Joan Baez is here, probably for the last time…

A message popped up in my feed via CenterArts a while back. Joan was heading out on a farewell tour, which includes a stop in Humboldt. You may have heard about Joan’s album on NPR. It came out back then and the ultimate protest singer was promoting the record, “Whistle Down The Wind,” getting the word out.

She’s called it her final “formal tour,” meaning the last time she hits the road for one of those day-after-day grueling cross-country slogs. She’s getting too old for that. I guessing her show here this week (Thursday, Nov. 8) is the last time she’ll play here. (What follows is a rehash of a post from earlier this year,)


Locally she’s playing at the Arkley, which is a little bit ironic since she stands in direct opposition to many things the building’s owner Rob Arkley believes in. I don’t have time to get into that right now. But by chance, it turns out the show comes during a time when CenterArts is not doing shows at the Van Duzer. The long awaited earthquake retrofit is finally happening, so the shows in this season have to go somewhere else. (KHSU moved their studios, which won’t be easy.)

I bought tickets for my mother and members of our family since Ms. Baez was one of her favorites and a touchstone for my sisters. My mom was looking to the show, but sadly she didn’t lived long enough to see that last show. I’ll be there with my wife, my oldest sister  and a few other friends, joining a full house to hear what Joan has to sing and what she says.

I met Joan years ago, when she played at the Van Duzer, but not via my ongoing media job, I had a gig for CenterArts at the time. I was running a restaurant, writing on the side, I served as the chef for various clients they wanted to treat right, to impress, whatever.

Most of the time that just meant a nice dinner. I had developed a menu I could cook on campus using a teaching kitchen in Nelson Hall (there was a mirror over the stove and cutting board. I usually offered artists grilled chicken with a Brazilian-style sauce (peppers, tomatoes, coconut milk etc.) and a veggie option. It was a step above typical tour food, no pizza, crudites and cold cuts platters. This show was a little different. They wanted me to handle all hospitality, basically get anything Joan or her crew might want.

I remember I had a hard time finding throat coat tea, which was a starred item, not to be skipped, since Joan used it to protect her voice. I’d never heard of the stuff, but someone suggested checking at Moonrise Herbs and they had it and educated me about that herb. I’ve shared the story of hunting for Joan’s throat coat many times with everyone from reggae stars to local folkies. Everyone knows the importance of protecting your voice.

I had actually tried really hard to land an interview with Joan to advance the show, but her publicist put me off again and again. Spending the day hanging around backstage, I got to talk with her informally a few times. I actually steered her to the Green Room when she needed a quiet place for a phoner (a phone interview) and I asked her why I had been put off. She explained a couple of things, she tries to limit the interviews to save her voice, and the Arcata show was sold out ahead of time, so didn’t require that little push that a newspaper story might provide.

The next time I met her was at Reggae on the River where she made a surprise appearance on a Sunday that most people missed. More on that some other day…

Joan and twins.JPG

I may contact the publicity people about this tour, but I don’t expect to talk with Joan. That’s already handled by journalists like NPR’s Ari Shapiro. So I’ll settle for some p.r. from CenterArts and a rerun of his interview.

Acclaimed artist Joan Baez will begin a run of North American dates beginning on September 11 in Ithaca, NY. The extensive run of shows, following 50 UK and European dates, marks Baez’s last year of formal touring and includes stops at the historic Beacon Theatre in New York City and Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and Humboldt County!
“I’m looking forward to being on the road with a beautiful new album of which I am truly proud,” says Baez. “I welcome the opportunity to share this new music as well as longtime favorites with my audiences around the world.”
As a special offer to fans purchasing tickets for Baez’s U.S. tour, a CD or digital download of her forthcoming album, Whistle Down The Wind, is included with every ticket purchased. General tickets for all shows go on sale March 2. Every ticket purchased includes a CD or download of Joan’s new album, Whistle Down The Wind. Purchaser will receive an email with instructions for redeeming offer approximately 7 days after purchase.


I tried embedding this NPR interview but that seems to be disabled, which might mean I’m not supposed to gank this conversation, but what will they do? If they complain, I’ll drop it, but will they try to yank my blogging licence? Sue me? Good luck with either.

JOAN BAEZ: Don’t sing love songs. You’ll wake my mother.

They say I had a voice like an angel and a mouth like a dockworker.

NPR host ARI SHAPIRO: And that is Joan Baez. Starting in the 1960s, her music provided the soundtrack to a peaceful revolution through street protests and civil rights battles, marches for women’s equality and against the Vietnam War. Now Joan Baez is 77 with her first album in a decade called “Whistle Down The Wind.” She says this album tour will be her last. And she thinks of the record as a bookend to her very first one in 1959.

BAEZ: The first album had the song “Silver Dagger” on it, this famous, famous old folk song ballad.


BAEZ: (Singing) And in her right hand a silver dagger.

And on this one I asked Josh Ritter if he’d write me a song. And he wrote a song called “Silver Blade.”


BAEZ: (Singing) I have myself a silver blade. The edge is sharp, the handle bone. A little thing of silver made.

I think in the beginning also there was – I did mostly ballads. And then as the years went by, as in, like, the second and third album, then the political-leaning music came in. And this album now is a combination of those two things, very sparse. We made it in three visits of three days each, which is how I like to work – fast.

SHAPIRO: Your music was some of the signature protest songs of the 1960s. And in that time, there were songs that everybody sang together at protests, some of them your songs. And today it feels like the protests are as big as they have ever been, but it doesn’t feel like there is a shared soundtrack.

BAEZ: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And in the ’60s and ’70s, we had basically civil rights and Vietnam. It was very clear.


BAEZ: Now every single day there’s a new issue to try and keep up with and deal with and decide if that’s where you want to put your energy. So it’s baffling, as you know (laughter). And it’s not going to get any simpler. So, yes, we need that anthem. It beats shouting. But in the meantime, it’s better shouting than silence.

SHAPIRO: I wondered about “The President Sang Amazing Grace”…


BAEZ: (Singing) A young man came to a house of prayer. They did not ask what brought him there.

Oh, gosh (laughter).

SHAPIRO: …Because it feels so specific and so overtly political. And…

BAEZ: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: …It’s a beautiful, simple tune.

BAEZ: Yeah. It’s an amazing little tune. When I first heard it, I had to pull the car over ’cause I started crying.

SHAPIRO: We should say this song about President Obama was written by an artist named Zoe Mulford.


BAEZ: (Singing) But then the young man drew a gun and killed nine people, old and young.

And then for the first two weeks of trying to figure it out on the guitar, (laughter) I kept crying. I was afraid that when I got in the studio it wouldn’t be over. But I went into the studio. And then I just looked at the musicians and I said, let’s go to church.


BAEZ: (Singing) So on that day and in that place, the president sang “Amazing Grace.” The president sang “Amazing Grace.”

SHAPIRO: I have seen women of a certain age march with a protest sign this year, and the sign euphemistically says, I can’t believe I still have to protest this – let’s just say nonsense because it ends with a word we can’t say on the radio.

BAEZ: (Laughter) I’ve seen the sign.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) You’ve seen the sign. After half a century of singing songs of protest about women’s equality and war and racial justice, do you share that sense of exhaustion? I can’t believe I have to keep protesting this nonsense.

BAEZ: (Laughter) I have such a low regard with how human race has behaved, you know…


BAEZ: …For the last, you know, few centuries at least that I don’t expect much. And in that…

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Whoa.

BAEZ: (Laughter) Seriously. So that way any little step becomes a victory. And I also think that now, in the light of what we are experiencing in this decade, which is something that none of us could have dreamed up – you know, in the worst, darkest periods of the work that we did in the ’60s and ’70s and – or ’80s and 90s we couldn’t have written this scenario. So in the face of what looks like really bleak defeat, we have to do the little victories. And you have to consider every step that’s a positive step, that brings back compassion, that brings back empathy, that brings back understanding of political action. Day by day, these are the victories. And at the end of the day, you get only what you did that day.

SHAPIRO: There are some moments of despair on this album. There’s a song by Anohni called “I Need Another World” (ph).


BAEZ: (Singing) I need another place. Will there be peace? I need another world. This one’s nearly gone.

Yeah. If it weren’t so beautiful, it’s too dark to sing. It’s too dark. But unfortunately, that’s (laughter) – that speaks to my heart. I’m basically pessimistic. But really, the other day I heard somebody say that pessimism was a waste of time, so I’m working on it.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Still working on it 50 years later (laughter)?

BAEZ: I’m working on it, trying to get that glass half full.

SHAPIRO: Well, you know, it strikes me that that song, “I Need Another World,” whether it is sung by Anohni or sung by you…

BAEZ: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: …Requires a voice as beautiful as that to allow the lyrics to not just destroy the listener, that…

BAEZ: To sing this. Yeah.

SHAPIRO: …The voice tempers the lyrics.

BAEZ: I hope so because it is. It’s devastating. You know, it says, I’m going to miss the birds.


BAEZ: (Singing) I’m going to miss the birds.

And I already do. So for me, it’s finding beauty in the day because I can’t lament the fact that the birds are endangered. I have to listen to the birds that are singing in my yard.

SHAPIRO: OK, so you’ve said this is going to be your last year of formal touring. And I think…

BAEZ: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: …A lot of your fans are hoping that there’s a big loophole in that word formal.

BAEZ: Yeah, there is. That’s why we’re talking about it that way. I think the thing that I need to say goodbye to is the six weeks in the bus…


BAEZ: …And keeping the voice up, which is a daily affair. And then preparing for the concert, and then singing for an hour and a half to two hours, and then getting on the bus and going to the next place. So, no, the loophole is obviously any time I feel compelled to take part in political action or if somebody called and said, you know, here in Istanbul we’re having a folk festival; we’d like to come and do 20 minutes. And that’s very different to me from the other.

SHAPIRO: Well, Joan Baez, thank you for the decades of wonderful music, including this newest album, “Whistle Down The Wind.”

BAEZ: Thank you. Thanks for having me on the show.

SHAPIRO: “Whistle Down The Wind” comes out this Friday.


BAEZ: (Singing) I’m the last leaf on the tree. The autumn took the rest, but it won’t take me.

One comment

  1. we saw Emmylou Harris this last year at the Arkley and were sorely disappointed. The sound was terrible. I thought it might have been our seats, but talking to others at the show, we got the same reaction. I can only hope the sound man was Emmylou’s and didn’t have it dialed in. If he came from the Arkley, it would be very problematic going forward.

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