Joan Baez came to Westbury town on the eve of Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Dylan and Baez were the King and Queen of the folk scene in the early 1960’s, and will be linked together far into the future. A fit and trim Baez would take the stage at the NYCB Theatre, and from the moment she opened with “Fennario,” the audience was offered a respite from the divisive and bombastic stories raging like a storm on the nightly news. Baez would sing her own songs, along with those of Dylan, Tom Waits, Steve Earle, Woodie Guthrie, Kris Kristofferson, Phil Ochs, and others.
When you hear Baez’s voice, you wonder if a choir of invisible angels is in attendance picking up tips. In all, Baez would offer 21 songs, and there was even a masterful drum solo. Baez introduced her drummer, announcing “my lovely son, Gabe.” With a capable band consisting of Gabe Harris on percussion, Dirk Powell taking on the multiple duties on fiddle, banjo, piano, guitar, mandolin, keyboards, and Grace Stumberg on vocals in tow, Baez is still able to pull the string of our basic humanness and common decency to others.
Baez continued with the Tom Waits number, “The Last Leaf on the Tree.” Next up was Steve Earle‘s “God Is God.” Baez was singing solo until the fourth number of the evening, “Silver Dagger.” It was then her ensemble came out to join her. Baez announced “a song that you know”, and launched into a beautiful rendition of, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” As the reindeer army was all coming home, the songstress called the audience into a touching sing along. The atmosphere called to mind a volatile, yet more gentle form of political activism.
A heart as gentle as that which Baez possesses must palpably feel intense angst at current events. We clearly did not fulfill the potential promise stated in a Dylan’s 60’s anthem, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” The change certainly came, only as an all out war in Vietnam, Watergate, racial riots, and a populace largely alienated from their representatives. We have evolved since then into a state at constant war, with military bases in 181 countries.
Woody Guthrie‘s “Deportee” brought to mind Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue Tour, where the song was sung by Bob and Joan. Depicting a plane crash at Los Gatos Canyon, the victims of the crash were nameless in newspaper reports. Baez sensitively sought to use the song as a vehicle to shine a light on those who similarly go nameless today.
Kris Kristofferson‘s “Me And Bobby McGee” was a highlight, which was followed by the Aretha Franklin number “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” When Baez offered a touching “Diamonds And Rust,” Dylan couldn’t have seemed more palpable if he had actually been on the stage with her. Dylan once remarked that people do strange things when they are in love, regarding Baez. As strong as a figure as Baez cuts, the time spent with Dylan has helped to define her.
How many could interact so intimately with such a musical genius without this being the case? Baez seems to speak of Dylan in terms of awe, sadness, and at times some remnant of underlying anger. Even years later, some remnant of flame still seems to burn between them at times, apparent when one mentions the other.
Other songs included “Joe Hill,” “Darling Corey,” and “Gracias a la Vida.” The 21-song set list ended with the encores of John Lennon‘s “Imagine,” and Paul Simon‘s “The Boxer.” The audience stood voicing their appreciation. For an evening, decency and sanity were apparent in a political gathering in 2016. That is becoming too rare an occurrence in this day and age, especially when taking into account the circus that is the current Presidential Election.
The NYCB Theatre at Westbury offered an audience friendly atmosphere, superior acoustics, and ample parking. An artist such as Joan Baez is well served playing in such an intimate and comely venue. Baez released some comments on Bob Dylan receiving his Nobel Prize, not long after the show. The comments were quite poignant, and dignified. They are published on her Facebook account:
“The Nobel Prize for Literature is yet another step towards immortality for Bob Dylan. The rebellious, reclusive, unpredictable artist/composer is exactly where the Nobel Prize for Literature needs to be. His gift with words is unsurpassable. Out of my repertoire spanning 60 years, no songs have been more moving and worthy in their depth, darkness, fury, mystery, beauty, and humor than Bob’s. None has been more of a pleasure to sing. None will come again.”
– words by Bob Wilson
[all photos courtesy of Kacper Jarecki]