Fare Thee Well: 50 years of Joan Baez

Joan Baez performs at Ithaca State Theater, Ithaca, NY. Feb. 28, 2016 (Stilfehler/Wikimedia Commons)

50 years on, legendary singer, songwriter, activist and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joan Baez continues to dazzle fans on her Fare Thee Well Tour. Denver’s Paramount theater was filled to the brim Wednesday night for Baez’s sold out show.

According to an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, this appears to be her last year of formal touring following the release of what is probably her final album, Whistle Down The Wind. The audience was a sea of white hair, and its members murmured about how many times they’d seen her perform throughout a number of decades. A standing ovation greeted Baez to the stage where she stood alone with an acoustic guitar and belted out Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”.

Two songs later she welcomed her son, Gabe Harris, and a friend named Dirk Howell to the stage. Harris is a skilled percussionist, and Howell blew the audience away with the many instruments he performed. Seamlessly, he moved from mandolin to guitar and from bass to banjo and violin to piano.

At one point in the night, Baez appeared frazzled, confused as to whether she was about to play or not. She quickly explained herself. With the country in political turmoil and civil rights being disregarded, she was overcome by the need to make a speech.

In her speech, Baez embodied welcomeness. She stressed that everyone belongs in this country, regardless of nationality, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or gender identity. She explained that everyone is welcome because the cultures and ideas that different people carry are gifts to our nation.

She urged the audience not only for acceptance but for action. As she’s been doing since the 1960s, Baez called for a grassroots movement. She encouraged audience members to send handwritten letters to legislators and to rent a bus and drive all their friends to the polls.

After her speech, Baez was compelled to sing “Amazing Grace” for the first time in years. She welcomed her friend — fellow musician and longtime supporting backup singer, Grace Stumberg — onto the stage to hit the few high notes she no longer could. At her invitation, the audience joined in and sang the chorus as one unified voice.

Most songs Baez performed were covers of her friends’ songs or of classic folk songs. She performed political songs like “Joe Hill” and Woody Guthrie’s “Deportees.” Interspersed, however, were some of her new releases from the album Whistle Down the Wind and older hit songs.

The audience went wild for one of her most beloved songs, “Diamonds and Rust.” The song was originally released in 1975, a tribute to her former lover, Bob Dylan. She made one alteration to the lyrics for Wednesday’s show. She changed the line where she originally sang “Ten years ago I bought you some cufflinks” to “Fifty years ago.” The audience erupted in laughter.

After her final song, the audience celebrated Baez with a standing ovation that lasted minutes after she left the stage. Eventually, the incessant clapping drew her back out for a three-song encore, after which Baez thanked the audience and motioned that it was time for bed.

This may be the last of her extended touring, but if she ever wants to return to Denver, Baez will surely be welcomed with another standing ovation.

Contact CU Independent General News Editor Georgia Knoles at georgia.knoles@colorado.edu.

Georgia Knoles

Georgia is a sophomore studying journalism, French and Spanish at CU Boulder. She is the Assistant Arts Editor for the CU Independent and hails from the Great Pacific Northwest.

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