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Ani DiFranco brings songs of freedom to Petaluma

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If You Go

Who: Ani DiFranco, with Jesca Hoop

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19

Where: Mystic Theatre, 23 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma

Admission: Sold out, but you can sign up for the Mystic’s waitlist, or search ticket resale websites

Information: 707-775-6048, mystictheatre.com

Prince once said of Ani DiFranco, “After being with her, it dawned on me why she’s like that — she’s never had a ceiling over her.”

Even when she hardly had a bed to sleep in, the fiercely independent artist never succumbed to pre-set boundaries. Instead, she fought for every scrap of opportunity and built a career from nothing. As a teenager living on the streets of Buffalo, New York, she celebrated her 16th birthday in the bus station where she slept. At 19, she launched her own label, Righteous Babe Records, and released her self-titled debut album. Now, at 49, her path is the template for any independent artist, something even a relentless maverick like Prince sought to emulate when he was struggling to break free from his Warner Brothers contract.

She comes to the Mystic Theatre Wednesday, Feb. 19, for a sold-out show, with Santa Rosa native Jesca Hoop opening.

With more than two dozen albums under her belt, DiFranco has been under a spell of reflection lately, releasing her memoir “No Walls and the Recurring Dream” last year before going on tour. It’s been a long time since her defiant song “32 Flavors” first turned heads in the mid-’90s, sparking singalongs, thriving somewhere outside of mainstream in sweaty clubs and on Lilith Fair tours and rolling off the tongues of both straight and gay fans looking for someone to connect with.

When she came out as bisexual in her early 20s, some were heartbroken, some were hurt, but many learned to live with it. Now, married (to a man, her sound engineer) with two kids and living in New Orleans for the past 15 years, she’s as unapologetic about her choices as she was when she wrote “In or Out,” singing, “Guess there’s something wrong with me / guess I don’t fit in / no one wants to touch it / no one knows where to begin.”

Before she rolls into Petaluma to play a sold-out show the Mystic Theatre on Wednesday, Feb. 19, here are the top 5 things worth knowing right now about DiFranco:

1. Her next release is the “Prison Music Project,” an album of songs written by prisoners at New Folsom Prison. The inmates shared their work with longtime DiFranco collaborator Zoe Boekbinder, who met them while volunteering as prison music teacher. As producer, DiFranco hopes to give a voice to those often dehumanized in an age of mass incarceration. “If we don’t have a loved one or a friend in prison, it’s easy to not really know what’s happening, that we have two million people locked in cages in the United States,” she told Rolling Stone.

It covers far more uncharted territory than her latest release, the retro “No Walls” mixtape accompanying her memoir. She offers it up as if peddling it out of her car trunk so many years ago: “So here is my mixtape for you, like the kind that I would make you on cassette if it was, like, 1993 and I was really into you,” she says in promo materials. “It’s a flight of Ani songs that I took the liberty of revisiting, solo style, twenty … (thirty?!) years later, songs that factor (either literally or figuratively) into my memoir.”

If You Go

Who: Ani DiFranco, with Jesca Hoop

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19

Where: Mystic Theatre, 23 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma

Admission: Sold out, but you can sign up for the Mystic’s waitlist, or search ticket resale websites

Information: 707-775-6048, mystictheatre.com

2. Among iconic folksingers, Pete Seeger had a far more positive influence on her than Bob Dylan, who she once toured with. In her memoir, she writes: “Bob felt like a man who lived in fear that someone would discover and expose him as a fraud. I am not saying he is a fraud. On the contrary, I believe his art to be a great gift. I’m just saying there is a difference between open and closed. The man forced to guard his legend carefully in order that he always will have something to hide behind, no matter how brilliant he is, is not as powerful to me as the man who stands out in the open, naked and unarmed.”

3. Recent setlists reveal DiFranco has been playing covers of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” and Anais Mitchell’s “Why We Build the Wall.”

4. DiFranco tapped Santa Rosa native folksinger Jesca Hoop to open shows on her latest tour. Even though Hoop fled for England, the former nanny to Tom Waits fondly remembers her formative years in Sonoma County, as she once told an interviewer, “I lived under a tree for a summer, in yurts, in cob dwellings and in a chicken shack that I converted.”

5. Awarded the People’s Voice Award by Folk Alliance in December, DiFranco said, “What I get with microphones and platforms are opportunities (for change). If we squander too many of our opportunities, the cumulative effect can be quite awful. ... I want to invite us all to look for those opportunities.” But on the flipside, as she recently told the Guardian, that same platform for up-and-coming singer-songwriters can be tricky in an age of social media. “I don’t know that I would have felt as free or unfettered. Mine was a world where every momentary choice didn’t have to be one you were making in an endless eternity of scrutiny. Good luck to the artists today who are trying to break ground. God bless them.”

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