Folk singer Ani DiFranco returns to Maine for a set of tunes drawing from a career dating back to the early ’90s that boasts 17 studio albums and several live ones. Her most recent one is 2012’s “Which Side Are You On” and all of them have been released on her own Righteous Babe label. The last time Ani and I spoke was in November and since then two significant things have happened: the death of Pete Seeger and the backlash she encountered after scheduling – and ultimately canceling – a writers’ and performers’ retreat at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, New Orleans.

I caught up with DiFranco, 43, from her home in Louisiana, where the sounds of her 1-year-old son Dante could be heard in the background. DiFranco also has a 7-year-old daughter named Petah. DiFranco said she’s working on a new record in little fits and spurts “between babies and tours and wiping butts.” We can expect this record in the fall.

“It’s pretty much all there. I just need to clean house, so I’ve decided I’m gonna finish it when I come home from this tour.”

As for Pete Seeger, DiFranco – like so many others – had nothing but sincere praise for him. “He was an old-school activist and organizer and you got out pen and paper and you did it that way and he still did it that way better than anybody with any modern technology.” In fact DiFranco has many hand-written letters that Seeger wrote to her over the years. “I can’t even tell you what an inspiration he was to me on just every level there is.”

In that vein, I wondered if DiFranco missed the pre-Internet days, and my suspicions were correct. “I constructed this job for myself where I had the luxury of not ever evolving into the 21st century. I still write longhand letters and I don’t do social media. So yeah, I totally long for those days, I’m a Luddite.”

Ironically, it was DiFranco’s absence from social media that added fuel to a fire that sparked toward the end of December 2013. On both her label site and Facebook page, DiFranco posted a response to the many complaints and concerns that her fans – and certainly others – had expressed about a retreat she had booked on land considered by many to be hallowed ground.

Here’s an excerpt from her remarks about canceling it: “I did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high-velocity bitterness. I imagined instead that the setting would become a participant.”

The statement solicited more than 5,400 comments on Facebook and while many supported her, just as many of them accused DiFranco of not actually apologizing. (Read the entire post.)

On Jan. 2, DiFranco took to the Internet again. “I would like to say I am sincerely sorry. It is obvious to me now that you were right; all those who said we can’t in good conscience go to that place and support it or look past for one moment what it deeply represents. I needed a wake-up call and you gave it to me.” (Read the entire post.)

Suffice to say, this is a firestorm that DiFranco, who has consistently been lauded for her activism throughout her entire career, is still reeling from. “You know, four or five months have gone by, but I still feel a new thing each moment. There’s so much to feel and some of it was just born of pain and it was a very rough ride.”

I told DiFranco that it seemed like she leaned into rather than away from it and she said she agreed. “I tried very much to. I mean, I didn’t have to try to be present in it once I became aware of it, which was quite late in the game.”

She went on to explain that her longtime manager, in a failed attempt to shelter her, waited too long to fill her in on the online explosion.

“See, I don’t do social media. You think you can just not go in that world and then that world comes and bludgeons you.

“So I’ve been wondering about that lately: Do I have the luxury of just living in my longhand world? And a lot of people say ‘No, you should have been present and accountable earlier.’ ”

If you’re going to see DiFranco in Orono, expect the unexpected.

“I have no idea until I show up that day, that’s how I keep it interesting for myself,” she said.

Our conversation ended on this note: “I think what you’ll find is a happy folksinger just happy to be out there playing music.”

Ani DiFranco. 7 p.m. Wednesday. Collins Center for the Arts. University of Maine, Orono. $33; collinscenterforthearts.com

 

Staff Writer Aimsel Ponti can be reached at 791-6455 or at:

[email protected]