For Ani DiFranco, Ann Arbor is a welcome tour stop.
The prolific singer-songwriter, activist, poet and auteur has played Ann Arbor 11 times in the past 25 years, performing at various venues, including The Ark, Hill Auditorium, the Michigan Theater, and the Power Center.
DiFranco will return to the Power Center June 5 as part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Mainstage ticketed performances to support her latest album, “Binary,” which dropped last June on Righteous Babe. Haley Heynderickx, a Portland, Oregon artist, will open for DiFranco.
Avid DiFranco fans may recall her earlier stops highlighting beloved songs from her giant catalog of 19-plus studio albums. We dug through our press photo archive to find these gems, here’s a look back at six of DiFranco’s most memorable Tree Town shows:
1: The Ark – April 13-14, 1994
DiFranco played two nights at the club, performing tracks from 1993’s “Puddle Dive” along with 1992’s “Imperfectly,” 1991’s “Not So Soft” and her 1990 self-titled debut.
Back in the early ‘90s, DiFranco’s sets consisted of overtly political tunes, think “Willing to Fight” and “My IQ,” and ones that focused on sexuality, “In or Out.” Early hardcore fans attended shows both nights to get their fix of feminism and liberation.
According to the Righteous Babe website, DiFranco sported her “awesome” hair during this tour — a wide kerchief with shaved, spiky short hair framed her toothy grin.
2: Power Center – Oct. 16, 1995
Eighteen months later, DiFranco returned for another memorable show in Ann Arbor, this time at the Power Center, to promote “Not a Pretty Girl,” an album filled with memoirs and melody. Setlist highlights included “Worthy,” “Cradle and All,” “Shy,” “Not a Pretty Girl” and “32 Flavors,” also a 1998 cover made famous by Alana Davis.
By 1995, DiFranco’s audience grew quickly as fans were able to “recite every lyric and name each song by two notes,” a Righteous Babe website claim regarding “Not a Pretty Girl.” The braided, shaved-headed grrl power icon sported a mid-‘90s style with a crop top and ripped jeans and likely reflected in a sea of copycat styles in the crowd that night.
3: Hill Auditorium – Oct. 19, 1997
In 1997, DiFranco moved her way up the Ann Arbor venue ladder to Hill Auditorium in support of her gold “Living in Clip” live album (named after the state of stage amps about to blow out) and her 1996 “Dilate” record.
With “Dilate” as her highest-selling and most critically acclaimed album, DiFranco charmed the audience with tracks from her “serpentine journey,” which examined a single relationship from many angles. As a fun fact, Dave Matthews paid homage to DiFranco four years later with a cover of “Joyful Girl” from “Dilate.”
Like any late ‘90s folk fashionista, DiFranco reinvented her style with short curly hair, tank tops and platform shoes, essential footwear for the ‘90s.
4: Hill Auditorium – March 16, 2000
Early in the new millennium, DiFranco returned for another show at Hill Auditorium with Greg Brown and Gillian Welch. At the time, she was fresh off a Grammy nod for Best Contemporary Folk Album for 1999’s “Fellow Workers,” a cross-generational collaboration with folksinger Utah Phillips that examined the history of the modern American labor movement.
Covers from Phillips, Brown, Welch and DiFranco were peppered throughout the set, including “Dump the Bosses Off Your Back,” “Annabelle,” “Blue Car” and “Untouchable Face,” allowing DiFranco and her crew to dig deep into folk and roots music in front of a solid fan base.
On the style front, DiFranco was moving away from a youthful political look to a more mature style with wavy, dark brown hair (bright blonde streaks included) and sheer, long-sleeve black shirts.
5: Hill Auditorium – March 16, 2002
Back at Hill Auditorium two years later, DiFranco supported her double album of 29 winding, narrative and acoustic-based songs, “Revelling/Reckoning.” By taking her music in countless new directions, DiFranco kept her long-term fan base on their toes with “Marrow,” “Grey” and “Subdivision.”
With a wiser outlook, DiFranco presented more upbeat folk music in “Revelling” while “Reckoning” focused on a more introspective side intertwined with muddled jam sessions. Fans enjoyed this growing double persona while hearing long established favorites.
At this time, DiFranco’s personal style continued to shift with her music as she transitioned from dark brown hair with streaks of blonde and began wearing dreds.
6: Michigan Theater – April 2, 2016
In 2016, DiFranco returned to Ann Arbor for a Michigan Theater show in support of 2014’s “Allergic to Water,” which features funky, imaginative and personal melodies. Most of her set encompassed newer tracks, including “Dithering” and “Careless Words,” as well as the live debut of her reproductive freedom anthem, “Play God.”
“Play God” echoed a major sentiment of the nation’s politically charged climate fueled by the 2016 presidential primaries, laying the foundation for 2017’s “Binary.”
On the style front, DiFranco opted for a simpler look with short wavy brown hair, grey tank tops and black pants.
Ani DiFranco tickets are $35-$55 and go on sale at 9 a.m. Monday, April 16. Purchase tickets by phone at (734) 764-2538, online at a2sf.org or in-person at the Michigan League Ticket office, 911 N. University Ave., Ann Arbor.