Joan Baez travels decades in Beaver Creek
Beaver Creek, CO Colorado
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado “-Don’t call it a comeback, Beaver Creek, Colorado, Joan Baez has been here for years.
Given the current mess of our nation it seems only fitting that Joan Baez step back into the spotlight, thus bringing her storied career as a folk singing activist full circle. Hearing the name, you can only imagine Baez airing herself on a litany of topics, but she didn’t.
Thursday evening’s visit from Baez wasn’t overtly political as you would initially think, and maybe even hoped for. Sure there was political fare such as Steve Earle’s “Christmas in Washington” and Bob Dylan’s wartime dirge “Farwell, Angelina,” but Thursday’s show at the Vilar Center was more retrospective than rally.
Resplendent in a billowy red scarf, Baez promised a show that would “traverse many decades,” and a-travelin’ did she go, often pairing her more recognizable fare with tracks off her latest album “The Day After Tomorrow,” which was produced by Earle. Showing just how far her career spans, Baez followed 2009’s “God is God” with 1959’s (!) “Silver Dagger.”
Baez evidently has become the muse for Earle, and hopefully those in attendance will be curious enough to check out his catalog. Earle famously sung that “he’s been to Hell and back again,” and nobody’s sounded more believable as he’s the living incarnation of a country song, fraught with divorces, drugs, and there’s probably been a dog that’s runaway, too.
Earle, like many country singers, rose form the ashes and found Jesus, a theme that’s recurrent in Baez’s latest work. Songs such as “God is God,” “Scarlet Tide,” and “Rose of Sharon” are all about religious awakenings and spirituality to varying degrees.
But Baez is clearly no dummy and freely admitted that patrons weren’t there to hear the new stuff before digging into a set list that included “Sweet Sir Galahad,” her Dylan-inspired breakup song “Diamonds and Rust,” an upbeat version of Johnny Cash’s spooky “Long Black Veil,” and an encore of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which Baez parlayed into a Top 10 hit in the 1960s.
Although her soprano isn’t as full as it was, Baez can still command a stage and engage an audience. Her set list, largely comprised of other people’s songs, is wide-ranging in themes and her sense of humor is still sharp as evidenced by her lampooning of Dylan’s nasally cackling on his “Meet Me in the Morning.”
Much credit goes to her band, particularly multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, who plucked a mandolin and banjo, tickled keys, and bowed a fiddle throughout the evening. The band was rounded out by a guitarist/mandola player and an upright bass for a layered sound of strings, which rarely dragged as folk sometimes can.
Few artists who have visited the Vilar, or touring in general, have the vault of stage stories Baez does. To put it into perspective, she dated Bob Dylan, played Woodstock, marched on Washington, counted Martin Luther King Jr. among her friends, and was at the forefront of the social movements that shaped America. Certainly she has some stories to tell.
Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get any, which, admittedly, is more of a personal qualm than a reflection of her show. Baez told of how a guitar repairman wrote “too bad you’re a Communist” on her instrument’s innards way back when, and now she has all her guitars inscribed with it.
And then there was the time she serenaded a slumbering Dr. King with “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which she segued into an a capella rendition. He rolled over, claimed he’d heard an angel, and asked Joan to sing another one.
Lack of behind-the-scenes stories withstanding, you can’t help but appreciate and possibly be awestruck by an artist who’s had such staying power and always done it her way.
Stephen Bedford is a freelance writer based in Edwards.