Joan Baez, an icon of the folk music scene for the past 55 years, returned to the Twin Cities this week with a concert at the State Theatre. Coming out to greet her audience, Baez generated loud cheers when she revealed her “Nasty Woman” Tee shirt and her “Bad Hombre” band. Even though her vocal range has decreased a bit, Baez becomes a more elegant performer with age. She delivered an incredible 90 minute show which showcased songs connected to her various social causes over the past five decades.
Baez began singing in New York coffee shops in 1959 and she was essentially anointed the “Queen” of folk when she made the cover of Time magazine in 1962. She was a much bigger star than Bob Dylan when they originally met in 1961 and the two had a tumultuous on and off relationship in the early 1960’s. In an obvious reference to Dylan’s unresponsiveness with regard to winning the Noble Prize in Literature, she quipped that he is “rude but boy he could write.”
Although a talented songwriter in her own right, her strength lies in her ability to interpret the songs of others. During Wednesdays’ concert she performed songs by Woody Guthrie, Tom Wait, Pete Seeger, Josh Ritter, Kris Kristofferson, and Bob Dylan. Highlights included Wait’s song “Last Leaf” which dealt with aging, Woody Guthrie’s timely classic “Deportee,” and a very memorable version of Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Approximately 25% of her show highlighted Dylan songs with a stunning version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and a noteworthy “Love is Just a Four-Letter Word.” But she sang a rather uninspired rendition of “Don’t Think Twice” which was always a favorite of mine since it was one of the few songs I was able to play on the guitar. She also performed her own song “Diamonds and Rust,” a haunting tale of her relationship with Dylan casting him as “the unwashed phenomenon” and herself as the “the Madonna” that was his “for free.”
The audience was a mostly older crowd and it was obviously enchanted with her performance, singing “Happy Birthday” to Baez (her 75th) and giving her three standing ovations.
This is the third Baez concert that I have seen in the past 10 years. It ended, as the other two ended, with me anxiously waiting for her return for a future performance.