Tuesday, March 3, 2009

“It was never for the money. It was for the adoration.”

Those were the words of Joan Baez at her concert last Tuesday night. I believed them. Joan Baez is now 68 years old. She gave a concert before about 600 fans and, truly, they adored her. She sang some of her old songs, some of her new songs and most of her big hits from her fifty years of working as a folk singer.

I don’t need to explain to those of you over fifty, but to any younger people that might be reading this blog, Joan Baez was a bigger than life figure in the 1960s and 1970s. She was sort of a combination of Bono (a star with a social conscious) and Paris Hilton (famous for all the people she’s been connected with). Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were a couple (a bigger deal in its day than Brad Pitts and Angelina Jolie). The audience remembered her as an icon of their youth.

Joan Baez had a talented band and at least remnants of her famous voice remain. She told jokes and stories. She sang in Spanish. She did a spot-on imitation of Bob Dylan’s singing. Perhaps not surprisingly, given she’s had fifty-years of practice and once was an enormous superstar, Joan Baez has riveting stage presence. When she sang “Forever Young”, you felt like you were young again.

Every eye was on her—and she loved it. It didn’t matter that she had trouble walking, or that her voice was uneven. She was where she wanted to be. You don’t do a tour playing 28 dates in 44 days at 68 years of age (we saw her towards the front end of the tour) unless you want to be on stage. Maybe not unless you have to be on stage.

The protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s came across as more ironic and less strident then they were forty years ago. Both Joan Baez and her audience have grown up and grown old over the years. But I found it inspiring to see someone, no longer young, doing what she loved. At some point I think people quit worrying about whether they can’t do everything they once did and become happy just that they can still do something useful and good and beautiful.

Joan Baez can still make beautiful music and she can still make an audience feel good. After two encores, she closed with an a capella version of Amazing Grace, first urging the audience to sing with her, then stopping to let the audience sing a verse by itself, then rejoining us to sing the final verse. When we left, everyone felt as if they belonged to the same church.

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