EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: Fare Thee Well, Joan
While I know many people enjoy reading about concerts after they’ve happened, I find the prequel more interesting to write about. And so it is that I find myself furiously keypunching away at this week’s column because in just a few hours I will hop on a train, travel on two subway lines, walk three blocks, wind my way through an elaborate security check, flash a ticket on my iPhone, enter the theater, walk up the stairs to the balcony, make myself as comfortable as I can in the narrow row, and spend a few hours listening to what will likely be Joan Baez’s final concert in New York City. And I only say likely because, well … you never know.
It’s a little difficult to track down who created the concept of a farewell concert or tour, but perhaps in modern times it was Cream in 1968, and Clapton, Bruce, and Baker pretty much kept to their word for 37 years. In 2005 they played a several shows together in just two cities, putting out an album and DVD. Clapton called it “a fitting tribute to ourselves” and hinted that it was to an opportunity for Bruce and Baker to put some money in the bank as each were having severe health problems.
We all know that The Band staged The Last Waltz in 1976 as their final performance, with a film and soundtrack to mark the occasion, and in six years four of the five members were back in the studio and on the road again. This year there are quite a few artists who are on their second, third, or fourth farewell tours. For example, there’s Elton John, who announced on Nov. 3, 1977, that he was finished with concerts; Ozzy Osborne, who retired 27 years ago; and don’t get me started on The Who: every single tour they’ve done since 1982 has been billed as the final one.
For the past year Joan Baez has been on the road with her Fare Thee Well Tour and she’ll be heading to Europe for her final performances, which will end on July 28 in Madrid, Spain. It’ll come just shy of the 60-year anniversary of her first appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. I was just 7 years old back then, and it would be several years until I learned who she was. My sister was in her first year of college and going through her folk music and coffeehouse stage, playing Baez’s first album endlessly every single night in her room. I can’t tell you how much her voice grated on my 12-year-old ears, but like everything that is heard repetitively, she soon became comfortable and comforting to me.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Baez said that she’s happier with the phrase “retire from touring” rather than calling it simply retirement, explaining that she will possibly still play from time to time as long as her voice holds out. She hasn’t written songs in 25 years and at the moment doesn’t seem interested in recording another album.
When her tour was first announced I didn’t think it would be something I would be interested in seeing. There’s a bit of sadness at these sort of events, and I felt that even though I’ve never seen her live, I have the memories, images, and music forever etched in my brain. But a few days ago, when I read that she was coming to town this week, I felt a strong gravitational pull to be there. Almost robotically I went online, found an affordable ticket, and bought it in less than a minute. In spiritual terms, it was a calling.
Like a slice of warm blueberry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, there are certain songs — and the people who sing them — that bring me great joy and comfort. Joan Baez is one of them. She has been with me for virtually my entire life, and unlike any other musician or performer, with the exception of Pete Seeger, she holds a space deep inside of me that is central to the core of my being. In my mind’s eye I can see her onstage in Newport as a teenager, singing about Joe Hill at Woodstock, linking arms and marching from Selma to Montgomery, playing and speaking at countless benefits and rallies for peace, justice, freedom, jobs, hunger, poverty, the environment, and human rights. She has been a model for composure, thoughtfulness, strength, commitment, and achievement like few others.
And for those reasons I can’t imagine not hopping on a train, traveling on two subway lines, walking three blocks, winding my way through an elaborate security check, flashing a ticket on my iPhone, entering the theater, walking up the stairs to the balcony, making myself as comfortable as I can in the narrow row, and spending a few hours listening to what will likely be Joan Baez’s final concert in New York City. Fare thee well, and thank you.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.