It's been almost two years since Ani DiFranco joined other musical acts and sports events in canceling their shows in North Carolina in response to House Bill 2.
The law, passed in 2017, attracted national attention for, among other things, requiring people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificates. DiFranco was scheduled to headline the Festival for the Eno in Durham that July, but a few months before, she released a statement "condemning this unjust law."
With a compromise law in place that repeals the so-called Bathroom Bill, DiFranco and others are coming back to North Carolina. She will bring her “Rise Up” tour to the Carolina Theatre in Durham May 4.
The singer-songwriter, who has been a social activist since her career commenced a generation ago, wasn't happy with HB2. But she said she revels in how people responded to it.
“The thought of the whole unfolding of HB2 was awesome,” DiFranco says during an interview from Nashville, Tenn. “What I’m talking about is the resistance. The pushback to HB2 was fierce and effective. It shows what people can do when they get together. Businesses, corporations, artists, sports teams. Hooray.”
DiFranco, 47, believes that times are changing, not just in North Carolina but across the country.
“I have to believe that there is a deep awakening in our country, and our current political administration is the shadow side of it,” DiFranco says.
Perhaps young people, many of whom failed to cast a vote during the presidential election, will be politically active in the future, she said.
“I think you can look around yourself in America today and see disillusionment and numbness everywhere, and with good reason,” DiFranco says. “It’s not an easy thing to defeat. But I firmly believe that the antidote to having democracy slipped out from underneath you is to make yourself believe in it enough to cast a vote.”
DiFranco has always been uncompromising, adventurous and completely autonomous. DiFranco was an independent artist before it was fashionable. Her latest album “Binary” is her 25th studio recording. Putting together a set list is never easy for DiFranco.
“It’s difficult,” DiFranco says. “I try to make it make sense for wherever I am, for whatever place I am in.
Expect quite a bit of “Binary” to be showcased. Jazz, folk and avant-rock are some of the styles DiFranco delivers. A number of guests help flesh out the sound. New Orleans multi-instrumentalist Ivan Neville, saxophonist Maceo Parker and Bon Iver singer-songwriter Justin Vernon each add their sonic signature to “Binary.”
“It was super, super great to have all of those talented people gracing my songs,” DiFranco says. “Each of them brought their spirit to the record. And I think that’s why I love this new record of mine.”
Don’t be surprised if DiFranco previews some unrecorded material. “I can show you what I’ve been writing for the last year and a half,” DiFranco says.
DiFranco, who grew up listening to such cerebral singer-songwriters as Joan Armatrading and Suzanne Vega, has come a long way from the days when she played solo in bars in Buffalo.
“I remember so well what those days were like,” DiFranco says. “I’ve learned so much since then. Some things have changed and some have remained the same.”
One constant is DiFranco’s indie label, Righteous Babe. “I was an early example of an alternative,” DiFranco says. “And now there are thankfully so many more (independent artists).”
DiFranco’s career commenced during a low-tech era. The positives of possessing devices are obvious but DiFranco can’t help but comment on the addiction many have when it comes to contemporary gadgets.
“You just have to put the thing down,” DiFranco says about cell phones. “Leave the house and find something awesome to do. Finding that will make your whole life better. And you will discover that engagement is an end to itself that makes your life better.”
DiFranco isn’t just offering lip service. That’s been her way of life as a musician.
“If I lived another way, I wouldn’t have so much music to draw from,” DiFranco says. “I can’t imagine being passive. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines. I’ve always wanted to get out there and create.”
Who: Ani DiFranco with Gracie and Rachel
When: 8 p.m. May 4
Where: Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham
Tickets: $28, $39.50, $49.50 and $59.50
Info: 919-560-3030 or carolinatheatre.org