Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Amazing, Unforgettable Joan Baez

In November we went to hear Joan Baez at the Aladdin Theater; it was one of my birthday presents (the other one was the Dar Williams concert). We've seen Joan several times before throughout the years...but in much bigger venues, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, or the Oregon Zoo. This concert was by far the best one she's ever given! It was phenomenal.

I've always been a Joan Baez fan--to a guitar-strumming, folk-loving singer like me, she is a classic. I've read her autobiographies and I know most of her music. Joan first performed at Club 47 in Boston 50 YEARS AGO!


This concert was different from the rest though, following on the heels of a long-waited-for Democratic victory.

She came out on stage at the intimate Aladdin, and the first thing she did was open her arms wide and shout: "WE DID IT!!" What a way to start a concert...especially coming from such a passionate, pacifist, fighting-for-civil-rights, history-making activist. I'm sure she knew she'd be pretty safe opening a concert that way in blue Oregon--and I imagine not many disappointed Republicans are drawn to Joan Baez concerts, given her history for liberal activism. She endorsed Obama back in February.

She talked about being in Virginia on election night, in a jungle-themed hotel with animal bathrobes...and when they announced that Obama had won, she and her band ran out into the street shouting, only to be greeted with a quiet street. So they jumped in a cab and rode into Washington, to the White House...in their jungle bathrobes. She said that in all of her time on earth, she has never been a witness to such pure joy and hope in the air.


I just found a video on youtube of her and her band leading "Gracias la Vida" at Obama headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, the day after the election. You can see her talented band members displaying their string prowess in this video.

She talked about knowing and singing with Johnny Cash and did the inevitable Bob Dylan impressions, ending her trademark song about Dylan, "Diamonds and Rust," with "If you offer me diamonds or rust, I'll take the grammy."


Young Baez and Dylan

At 69, Joan's performing skills and voice are as strong as ever. She made quite a few jokes about her age, but the fact is that she looks and still is amazing. One of the reasons I enjoyed the concert so much was her incredible backup band. They were wildly talented, multi-instrumental musicians.

John Doyle is her left-handed guitarist and musical director. He's apparently quite famous in the Celtic music world. I loved watching and listening to his very energetic guitar playing and beautiful vocal backups.

Dirk Powell plays fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and accordion, and his roots are in Cajun and Appalachian music. He too was amazing.

Yet another concert to inspire me to take up my guitar and mandolin once again...although it also put me to shame to watch such talented musicans!!

Another fun aspect to this concert is that we ran into friends of ours while waiting in line--Carolyn and Al had a 24-weeker who is just a few months younger than Chris, and we got to know them when the boys were babies through our work with Precious Beginnings and Emanuel. They had brought their son, Drew, to the concert, and since it was general admission, we saved seats for them right next to us. It was fun to catch up with them...little did we know we were all Joan Baez fans!

Joan has a great new album out, "Day after Tomorrow" (dedicated to her 95-year-old mother!). The last album of original songs she put out, "Dark Notes on a Big Guitar," was heavily blues based, and I wasn't as crazy about it (I even donated my copy to Goodwill!).

If you are a Joan fan or want to know more about what she's been up to, check out this NPR interview. It also has a great video of her and the talented John Doyle recording in the NPR studio (much better quality than the youtube ones below).

Joan and the band sang several songs that brought tears to my eyes...two of them are on a recent cover album she did called "Bowery Songs."

The first one is called "Christmas in Washington," which she sang after telling the story about going to the White House after Obama won--it's more poignant than ever now:













And this was another one I really liked, "Jerusalem" (forgive the poor sound quality of this video, but you get the idea):

Here is a video of Joan performing one of the songs off her new album, "God Is God"--lyrics at the bottom.

God Is God (by Steve Earle)

I believe in prophecy.
Some folks see things not everybody can see.
And, once in a while, they pass the secret along to you and me.

And I believe in miracles.
Something sacred burning in every bush and tree.
We can all learn to sing the songs the angels sing.
Yeah, I believe in God, and God ain't me.

I've traveled around the world,
Stood on mighty mountains and gazed across the wilderness.
Never seen a line in the sand or a diamond in the dust.
And as our fate unfurls,
Every day that passes I'm sure about a little bit less.
Even my money keeps telling me it's God I need to trust.

And I believe in God, but God ain't us.

God, in my little understanding, don't care what name I call.
Whether or not I believe doesn't matter at all.
I receive the blessings.
That every day on Earth's another chance to get it right.
Let this little light of mine shine and rage against the night.

Just another lesson
Maybe someone's watching and wondering what I got.
Maybe this is why I'm here on Earth, and maybe not.

But I believe in God, and God is God.

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