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On Tour With Ani DiFranco

Front-of-house engineer John Lee Hardee was recently spotted at the Langerado Festival mixing for longtime artist Ani DiFranco.

Ani DiFranco

Photos: Dave Vann

Front-of-house engineer John Lee Hardee was recently spotted at the Langerado Festival mixing for longtime artist Ani DiFranco. Here’s what he says about mixing up his style for festival performances; for a photo gallery from Langerado, visit

How much gear are you carrying?
We are carrying everything—except FOH! Why carry a desk when you can just carry a card? It fits in the palm of my hand. I have been mixing the Ani show on the Digidesign D-Show (my personal fave), and the Yamaha 5D and M7. We have the Yamaha M7 for monitors, as well as an Audix, AKG and Sennheiser microphone package. We carry all of our own band gear, power distro, audio snake, etc.

Front-of-house engineer John Lee Hardee

How do you keep her vocal front and center?

It all starts with Ani. She has a witty inflection and pronunciation, which gives her voice presence and an amazing beauty. We use the Audix OM5 to demonstrate these qualities as naturally as possible. This mic has the two things I’m listening for: warmth and clarity. I also use a BSS DPR-402, barely working the compressor as there is little need. But the de-esser earns its money every night. She sings, she recites poetry, she talks, she whispers and she shouts. Everybody wants to hear every word she has to say, no matter how soft or fierce.

Do you have a specific mixing technique?

Delicate and in your face—all at the same time. There are a lot of intricacies and a lot of spaces. The musicianship is mind-boggling. As of recently, Ani and Todd [Sickafoose] are joined onstage by the amazing Allison Miller on drums and backing vocals, along with Mike Dillon on vibraphones, marimbas, tablas and various other percussion. It’s completely acoustic and organic. The compositions are extraordinary but simple and I strive to mix them that same way. Not too many effects; some vocal touches and brushes here and there. Lucky for me Kiko Marra, our monitor engineer, keeps a tight sound onstage. We work together closely to make sure that it’s all gelling in the one spot it matters most—the one were she stands.

Does your style change when you’re at a festival?

I turn it up, for starters. Our usual setting would be a theater, symphony hall or auditorium. So when we get outside, circumstances allowing, I give it some gas. I’ll goose the kick drum a little extra, make sure the bass is pleasantly covering the area and have some fun.