Sold-out State shows Joan Baez the love
By Luke Fenchel • Correspondent • March 7, 2009
Joan Baez has had a profound influence on music and activism for a
half-century, but Friday night she delighted a sold-out audience at
The State Theatre with a heartfelt performance that highlighted the
personal rather than the political.
Baez's show celebrated her five decade-long career from "Silver
Dagger," the opening track on her 1960 debut album to material
released less than six months ago.
"I'm going to do some new songs, some medium songs, and some songs
that you all came to hear," Baez joked early on.
The crowd turned out to be as receptive to newer material as her
classic hits, and near the end of the more than two hour show,
overwhelmed by the crowd's profoundly positive reaction, Baez
proclaimed: "For an audience like you, we don't work, we just play."
Making her first appearance in Ithaca in more than five years, Baez
treated an adoring audience to a trove of her iconic folk music,
served up with a majesty and intimacy that is characteristic of her
humanistic approach to both her life and music.
Her appearance was also marked by humility and humor. Baez joked
about her parents, her mythology, and her fame. Leading up to her
second encore, she teased, "I didn't even have the decency to leave
the stage. I've always said, it's never been about the money, it's
about the adulation."
The set drew from Baez's long and distinguished artistic career,
featuring last year's "Day After Tomorrow," her collaboration with
producer, singer and songwriter Steve Earle that has garnered
positive reviews and a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary
Folk/Americana album. That album marked a return of sorts not to
vintage material, but to songs that evoke the spirit and message of
her defining early work as an artist and activist.
Baez sang almost half of the songs from "Day After Tomorrow,"
including Earle's "God is God" and "I Am a Wanderer," as well as
Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett's "Scarlet Tide." Her set also
offered material from contemporary songwriters that fit well with
subject matter familiar to her fans: peace and love, death and loss.
Highlights included an old-time version of "Farewell Angelina," the
haunting country ballad "Long Black Veil" and Donovan's "Catch the Wind."
Many songs drew from her classic repertoire, including her trademark
interpretations of the traditional "Lily of the West," from 1961's
"Joan Baez Volume 2," as well as her signature renditions of Bob
Dylan's "Forever Young" and "Love is a Four Letter Word."
Backed by a four-piece band, including the versatile Dirk Powell on
banjo, mandolin and fiddle, Baez effortlessly reasserted herself as a
vital artist as well as a historic one. For the majority of her set,
Baez performed alongside Powell, as well as guitarist and mandola
player Scott Nygaard, bassist Todd Phillips, and her son,
percussionist Gabe Harris.
At the show's midpoint, Baez's band left the stage so the folk icon
could perform an even more stripped-down set for a handful of songs
that proved a high point of an evening full of peaks. After Harris
joined her on a gourd drum called the Calabash for "Honest Lullaby,"
Baez offered solo renditions of her most famous interpretations: an a
capella "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," a touching "Forever Young" and a
perfect version of her most famous song, "Diamonds and Rust."
Baez's soprano has evolved over the years from a precise classical
instrument of purity and strength to a softer, less sanctimonious one
that is more honest and haunting.
Baez appeared even more at ease in response to an adoring crowd.
Following an extended standing ovation for Earle's "Christmas in
Washington," Baez noted, "I'll call Steve tonight and tell him." She
then said, "Whenever the audience likes that one, we sing this next
one," and the band offered up "The Ballad of Joe Hill" to an appreciative hall.
Baez closed the show with a two-song one-two punch, a stunning
rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," and a soul-stirring sing-along
a capella version of "Amazing Grace."
50 years on, folk singer Joan Baez is still singing for 'Tomorrow'
By Luke Z. Fenchel • Correspondent • March 5, 2009
Joan Baez, the signature voice of folk music's 1960s revival as well
as the political and social conscience of a generation of activism,
is an artist not content to rest on her laurels.
"I was always uncomfortable being 'just a legend'," Baez admitted
from her home in California. "If you're called a legend and you don't
keep up to date musically, you're relegated to some great library
somewhere and people think that you're a wonderful thing that passed,
that's past. And they don't want to hear your music now."
Though she has performed for more than a half-century, Baez shows no
sign of slowing down. Last year - the 50th anniversary of both her
debut and the hallowed Cambridge Club 47 (Club Passim) where she
first began singing - saw the release of her 31st album, "The Day
After Tomorrow." Produced by the singer and songwriter Steve Earle
and containing three of his songs alongside material by Tom Waits,
Elvis Costello and Patty Griffin, the album is Baez's first in five
years and has received wide critical acclaim.
On Friday, March 6, Baez will appear for a special engagement at the
State Theatre in Ithaca. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $45, and $35
for upper balcony seating; they are available at the State Theatre
Box Office at 105 W. State St., online at www.stateofithaca.com, or
by calling 277-8283.
"Over the last 20 years (we) have really battled our way back to a
legitimate stance in the music community," Baez mused. "And being
here now makes being a legend just icing on the cake."
Baez has always had a pure and powerful voice that's a combination of
natural inspiration and refined technique, and her rich phrasing and
birdlike trilling have given an eerily haunting sheen to many
otherwise austere folk songs over the past five decades.
"I guess the voice is my greatest gift, and it will be when I can't
do it justice anymore, that's probably when I'll stop," Baez said. "I
have been through times in my career when it's not been as, shall we
say, stimulating as it is right now, where I've thought, well now,
maybe I'll hang it up. But it wasn't ready apparently."
Beyond her longtime social activism, she's perhaps best known for her
off-and-on collaborations with Bob Dylan, acting at times as both his
muse and his biggest critic, and interpreting his acoustic songs with
her highly stylized delivery.
Though it's difficult for many of the Echo Boomer generation to
realize, many came to Bob Dylan by way of Joan Baez, rather than the
other way around. Her championing of the folk revival in the '60s
gave a face to a generation without many other female singers her
age. With a pitch-perfect soprano, Baez popularized songs whose
content was more controversial than a week's worth of newspaper
editorials. Simultaneously, she tirelessly championed causes that
many peers gave up towards the end of the '60s.
Asked about her commitment to the causes she has rallied behind, for
her advice to younger artists about pursuing political and social
causes, Baez suggested that the essential element to protest is risk.
"You know, it's fine to have sympathies, but I think that with
something like Live Aid, the only risk there is that you didn't get
invited. I think it's worth discussing risk with younger people."
She quickly added, "But it must be said that if they are not, it is
perfectly legitimate to make beautiful music."
Lucky for an ever-expanding audience, Baez has managed to do both.
Baez finds intimacy in music, life
March 5, 2009
By RANDY LEWIS
HOLLYWOOD If all the stars had aligned for her, Joan Baez would
have come away from this year's Grammy Awards with the first
recording academy trophy of her long and distinguished career. She
was nominated for her critically lauded album "Day After Tomorrow," a
sparsely produced collection of pointed and illuminating songs by
contemporary writers, including Steve Earle (who produced it), Patty
Griffin, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Eliza Gilkyson.
As it happened, Baez, along with Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris and Rodney
Crowell, had the misfortune of being nominated in the contemporary
folk/Americana category with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, whose
"Raising Sand" superstar collaboration turned into the unstoppable
juggernaut of the Grammy ceremony.
But Baez always has set her sights on loftier goals than music
industry awards, and to her 68-year-old eyes and ears, "Day After
Tomorrow" doesn't need any additional validation.
"Most people seem to have gotten the feeling of what we intended to
do," Baez said by phone recently from her home outside San Francisco,
which she shares with her 95-year-old mother. "We took songs that
sound as though they were written a long time ago and we made them
There's the internal spiritual confidence of Earle's "God Is God,"
Costello and T Bone Burnett's haunting portrait of unbridled power,
"Scarlet Tide," and the Waits-Kathleen Brennan title tune, a song
that takes the form of a heartbreaking letter from a soldier in Iraq.
Earle stripped away the sonic sweetness that's often been applied to
Baez's heavenly soprano voice, opting for a dry aural ambience that
resulted in one of her most intimate recordings.
"What was daunting was that this particular engineer wanted me to be
one-quarter of an inch from the mike," she said. "He would keep
coming into the booth and saying, 'Can you get a little closer?' I
couldn't get any closer without bumping my nose into it."
Since the album came out last fall, Baez has been weaving the new
songs into her concert set lists, even though she might easily, and
comfortably, assemble several nights' worth of music from material
she recorded decades earlier.
"Sometimes you feel people just itching to get to the songs they came
to hear," Baez said. "But, with this thing, people are very
attentive. It's a record I'm really very pleased with. ... I'm being
cautious," she added with a little laugh. "I'm delighted with it."
Baez seems to keep her focus closer to home these days, on her mother
and her own children. From her nonagenarian mother, "I'm studying to
see how to get old." And with her son, she's made an attempt to make
up for some of the time she felt she lost when she was often in the
spotlight as one of the leaders of the political and social protest movement.
"I spend a lot of time with them when I'm home, because I didn't
spend that time with them in the '60s and '70s when I was doing
everything else," she said. "I had a talk with my son one time and
told him, 'I feel guilty for not being around so much when you were
50-year career gives Joan Baez plenty of perspective
By Rege Behe, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
About 15 years ago, Joan Baez decided there was nothing left for her
to say -- at least musically. The musician who penned "Diamonds &
Rust," and "Blessed Are ..." found that she was unable to write more songs.
"I don't know exactly what happened," says Baez, calling from her
home in San Francisco in advance of her performance tonight at the
Byham Theater. "I just stopped. Luckily, there was enough songwriting
going on around me that I didn't feel that it was a necessity to
write. I think if something started bubbling down there and felt the
need to come out in the form of a song, I'd be happy to write it."
It's not as if Baez needs to say anything. During a career spanning
50 years, Baez, 68, became a voice of conscience, an advocate for
civil and human rights. And her singing voice ... well, there have
been few performers who combined a range (three octaves) with the
type of presence that magnetized audiences.
Audiences that, at least initially, Baez feared.
"I was overwhelmed with stage fright," she says. "And then I was
overwhelmed with responsibilities, the responsibility to the entire
world. Lo and behold, when I stopped doing that, the world continued
without me. There was a lot of evolving and change over the years.
"The end result is that now, after lots and lots of therapy -- I
couldn't have done this on my own -- I'm able to get excited doing a
show and not having stage fright and not having the panic. I just
walk out onstage and engage with the people and sing."
Baez's latest release, "Day After Tomorrow," was released last year
to positive reviews. Produced by Steve Earle, it features songs
penned by Patty Griffin, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Eliza Gilkyson
and Earle. Nominated for a Grammy Award -- it lost to the Robert
Plant-Alison Krauss collaboration, "Raising Sand," in the
Contemporary Folk/Americana category -- it became Baez's best-selling
release in years.
The selected songs -- notably Costello's "Scarlet Tide," Griffin's
"Mary" and the title track, by Waits -- are diverse, but fit Baez's
somewhat hazy qualifications.
"It has to be a song that I can make my own," she says. "It has to
have some kind of meaning, but it certainly doesn't have to be
political, as we discover on this album, and many other albums. I
never really discovered exactly what the key is. I know, on this one,
we were headed toward something that would create a bookend for the
very beginning, for the 50 years. So it kind of feels something like
the beginning, but has to be, and is, totally contemporary."
That's a credit to Earle, who has long exhibited a love for folk and
roots music. The musician wrote the first song on the album, "God Is
God," specifically for Baez, and two more of his songs ended up on
"Day After Tomorrow." He worried that he might be seen as favoring his work.
"I said, 'Screw 'em, let's put 12 on if they're good,'" Baez says,
laughing. "In a sense, he's very humble. People say he's brusque and
hard to get along with, and he may be hard for some people to get
along with, but with me, he was kind and thoughtful. He's a bit of an
oddball -- he does talk incessantly, and there were times when I
thought, 'Oh my God.' But what's interesting is that he always says
And so Baez has come full circle. Long gone are the days when she was
elated to be paid $15 per night at Club 47 in Cambridge, Mass. What
remains, she insists, is a love of singing, a love of music and an
audience that never goes away.
"I look out and think, 'What's going on?'" Baez says. "It's odd
enough that I'm still doing this. It's odder that there are still
For Joan Baez, tomorrow has come
Folk icon embraces change with new album, management, tour stop at
By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal music writer
Mar 04, 2009
''Change,'' was the buzzword for much of 2008.
The Obama campaign's catch word and pre-election cultural zeitgeist
helped push him into the White House. Among the famous people who
celebrated and performed at the many pre-inaugural events with Obama
was Joan Baez, a music icon who four decades earlier stood on the
steps of the Washington Monument with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and
sang during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
For much of her five decades in music, Baez has been an icon of 1960s
folk and protest music, and social and political activism. Her
clarion soprano was one of the most recognizable voices to cut
cleanly through the generational, cultural and social din of the
hippie era. But in the last decade or so Baez has let her musical
career languish, riding her cultural icon status while tending to her
multiple causes, a 95-year-old mother and trying to make up for lost
time with her son, Gabriel Harris, by ex-husband/country
singer/songwriter David Harris.
But in 2008, Baez, who will perform at the Ohio Theater at
Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare on Saturday night, has also embraced a
bit of change for herself, getting new management and deciding to
reignite her music career with her second album of new material of
the century, Day After Tomorrow.
''I didn't have proper management,'' she was recently quoted in the
Dallas News about her career malaise. ''I wasn't paying attention. I
wasn't having somebody doing the work for me to get the CDs heard.
People didn't know they were there.''
For the ersatz comeback album, Baez followed the blueprint of many
veteran artists such as Johnny Cash and Solomon Burke when trying to
remind the public (and perhaps in some cases themselves) of their
continued existence in the marketplace by corralling contemporary
songs from a a slew of famous admirers.
For Day After Tomorrow, Baez enlisted former tour buddy, fellow
staunch lefty and celebrated songwriter Steve Earle to produce the
album. Earle also contributed three songs including the meditative
''recovery speak'' of album opener God Is God and Jericho Road, both
written specifically for the project. Baez and Earle don't attempt to
make Baez hip or musically ''relevant'' (no, Lil Wayne does not
appear) or try to invent her spoke on the folk wheel. Instead the
pair picked recent songs from contemporary songwriters that fit in
with Baez's familiar subject matter (peace, love, death, loss) such
as the title track written by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan about a
homesick Iraq War vet (''What I miss you won't believe, shoveling
snow and raking leaves,'' Baez sings softly).
Other songs include Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett's Oscar- and
Grammy-nominated song Scarlet Tide from the 2003 movie Cold Mountain
and country singer/songwriter Diana Jones' Henry Russell's Last
Words, based on the true story of a West Virginia mining disaster and
sung from the point of view of a trapped miner in his final minutes.
'''It took some doing,'' Baez told the Dallas News last month about
the song-picking process. ''It's not an easy job finding them. People
say it's a religious album, a spiritual album. It wasn't conscious,
but it does have more spiritual energy.
''We didn't set out to do that,'' she continued. ''We wanted to do a
Earle keeps it simple, with spare acoustic and well-known bluegrass
side men Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott, Viktor Krauss and Kenny Malone.
The 67-year-old Baez's voice has lost a bit of the clarity and
self-righteous, finger-pointing tone of her salad days but in its
place is a honeyed warmth and permeating sense of tranquility that
makes nearly every song (even the ones about death) feel like an
old-timey lullaby being cooed in a baby's ear by a loving grandmother.
If the album, released in September 2008, was designed to remind
folks that Baez is not just an icon but also a performer it seems to
have done its job as it rocketed to No. 128 on the Billboard charts
upon its release the first time Baez had graced the charts in 29
years. The album has received good reviews and was nominated for a Grammy.
''Most people seem to have gotten the feeling of what we intended to
do,'' Baez told the Los Angeles Times in February. ''We took songs
that sound as though they were written a long time ago and we made
them feel contemporary.''
For the tour, Baez is backed by a four-piece band (that includes her
son Gabriel Harris on percussion) and has been weaving much of the
album into her set lists while still giving fans the classic tunes
such as the bitter Bob Dylan-inspired breakup song and her biggest
hit Diamonds & Rust. She also reaches back to Silver Dagger from her
1960 self-titled debut.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3758.