Joan Baez 75th Birthday Celebration
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On January 27th, 2016, folk icon Joan Baez celebrated her 75th birthday with a historic performance at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. The special event honored her legendary 50-plus years in music in an intimate, career-spanning live performance. Baez performed alongside fellow artists and friends, including: David Bromberg, Jackson Browne, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Judy Collins, David Crosby, Indigo Girls, Emmylou Harris, Damien Rice, Paul Simon, Mavis Staples, Nano Stern and Richard Thompson.
This deluxe version also contains the DVD.
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Her first guest, guitarist David Bromberg, joins Baez for the lively Elizabeth Cotten song "Freight Train". Then David Crosby trades vocals with the birthday girl on the Lennon and McCartney gem "Blackbird". Irishman Damien Rice joins Joan for the traditional Irish ballad "She Moved Through the Fair", with its sublime imagery of the swan in the evening moving over the lake.
In what is a highlight of the first CD, Mary Chapin Carpenter duets with Baez on Donovan's "Catch The Wind", a song that Joan and her late sister Mimi Farina performed for years in concert. Emmylou Harris then takes the stage to perform Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More". a staple of Emmylou's which benefits from the addition of harmonies from Baez. The amazing Jackson Browne joins Joan and Emmylou for Woody Guthrie's "Deportee", a haunting and true song about immigrant workers killed in a plane crash. This is a staple of Baez's repertoire and one that she did solo on her last live CD "Bowery Songs".
Next Baez solos on Bob Dylan's "Seven Curses", while joking that the song probably originated in England or Ireland, and doing a wicked Bob Dylan impression. She follows with "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", another concert favorite. Mavis Staples then joins her for a medley of "Oh Freedom" (before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free) and the strident, defiant "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around." The latter was the opener of Joan's acclaimed A&M records live release "From Every Stage".
Disc 2 opens with Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Indigo Girls harmonizing on the beautiful "The Water is Wide", a classic folk tune if ever there was one. The Indigo Girls hang around to join Joan on the next song, Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", an audience favorite. Richard Thompson and David Bromberg provide extra guitar work for the chilling "House of the Rising Sun". Joan then introduces the next song by indicating that she is getting ready to record a new album and that the next song, Richard Thompson's "She Never Could Resist A Winding Road" would most likely be on the new studio record. The song, a paen to wanderlust, fits perfectly into Baez's life as a traveling troubadour, having toured the world many times over.
Then Jackson Browne takes the stage again for a duet with Baez on Browne's "Before the Deluge", a song that Baez first covered on her "Honest Lullaby" album. The lovely soprano of Judy Collins blends with Joan's dusky mezzo soprano on Joan's iconic song about Bob Dylan, the always lovely "Diamonds and Rust". Baez sings the line, "50 years ago I bought you some cuff links", joking about "back then they actually sold them". Collins and Baez perform "Diamonds and Rust" on Judy's 2010 CD "Paradise", for anyone looking for a studio version.
Chilean singer Nano Stern joins Joan on another Baez concert staple "Gracias a la Vida" ("Thanks to Life"), after first acknowledging Baez for her performances and activism on behalf of his country. One of the most moving moments of the show for me was Paul Simon and Joan Baez harmonizing on Simon's masterpiece "The Boxer". The lyrics "after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same", seemed apt on the occasion of Baez's 75th birthday party. She may be older and grayer, but she is as lively, gracious and vibrant as ever. Her voice has changed from the high soprano of her early years but to me it sounds regal, authoritative, and sure.
The show ends with arguably the two songs most associated with Joan Baez, her radio hit of Robbie Robertson's "The Night They Drove Old DIxie Down" and Dylan's "Forever Young", both songs done as encores on the accompanying DVD. She finished to wild applause and before launching into the encores the audience at New York City's Beacon Theater sang happy birthday to the birthday girl. It seemed appropriate that Baez get a gift from the audience after so generously sharing the gift of song with her musical friends. It was definitely an evening to remember. Highly recommended.