Singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco has enjoyed a loyal following in Portland since the 1990s, when her albums such as “Dilate” and “Like I Said: Songs 1990-91” were dorm room staples across the Northeast and beyond.

Any time she returns in a high-profile gig, it’s a cause for celebration. In the wake of the recent election, it’s bigger than that.

Her fan base is likely about 99 percent liberal, with a 1 percent margin for error. And so, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory last week and the threat it might pose women’s rights, the concert was part comfort food, part catharsis, and part call to action.

If you share DiFranco’s political beliefs, it can be a cynical time.

But there is no time for cynicism in her music or performance. She played a brisk set full of fan-favorites old and new, and came across like she always has: beaming with joy, working the stage like a coiled spring, letting words flow in an acrobatic cadence, flashing dexterous guitar skill that was underrated even when she was at her mainstream peak.

She’s fallen out of favor in the music press in part by staying around too long, but also by adhering to parameters that are rarely considered cool – abject sincerity, unapologetic political content, a sometimes uncomfortable directness – despite the fact that she’s influenced everything from 1990s emo to modern indie-rock, succeeded as a DIY businesswomen in the pre-Internet era, and married punk-rock and personal folk in ways that still resound. There was never anyone like her before, and there still isn’t anyone like her.


She tackles subjects that are more rare in music than one might think, such as devoted friendship, sharing with the crowd one of her finest such songs in “If He Tries Anything,” before a request for unity in “Subdivision” and the showstopping crescendo of “Swan Dive.” For older fans, the once-intense personal attachment to songs such as “Anticipate” conjured emotional experiences in concert, like seeing a photograph of yourself in an old haircut, but her songs are somehow both time-specific and evergreen. She performed a spoken word piece written so long ago that it contains the word “stewardesses,” yet its message about America’s historical fusion of activism and patriotism felt as pointed as ever.

Those 1990s fans have grown up. Many have had children, and DiFranco spoke of her own daughter. But this was not a nostalgia tour. In spite of being ignored by contemporary music media, younger audiences seem to have found her; perhaps her music is still a rite of passage for some. The audience still skews feminine to an overwhelming degree, even moreso than it did in the 1990s, but it made for a highly agreeable, relaxing, effervescent environment.

In an era when the term “safe spaces” has become part of mainstream lexicon, this concert embodied the concept. There is something uncommonly moving about seeing three generations of women who are out-of-their-mind excited to hear a song such as the rousing “Shameless.”

During one of many breaks in the music to discuss politics, DiFranco opined about how she doesn’t like the fact that voting is framed as “making your voice heard.” She sees it as something that has nothing to do with ego.

“I’m not expressing myself,” she said. “I’m being accountable to the collective.” Despite the personal nature of many of her songs, it’s clear that she takes the same approach to playing an acoustic guitar and singing on stage.

Robert Ker is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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