Posted by Alex Brehm
On Sept. 26, Skidmore College and Caffè Lena came together to offer Ani DiFranco's performance in the Arthur Zankel Music Center.
DiFranco, whose piercing music and poetic lyrics have enthralled fans, got her start in music in the fall of 1990 in downtown Saratoga Springs, on the stage of Caffè Lena. She performed only a year after the venue's owner, Lena Spencer, died.
"She only played for an audience of about 40 people. Everyone could feel this remarkable charisma and magic about her," said current Lena director Sarah Craig.
Caffé Lena is celebrating 50 years in operation, and has brought in a slew of well-known musicians this year. In May, Arlo Guthrie took the Zankel stage.? "We're trying to celebrate the artists who have played Lena and gone on to have really extraordinary careers," Craig said.
The show opened with Erin McKeown, a folk songwriter featured on DiFranco's Righteous Babe record label. She reached the audience with interaction, encouraging snaps and claps during songs. "This song is about claustrophobia and to feel claustrophobic. I need you all to whisper while I'm singing…like you're talking about me," said McKeown. McKeown played solo on an electric guitar with a gritty sound and songs sprinkled with her own hisses and stage whispers.
Then out came the Righteous Babe herself. DiFranco took the stage to cheers and opened with her crowd-pleaser, "Anticipate." DiFranco also played solo, often switching guitars in between songs, taking advantage of different acoustics and tunings.
Members of the audience frequently took the initiative to interject in between DiFranco's songs. DiFranco played two encore songs, bringing McKeown back out for a duet rendition of "Overlap."
Caffé Lena staff used the concert as a chance to promote the venue's new student rush ticket policy. When concerts do not sell out, students will be able to purchase tickets on the night of the performance for $5, about one-fourth of the regular price. At sold-out concerts, rush tickets will not be available.
Lena staff have expressed the desire to bring more singers to Zankel in a joint production with the college, but currently there are no joint performances billed. Downtown at Caffè Lena, many more well known folk artists will be performing, including Mary Gauthier, Eric Andersen and John Doyle.