EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Rachel and Ani

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Ani DiFranco and Rhiannon Giddens in conversation at the 2019 Greensboro Bound Literary Festival (courtesy photo)

Rachel couldn’t even.

She fidgeted in her seat. She swiveled her head. She fanned herself with her hands. She selfied.

Rachel had missed the window to get a ticket for Ani DiFranco’s reading and conversation with Rhiannon Giddens at this year’s Greensboro Bound festival. And now here she sat, in the center of the front row, preparing to bask in a glow that had lit her way since she was a girl — before the first marriage and the kids and the second engagement and even the third. Rachel pointed to the tattoo on her right calf: a blurred visage of the Righteous Babe Records logo. It was her first.

“She’s more than a role model,” Rachel said. “She’s like my spirit guide.”

Ani was brave: She left Buffalo at 16 and made for New York City in 1987, back when the city was a more hostile place. She was uncompromising, creating Righteous Babe Records when she was 19 years old instead of allowing a record label to corrupt her work. She was a visionary, weaving her ethos into the DIY movement before the tools of recording and distribution became democratized. She was beautiful and strong, and everything else Rachel tries to be.

Rachel (right) with Brian at the talk. (courtesy image)

Rachel had seen Ani DiFranco in the flesh before, of course, plenty of times. But it was never anything like this: a conversation about her life, her work, her family. This wasn’t a performance. This would be like hanging out with her.

It felt like a lot of pressure.

“You don’t understand,” Rachel said. “I’ve been a fan for 20 years. Ani got me through everything.”

Rachel gasped when Ani came out, sat rapturously as Ani read from her book, No Walls and the Recurring Dream, absorbed every word that came from Ani’s mouth in the same way a plant absorbs sunshine.

And when Rhiannon ended the conversation and kicked it over to questions from the audience, Rachel got over herself and scrambled for one of the microphones at the feet of the aisles in front of the stage.

The question wasn’t important — she barely remembered it afterwards. What mattered was that she asked it, that Ani answered it thoughtfully, that Ani looked right at her as she did.

Rachel returned eye contact as long as she could. But it was like looking at the sun.