Joan Baez Says Farewell

THE 60s LIVED ON a little longer last night watching and listening to Joan Baez onstage at Strauss Square, presumably the last time she’ll play Dallas. This is her “Fare Thee Well Tour.” She is 78. Never the chummiest of performers (maybe she and Dylan made a pact not to charm audiences back in 1965), she seemed at first as chilly as the unseasonable April breeze. No “Big D, how ya doin’?” show biz from her. She gets right to the music and remains a folk singer with issues and justice on her mind and in her voice. With only 2 sidemen (one of them her son, Gabriel, a drummer) and a backup singer who appeared mid-show, she stood center stage for more than 90 minutes, picking and strumming a few acoustic guitars with a singular skill and conviction, reminding the thousand or so faithful at the outdoor venue of her history of marching for peace and civil rights. I wondered what number show this would be in a career that started in the late 1950s at Club 47 in Boston and the Newport Folk Festival?

She opened with Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” and did two more by Bob, “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and the protest era standard “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall.” She sang them without the sharp edges of the originals, more laments than confrontations. Not known primarily as a songwriter, she did deliver a stellar “Diamonds and Rust,” her killer song about Dylan and herself when they were young together. Other numbers included Phil Ochs’ “There But for Fortune,” Donovan’s “Catch the Wind,” John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” tagged to a plea for respect for the migrant workers who pick our fruits and vegetables. (A reminder that some things haven’t changed much since Guthrie wrote that song in 1948.) She did lesser knowns by Tom Waits, a song about coming to terms with mortality, the ironic Chilean protest anthem “Gracias a la Vida,” Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” “House of the Rising Sun” and the Negro spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” she performed at Woodstock in 1969. She introduced it with a story of how she once sang it for a slumbering Martin Luther King in Alabama during the freedom march days in order to rouse him in time to give a speech. Close to charming, that one. I did miss “Amsterdam” and maybe one or two more from her Newport days, but the set list was solid. Does she still sing “The Night They Drive Old Dixie Down?” Possibly not.

AFTER A COUPLE encores, she closed with a distinctive take on “Dink’s Song,” the public domain classic about having wings like Nora’s Dove in order to fly away to one you love. Oscar Isaac sang it in Inside Llewen Davis. “Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well” goes the refrain. Which took on additional meaning now for her audience last night. Who wants to think about that?

About Sean Mitchell

SEAN MITCHELL is a journalist, critic and former staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Herald Examiner and Dallas Times Herald. His articles and reviews have also appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, and other publications. Born in Bethlehem, Pa., he grew up in Dallas and is a graduate of St. Mark’s School of Texas and Brown University. He lives in Dallas.
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