Admittedly, my initial excitement about this concert was not so much directly tied to Baez herself, but to those with whom she’s been associated. She is, after all, the woman who wooed Bob Dylan, toured with the Beatles and marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And, though Baez does have an impressive history of suitors and collaborators, I’ve learned that any excitement about The Queen of Folk that hinges on her affiliations is an insult to who she is independently. Like her cover of Steve Earle’s song, “God is God,” Joan is Joan. She’s the reason that every seat in the Baum Walker Hall of the Walton Arts Center was occupied last Saturday night. She’s the reason that — following her four-song encore — the line to the women’s restroom was half full of people there for bladder relief, the other half just needing to wipe mascara streaks from their eyes.
The set list mimicked a ’60s greatest hits album — Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Forever Young.” Donovan’s “Catch The Wind.” Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Baez encouraged the audience to sing along, though some songs were custom-built for intent listening — her chilling cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” for example, and Violetta Para’s “Gracias a la Vida,” a woman’s prayer for life and the earth to which Baez added her unique verse stating that “even Donald” is deserving of prayer.
Joining Baez on stage was Dirk Powell, who Baez claims “God gave […] an overdose of talent” — Powell plays the fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, accordion and keyboard; Gabriel Harris, Baez’s son and drummer who kept my feet tapping all night long; and Grace Stumberg, her assistant vocalist.
Between songs, Baez told stories, drank tea, and in one hilarious instance, told us a joke. Wielding her best Scarlett O’Hara-esque accent, Baez told the story of two friends, Daisy and Pepper. Daisy often boasted about the expensive gifts her husband would give her, to which Pepper would always reply, “That’s nice.” Eventually, Daisy asked Pepper “What does your husband do for you?” Pepper explained that he’d sent her to etiquette class, adding: “I used to say ‘fuck off.’ Now I just say ‘That’s nice.’ ”
Baez’s retirement this fall looms large, and though I was not alive for the first half of her career, I am thankful to have been here to witness a bit of the last.