When Ani DiFranco goes out on tour to support her 2021 album Revolutionary Love, she has over 20 studio albums and EPs worth of songs to choose from. But there’s one song the celebrated singer-songwriter is unsure she’ll drop into setlists: “To the Teeth,” the anti-gun violence title track to her 1999 album released in the wake of the Columbine High School shooting that left 13 people dead – not including the two student gunmen – and 21 injured.
Today, more than two decades later, Americans are reeling from a string of mass shootings including an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 that left 21 people dead, and a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. – DiFranco’s home town – on May 14 resulted in 10 deaths. “For people who have been hoping for and fighting for and pushing for gun regulation for so long and seeing instead this slide towards complete insanity … it’s just heavy,” she tells Billboard‘s Behind the Setlist podcast.
By the time DiFranco wrote “To the Teeth” – before Columbine set off a wave of copycat school shootings – she felt “it already seemed like an epidemic of violence of gun violence and, and a very discernible pattern and some very common sense political and legal measures were already past due,” she says. “But to play that song then, it was like a rallying cry, like, ‘Are you kidding me?!’ Twenty years later, or whatever it’s been, it’s debilitating. It’s emotionally debilitating how much further in the wrong direction we have allowed ourselves to go [and] we have allowed politicians to take us. So I honestly feel like to pull that song out live right now is to just put us all in a state of hopelessness and desperation.”
After starting her U.S. tour in Santa Fe, N.M., on June 17, DiFranco played The Fillmore in San Francisco on June 26, and will continue up the West Coast to Spokane, Wash.m on July 2 before heading to the Northeast for a string of dates across the Midwest and in Colorado. She will perform at the Etheridge Island festival in Playa Mujeres, Mexico, that begins on Aug. 30, as well as the Water Is Life Festival in Duluth, Minn. on Sept. 4.
“My shows,” she continues, “one purpose that they serve is a place to gather and feel not alone, feel hopeful, feel in community, connect with your joy if you’re a person struggling against big issues, and to make change. So, I’m hesitant to to get too heavy in a way that it feels like there’s no air in that room or that room or that room anymore. Because here is one moment we have to feel uplifted, to feel connected to feel a sense of possibility.”