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Face to face with Joan Baez

April 13th, 2011

Filed under: MUSIC


I was enjoying my sunny Saturday like everyone else when an email popped into my mailbox from a guy from Portland called Ian who needed a haircut. Seems kind of random, right? But when it turns out that he’s the lighting guy for folk legend Joan Baez and would be in town for a few days and needed a few tips, I didn’t hesitate to put together a bespoke itinerary for Ian and his crewmates. In my reply email I was also cheeky enough to venture for a ticket to tonight’s concert, and maybe even an interview with the great lady. Let’s just say Ian was pleased with his new hairdo.

Now, the title of this article suggests that I got said interview with Joan, and while Ian can pull strings, he couldn’t wangle that one.

Instead “face to face” is a reference to her performance tonight in the Muziekgebouw in Eindhoven, correctly advertised as “an intimate evening with Joan Baez” (and incidentally her only performance in the Netherlands on this tour). Traversing her entire career, she took her full house audience on a journey from her first songs as a 17 year old, through to newer material written fifty years later. Her voice wended and occasionally creaked with the rough edges of an artist constantly employed. But it was more than the sounds in the theatre and the lingering poetry. The lighting was so dramatic (kudos to Ian) that at one point I thought I saw her aura, honestly. My mesmerization encompassed her neat form, her slightly pigeon toed stance, her fine wrists beneath the bold golden cuffs. With her “band”, Dirk Powell (literally a one-man band, playing mandolin, banjo, guitar, fiddle, keyboard and supplying backup vocals), Joan Baez balladeerd, storywove and bewitched for over 90 minutes.

What I found particularly touching was seeing each person in the audience – from the silver haired grannies and grandpas, the young girl who swayed to every song next to me, the middle-aged men with their elbows on their knees and sitting all the way forward in their chairs in their eagerness, and the dear lady on crutches who sang tunelessly to all three encores – stand up to join in on the truly adulatory ovation. Her music had travelled with all these people and all their histories. Joan had spoken to them all that time. As for me, I had transformed from Baez philistine to adoring fan during the concert (which when it ended seemed to end too soon); because Joan’s authenticity was so very real, even though in my head I understand she’s been singing many of these songs every tour for half a century.

I know all Dutch audiences give standing ovations, but this one seemed extra special. Thanks for showing us your face, Joan Baez.

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