Fifty Years of Joan Baez

 As exams and major assessments close in on us, we are starting to realise just how much time we have wasted this semester. But this article isn’t about feeling better about procrastinating. This article should make you realise how much potential you are wasting. Tough love. Let’s start with an easy riddle: what do Bob Dylan, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the Velvet Revolution have in common?

They were all influenced by Joan Baez. With more than 55 years of performance behind her, Joan Baez has been attributed as the person who introduced Bob Dylan to the world. And I bet many of you are struggling to pronounce her name (“buy-yes”, not “bay-ez”).

The musician got her start in Boston, performing in folk festivals in and around Massachusetts. In 1959, following the release of her debut album, she performed in the first Newport Folk Festival. Four years later Baez returned to the festival with two gold albums and a TIME magazine cover under her belt, and a then-unknown Bob Dylan.

Dylan and Baez’ relationship was one of the most famous of the time; she encouraged him to perform alongside her (much to the disgust of many of her fans), launching his career. Their relationship was the inspiration for one of her most famous albums, Diamonds and Rust.

Baez, like Dylan, was known for her strong beliefs and commitment to human rights. She marched alongside Dr Martin Luther King Jr, was caught in the North Vietnam Christmas bombings of Hanoi, and in 1993 was the first major artist to perform in Sarajevo following the Yugoslav civil war.

Baez has also been credited with protecting the freedom of Václav Havel, stopping government agents from arresting him during her 1989 tour. Havel was later voted in as (the last) president, and has said she was a major inspiration and influence for the country’s peaceful revolution.

If that wasn’t enough to make you feel inadequate (and it should), Baez has 24 studio albums to her name (compilations and live albums put this figure past 50), has an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, France’s highest medal (Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur) and was instru­mental in founding the American chapter of Amnesty International. At 72, she is still playing sold out shows around the world, including Glastonbury and Montreux.

After 25 years, Joan Baez will be gracing Australia with her presence once again. Baez is performing in six cities over two and a half weeks. Both of her Melbourne performances are almost guaranteed to sell out.

Baez will be showcasing her most recent album, Day After Tomor­row: a collection of her original writing and new interpretations of other artists, including Tom Waits and T Bone Burnett. She will also be performing some of her well-known classics and covers.

Joining her on tour is her son Gabriel Harris on drums, and Dirk Powell on keyboard and strings. Powell is a successful solo musician best known for his expertise in Appalachian fiddle and banjo styles. He has also collaborated with several artists, including Jack White, Sting and Jewel. Harris has been playing percussion for more than 30 years, and has previously performed with The Indigo Girls, Grateful Dead and Carlos Santana.

Are you feeling insecure yet? Well, the good news is it’s never too late to make a change. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you log out of Facebook. And if you need some second semester motivation, Joan Baez will be performing at Hamer Hall Thursday 8th and Friday 9th August. Tickets can be bought through the Arts Centre Melbourne website.

Verity Thornton

The author Verity Thornton

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