gyms, outdoor auditoriums); and, most of all, learning from Heidi - Ani's merchandise girl - how to display & sell merch and how to maximize sales, an education I'm thankful for to this day.  (As are Watershed, The Whiles, and a coupla other bands I've done merch for.) 

My road manager duties on that tour entailed selling merch before the shows, then popping backstage for Hamell's set to keep things up & running; tuning guitars, changing broken strings, setting knocked-over microphones back upright, etc., then clearing Ed's gear off the stage before Ani went on.  There were VERY short breaks between Ed's and Ani's sets, never more than 15 minutes, so I'd often wind up packing  amps, power cables, guitars and such right in the wings of the stage as Ani waited to go on.

A little audience practice peculiar to that tour started happening the first or second night.  Hamell & I toured with Ani numerous times over the next ten years, all over the country, and this never took place again - the little girls (by which I mean teenagers & early twenty-somethings) in the front row would lift their shirts and display their breasts to Ani before the show began.  I guess it was supposed to be flattering, a little gift or offering to Ani from her fans, but it was really throwing Difranco, who was striving to deliver a musical message of  self-respect and empowerment to her fans, and she really could have done without the nightly nudity.

Ani was standing next to me, waiting to be introduced the second or third night the rock & roll peepshow took place (we could see the little flasher girls of California getting ready down front).  I was just finishing packing up Hamell's guitar when Ani turned to me and said wearily, "You know, I didn't get into music to look at little girls' tits."  I looked at her for a long moment and replied, "See, that's where we're different, Ani, that's EXACTLY why I got into music."  Ani cracked up laughing, it was our best, most human, most unguarded exchange of the whole tour.  "Okay," she said, when she caught her breath, "you meet me here every night for the rest of the tour and at least one of us will get something out of this process."  So I did.  It was fun, a nice little Fringe Benefit of the road manager gig. 


© 2013 Ricki C.


   

5 comments:

  1. I grew to love Hamell when he opened for Ani in Indianapolis about a thousand years ago. Tho I never saw this particular behavior at any of the shows I went to, thanks for sharing this little ditty. Brought back some great memories of both Ani and Ed's shows!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words. We always had a great time in Indy. One year Ed opened a show for Ani at the Murat Center really close to Christmas and we shared a dressing room with the Rockettes. (Ed had less eye makeup and WAY less sequins on his outfits than they did.)


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    2. That may well have been the show where I first "found" Hamell - it was indeed at the Murat Egyptian Room. GREAT venue!

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  2. Ah yes, the Murat Egyptian Room! My daughter and I sat at a table stage-right with another mom-daughter duo. During Ed's opener, jowls a-shaking, a group of ten or so black-clad spiked youths were chatting in a circle near us. I interrupted their nonchalance and asked them why they were THERE at all. They were there to see Ani. I told them that Ani HAND-PICKED Hamell to open for her, they were being rude to her choice, and Hamell probably had something to say to us. They apologized, and at the break came over to apologize again! The world has a few good kids coming up.

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