Ani DiFranco Cancels Seminar At Former Slave Plantation

Writing in an open letter to fans that she didn’t know of the location when she agreed to curate a writing and performing seminar, Ani DiFranco has canceled her “Righteous Retreat in the Big Easy” event that was to take place at a plantation with a history of slavery.

Photo: Julia Lofstrand for the 9:30 Club
9:30 Club, Washington, D.C.

The June retreat, which was to include her Righteous Babe recording mates Toshi Reagon, Hamell On Trial and Buddy Wakefield, was set to take place near New Orleans at Nottoway Plantation.  In a message posted on her website, DiFranco said she had heard the collective message expressed by fans urging her to cancel her participation.  The singer/songwriter also said she thought the location might help fuel a dialogue about the location’s history.

“I imagined instead that the setting would become a participant in the event,” DiFranco wrote.  “This was doubtless to be a gathering of progressive and engaged people, so I imagined a dialogue would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we were.”

But fans thought otherwise and DiFranco noted that she had “heard the feedback that it is not my place to go to former plantations and initiate such a dialogue.”

But it wasn’t just the plantation’s association with slavery that had DiFranco’s fans upset. pointed out that the location is ultimately owned by the Paul Ramsey Group, which is known, among other things, for donating money to anti-gay causes.

“As to the matter of the current owner of the resort and his political leanings, that was brought to my attention yesterday and it does disturb me,” DiFranco wrote.  “But it also begs further questions: who are all the owners of all the venues I or any other musician play?  The performing arts centers?  The theatres? The nightclubs?  I bet there are a lot of rich white dudes with conservative political leanings on the list.  Is it possible to separate the positive from the negative people in this world?  Will those lines be clear and discernible with enough research?  Is it my job to do this for every gig?  Is it possible to ensure that no ‘bad’ person will ever profit in any way from my existence or my work?”

DiFranco also said she did “not wish to reinvent” the seminar so that she could “eliminate the stay at Nottoway Plantation.”  Instead, she wrote that she wished “only to cancel.”  Click here for the entire message.

Meanwhile, an online petition calling for DiFranco to cancel the seminar had received more than 2,500 signatures.