Baez Bids Farwell at Beacon Theatre Concert


A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Joan Baez has recorded over 20 albums since 1959’s Folksingers ‘Round Harvard Square. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

By Ryan Di Corpo

“I need another place / Will there be peace?” crooned Joan Baez Saturday night at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan.

The song, entitled “Another World” and described by Baez as “very dark” and yet “beautiful,” originally belonged to Antony and the Johnsons.

As a plea for peace and a precursory lamentation for a world that is “nearly gone,” the tune relates well to both Baez’s life and a nation increasingly concerned with its own survival.

Baez, gifted with one of the richest voices of her era, is known just as much for her over six-decade long music career as she is for her stalwart commitment to issues of civil rights and nonviolence.

While mostly known for her interpretations of songs by other artists, some of whom are her friends, Baez is also recognized for her own songwriting efforts, including “Sweet Sir Galahad” and her 1975 top-40 single “Diamonds and Rust.”

Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, whose early to mid-’60s romantic relationship with Baez is now the stuff of legend, once referred to Baez as “an enchantress” and compared her voice to “that of a siren from off some Greek island.”

Baez performed at the Beacon on Saturday in promotion of her new album Whistle Down the Wind and as part of her since-extended Fare Thee Well Tour.

Baez joins a list of music legends — Paul Simon, Bob Seger, Sir Elton John — who have completed, announced or are currently staging farewell tours.

Baez, at 77, sounds as if the impact of decades of touring has been somewhat benevolent. Her voice has changed, but not for the worse.

The crowd at the nearly sold-out Beacon was overwhelmingly of Baez’s generation. I sat next to a couple who attended the 1963 March on Washington and the 1969 Woodstock Festival — both events at which Baez performed.

While older fans remain dedicated, younger generations largely are not listening to Baez’s music. However, they should be.

Baez sang the first few songs of the night on stage alone, save for the cameraman lingering behind a curtain stage right.

She was later joined by multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, percussionist Gabriel Harris (Baez’s son), backup vocalist Grace Stumberg and a young woman who would sprint out stage left with a new guitar and then sprint out of sight in between songs.

The concert included several highlights. Baez delivered a sensitive, tightly controlled rendition of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “The Things That We Are Made Of.”

Aided by the bass talents of Powell, Baez hit a lower note at the conclusion of the song which sounded, for a brief moment, like 1960s Baez had taken hold of the microphone.

Another highlight was Baez’s performance of “Diamonds and Rust,” one of her most popular songs.

A highly detailed tale of her pain in the years following her breakup with Bob Dylan, any performance of this song is an extraordinarily intimate act, especially with a crowd of strangers aware of the story behind her words.

Her flawless performance of Dylan’s lyrically intricate 1962 song “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” provided another stand-out moment.

Baez’s years of activism — marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, visiting American POWs in North Vietnam in 1972 — were not absent from the concert.

She encouraged people to vote and to “double-down” on their empathy and compassion in a time which seems fit to render those concepts obsolete, foolish or both.

Her performance of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” aimed to urge the audience, in Baez’s sentiments, to look at what talents immigrants bring instead of imagining what they may steal from us.

Baez also played “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” written by Zoe Mulford, in reference to President Obama’s singing during his 2015 eulogy for victims of the church shooting in Charleston.

Her performance felt imbued with a deeper meaning due to the attendance of two guests which Baez jokingly claimed “upstaged” her: former president Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The audience at the Beacon that night was also treated, due to a request made backstage to Baez by President Clinton, to a rare performance for this current tour.

Baez, doing her best imitation of the president, explained that Clinton and former Madame Secretary are fans of the Robbie Robertson-penned “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

The Civil War-themed hit was covered by Baez in 1971 and earned her the number three spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

On Saturday, Baez’s performance of “Dixie” prompted an excited audience sing-along.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Dirk Powell was the unsung musician of the night, whose brilliant accompaniment on bass guitar, banjo and piano — among other instruments — did much to heighten the performance.

As of now, the final date of Baez’s tour is May 5, 2019 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester.

This is unfortunate, for at a time where America is waging war on itself and the ideals which Baez holds most dear, this may be the time that we need her spirit and her music the most.

A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Joan Baez has recorded over 20 albums since 1959’s Folksingers ‘Round Harvard Square. (Courtesy of Wikimedia).