Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Joan Baez performance 40 years after Woodstock

Joan Baez and Gabriel Harris

Janis Ian

In an NPR piece (click) about Steve Turner's book Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song you can listen to selected performances of the song, all moving. It would, however, be impossible to eclipse, for me, the performance by Joan Baez on Sunday evening in Bend, Oregon.

In my previous post I explained that her concert on August 16, 2009, was 40 years to the day from the set she did at Woodstock on August 16, 1969. I wondered if she would mention it. As the sold-out crowd lined up in front of the venue that was indeed a topic of conversation. A man standing in front of my cousin and me said he had heard Ms. Baez interviewed on the radio earlier that day and she said she isn't a sentimentalist about the past. She stayed true to that statement, commenting only in reference terms, i.e., "talk about 40 years ago. . ." during one song. She did not remind the crowd that Joe Hill and Sweet Sir Galahad -- which she sang for us -- were also gifts of song that early morning at Woodstock (videos from Washington D. C. in 2005, and audio in Italy 1970, respectively).

Joan Baez didn't need to mention Woodstock, as it turned out, because it was the mood undertone in the grassy bowl where we sat on low folding chairs squished closely together in order to accommodate everyone in an area too small for the size of the crowd (they printed extra tickets after selling all those initially prepared). A guy somewhere to my left called out that we'd all be married by the end of the evening. Where we didn't bond to that extreme we did join together in singing more than once during the evening, with Ms. Baez and the band even altering the setlist at one point to switch mid-song to Gracias a la vida for the audience to join her in the chorus (song link is truly exciting video of her live at Festival des Vieilles Charrues, France, in 2000).

Preceding Joan Baez there was a special appearance by Janis Ian (who I had seen in concert at the Portland Civic Auditorium in the early 80s). I wouldn't call Ms. Ian a "warm-up act" for anything after what she gave to us Sunday with the setting sun beaming right into her face. She was honest and funny as she addressed the crowd, and superb when she sang both Society's Child (video worth seeing from 2008) and At Seventeen (video from 1976). She returned to the stage later in the night to play piano while she and Joan Baez sang Jesse (video has audio of same duo).

Joan Baez's band was a group of brilliant and versatile musicians. I am sorry that I didn't write their names when she introduced them. One name I do remember. He is her son, Gabriel Harris, with whom she was pregnant when she performed at Woodstock. Her precious song Gabriel and Me is featured at the linked song along with a brief mother-son bio.

We stood and cheered in steadfast fashion for an encore, which she and the band graciously gave to us in spite of the concert beginning nearly an hour late. They did The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down (video is audio of someone's old record with a nice group of photos accompanying). We remained standing in the dark and were at once lost in individual memory and present in solidarity. The members of the band then left the stage and she set down her guitar. The blurry, grainy images captured by my camera -- but at least the audio is good! -- might allow you to get a sense of what it was like to have Joan Baez lead us in Amazing Grace, her final song of the night......

The NPR site I mentioned at the top of this post in reference to the book about the song Amazing Grace notes:
In her forward to Turner's book, Judy Collins says the song has the "power to transform" and to heal.

Many of the musicians Turner has talked to offer similar testimony to the sweet sound of a hymn that has become an heirloom.

"Something magical happens when they sing it," Turner says.

That pretty much says it all about the song specifically and the concert in general. It was an evening full of grace.
And it was amazing.



YogaforCynics said...

Janis Ian's still alive???!!!

Hattie said...

Wonderful! And I'm glad Janis Ian was the opener. She has developed so much over the years as a musician and yet is no longer well known. I heard her at the Vancouver Folk Festival.

Lydia said...

@YogaforCynics- Is she ever! I predict a comeback of sorts.
I can't stress how...well, perfect...she was on stage Sunday night. Her voice is clear and strong, her relating with the audience was leaps and bounds more powerful than it was when I saw her 20 years ago, and her stories were fascinating. She's written her autobiography, which was for sale there and she promised to sign it and any cds or albums that people bought or brought right after the show. I'm wishing now I'd bought the book.
Check out the video of her singing Society's Child.

@Hattie- Janis Ian definitely added to the night. She said she wrote her first song at 12, had a big hit at 15, and was a has-been at 16...

Ande said...

You seemed to have a great experience! The videos looks great!

I had similar experience as you had a couple of years ago, watching Janis Joplin’s old band Big Brother and the Holding Company perform live. They never made it to Woodstock; Janis left them -68. But they made Cheap Thrills together! My wife and I watched Janis and big Brother performing at Monterey Pop before the concert (at you tube) with Sam Andrew (around 20 years) crying “Everybody over at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco Bay” and then saw him 40 years later, saying the same words.

And he was the same, beaming charisma, but with less hair.

koe whitton-willams said...

Lydia - what a wonderful string of posts you've done on Joan Baez (and Janis Ian). Thank you so much for writing about the concert you saw on Sunday. We went to woodstock on Saturday - and it was amazing. Nothing short of amazing.

Lydia said...

@Ande- Big Brother and the Holding Company...I loved them! That is just marvelous that you were at the Monterey Pop, and then had the 40-years-later-sensation. You mentioned Andrew's hair, and it was the hair that was a shock for me when I saw Janis Ian come out on stage. Last time I saw her she had that brown frizzy mass of hair. Ms. Baez I'd seen recently enough, plus there are more photos of her out there, so her gray hair was normal for me.
Beaming charisma....that's such a great description for what we both witnessed from these artists.

@Koe- Woodstock on Saturday?! That's fantastic. I'm heading over to your blog to see if you have posted photos. I read at another blog that the 10,000 or so crowd was really something to be a part of. It's great that you were there!

Ande said...

Seeing rock stars charisma sometimes brings me a shock. That makes me understand why they got so famous. I met Sam Andrew backstage after the concert and that gave me a shock; he beemed with the charisma of a sun.

I never saw that on the screen (watching him performing at Monterey Pop in -67 on youtube :). Reality always seem to be sharper than the screen ;)

Lydia said...

@Ande- O, I get it now! You saw the old 67 stuff on youtube (you probably weren't even born yet!) and met him backstage at the recent concert. I got to go backstage twice, but just to stand and watch the show - not to actually meet the stars. Paul McCartney and Wings at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in the early 1970s (I stood right next to Stephen Stills which was cool and I didn't even bother him for an autograph :) ...and Art Garfunkel at the Civic Auditorium in Portland OR in the late 1970s.

You are right: there is something dazzling in their kind.....

the watercats said...

aaahhhh................ sweet music! The physical manifestation of the human soul.. :-D

Looking to the Stars said...

Sounds like a wonderful time you had, thanks for sharing :)

Lydia said...

@the watercats- aaahhh, such a beautiful comment!

@Looking to the Stars- My pleasure! Wishing you a great weekend. :)



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