Joan Baez has been a tremendous artist, performer and advocate for over fifty years. She had a tremendous impact on the civil rights movement and sang in support of Rev. Martin Luther King at many rallies throughout the south in the 1960’s. She has also promoted many other social justice programs throughout the decades including her work for Amnesty International, the Nuclear Freeze movement and Bread and Roses. The latter organization was founded by Joan’s sister, the late Mimi Farina, that brought music into nursing homes, prisons etc. in the San Francisco Bay area. Baez has always perceived her music and work for social and political justice to be inextricably woven together.
On April 17, 2019, Joan brought her Fare Thee Well Tour to the Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX. Before a sold-out audience, Baez treated her listeners to a two hour show that included twenty-three songs spanning her vast catalogue. She introduced the song “ Diamonds and Rust” by saying:
“ I only wrote one hit song in my career and I’m glad that it was this one. “
Accompanied by Dirk Powell ( mandolin, guitar, acoustic bass, and grand piano), her son Gabe Harris on percussion/drums and harmony singer Grace Stumberg, Baez weaved a rich tapestry of work ranging from early work like Bob Dylan’s “ Don’t Think Twice, I t’s Alright “ and “ It Ain’t Me Babe “ to recent material such as “ Whistle Down the Wind “ and “ Last Leaf “.
Joan Baez has been a great interpreter of songs from other writers. She displayed that skill repeatedly in her fine treatment of Donovan’s “ Catch the Wind “, John Lennon’s “ Imagine “ and “ The Boxer “ by Simon And Garfunkel.
Of course, Joan Baez is associated and linked to Bob Dylan. They had a relationship and Baez clearly has continued great respect for Dylan’s songs. She delivered moving versions of both “ A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall “ and “ Forever Young. “
One of the most poignant moments of the show came when Joan Baez introduced Woody Guthrie’s Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos). Baez observed:
“ Every night we do a song dedicated to refugees. Instead of building walls, we need to reach out in support to refugees. “
The continuing theme of racial justice was emphasized by Baez’s performance of “ Birmingham Sunday “ , “ No More Auction Block “ and “ Oh Freedom “. The former song described the pain and the struggle of the Birmingham 16Th Street Baptist Church bombing which happened in 1963.
Like Paul Simon, Joan Baez has announced that this will be the end of formal touring. Paul Simon has recently announced an appearance at this year’s Outlands Festival in san Francisco.
Perhaps, we will see Joan Baez make separate appearances at some events.
That would be nice. She is a gigantic talent with a good heart and continues to shine light in those places which are dark.
As Odetta said:
“ You gotta keep on walking,
Keep on talking,
Marching into freedom land “
May it be so.