Songwriting legend Ani DiFranco, who plays Old National Centre this Thursday, was inspired by another songwriting legend Pete Seeger for the title of her new album Which Side Are You On? And the title track - with Ani-added inverted question mark - became known to DiFranco after she was asked to perform at a celebration for Seeger. Well, we'll let her tell the story below - she's much better at it.
DiFranco's new album is evenly split between deeply personal love songs ("Unworry," "Zoo") and strident political ones ("Amendment," "Splinter"). It was released last January.
"I discovered 'Which Side Are You On' because I got the call to play at Pete Seeger's 90th birthday party, which was at Madison Square Garden and had a whole slew of - well, you can imagine everyone who played that night. And everyone who sang that night was everyone in the room, a la Pete. It was a really special gathering, and a benefit for Clearwater, the organization he helped start to clean up the Hudson River and continues to support.
"We were all playing songs that night that Pete had either penned or put out there in the world and put to work. So, I got the job of playing, 'There's a Hole in the Bucket', with Kris Kristofferson, which was very funny scenario. 'Well, fix it, dear Liza,' [she sings, mimicking Kristofferson]. And I played 'Which Side Are You On,' with Bruce Coburn. So I went and looked up Pete's recorded version from 1950s and I researched the song, which was written by Florence Reece for a mining strike. So I endeavored to learn it for that occasion. And I couldn't help but kind of tinker with it. I was practicing it in dressing rooms on tour leading up to that night, and I just had the will to contemporize the lyrics.
"So, by the time I was done, I sort of made it my own. It became a cornerstone of my shows and I decided to record it. So, the first thing I did was call Pete back and say, 'Hey, I'm making a recording of my version of this song. Will you play on it?' And he did. So it all came full circle, and has everything to do with Pete Seeger."