Joan Baez – Konigin Elizabethzaal, Antwerp; February 9th, 2019
Seeing Joan Baez in Antwerp was everything I hoped for and so much more emotional than I had counted on. It was a gorgeous concert throughout, a glorious celebration of music with generous tips of the hat to all the musician Joan loves and whose music she has sung foe all her career. Moved to the core I cried through most of it, while having a silly happy smile on my face the entire time and when it was over there was only one question left on my mind: why did I wait so long to see this?
If I recall correctly I discovered Joan’s music somewhere in the 90ies. I never followed her career closely, but I do own a couple of CDs that I love and I believe I still have a mixed tape somewhere that a classmate made for me once upon a time. I’d heard good things about her, but never bothered to even check if she was touring until two things happened at about the same time last summer. 1) A colleague told me about her brilliant and beautiful latest album ‘Whistle down the Wind’ and 2) I heard she was playing in Cologne a couple of days after my birthday. It was way too late to get tickets for the Cologne concert, but I bought the album and checked the tour dates, deciding I needed to catch her on this farewell tour. Antwerp was the one show that fit my busy schedule and the rest is history.
When I planned this I’d been dreaming about spending a full weekend in Antwerp, a city I’d already visited, but not seen, because I was there for one night only. Little did I know that it would be the same this time around, but that’s a story for a different blog post. 😉 Comfortably got there by train, checked in and even managed to see a little bit of the city and have a good lunch. In the evening, after some rest, I made my way to the concert hall. It was impressive and quickly filled up, first with people, then with excited chatter. My seat was quite a way from the stage with a tall man sitting right in my line of sight, but as soon as the lights went down, none of that mattered.
It was just after 8 pm, when it got dark in the hall and Joan Baez walked out on stage alone with her guitar. Immediately all the attention in the room was focussed on her, the audience cheered, then grew quiet. She started with Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ and from the moment the first words rang out I was crying. I expected the concert to be something special, but I had no idea it would move me this much. I could not help it, the tears just kept coming as I listened to her sing, her beautiful voice carrying me away from my seat into a land where there is only lovely music and all worries cease to be. I felt happy and did not want to be anywhere else in the world.
Whenever she spoke, and she spoke a lot that night, it was heartfelt, honest and real. She told us stories about her songs and their meanings. She voiced her opinion on everything that is wrong in the world just like she presented her songs, quietly, but with a raw power that did not leave me cold. The songs Joan played that night spanned her entire career. Some were her own, some were written for her and others were cover versions of songs she loves that she made her own. I id not know all of them beforehand, but that did not dim my enjoyment the last. It was not your typical sing-along concert, it was more for listening and listen I did with my mind and my heart wide open to receive the message.
‘Last Leaf’ was dedicated to “everyone here, who is over 60” and the song spoke about holding on as the last leaf on the tree while the autumn has already taken all the others. After ‘Farewell Angelina’, Joan invited her band on stage and introduced them as “on this side is Dirk Powell and on this side my lovely son Gabe.” The latter played drums and percussions, while the former played guitar, violin, banjo and piano. Later she was joined by singer Grace Stumberg for a few songs. They were harmonizing beautifully. <3 She introduced ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ as a song about a young man, who is dreaming to get away from his small town in beautiful images, but who is scared to leave. That and ‘Silver Blade’ where the first two songs of her current album that she played. The introduction to ‘Silver Blade’ me laugh and nod at the same time. She described what happens in the song and concluded “I’m not saying you need to assassinate the guy, but ladies, you don’t need to be treated like that any more.” Amen sister! Then it was a Dylan song once again, because “he was the best” and “they are all beautiful”. There was much love in every word she said about him that night. It was only fitting to have ‘Diamonds and Rust’ on the setlist too. The song killed me – memories can bring diamonds and rust indeed. :’)
She dedicated Woody Guthrie’s ‘Deportee’ to refugees and noted that “rather than build walls we should feed those who are hungry, clothes those who are naked and love those who need us the most, namely the children.” She explained how the foreigners coming to California to work are only referred to as “Deportees” and how the song is giving their names back to them. It was a beautiful folk song. Joan thanked us all for being there and for listening. I love how she gave everyone credit: her band, her audience and all the songwriters she covered that night. She honored all of them by making sure we knew whose songs she was singing. I felt a little ashamed o admit that until that night I had no idea ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ is a Kris Kristofferson song.
‘Another World’ was introduced as being as beautiful as it is sad. Sometimes we really might need another world to go to, when this one is too difficult or there is not enough space for our dreams here. It also talks about all the things one would miss. ‘Where have all the flowers gone’ came as a surprise to me. She sang the “when will the ever learn” line in Dutch and the audience loved it. In between songs she introduced Grace Logan, her guitar tech who always tunes one guitar while she plays the other (“there’s only two”). For ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ she asked us to sing along, but few people did. Joan felt the song was even more important now than it was 50 years ago. Everything about the concert was beautiful. The way she sang, the way she played and the way she tied the songs together with stories, drawing everyone in. Every description mattered and all of them felt true and real to me. I fond myself nodding many times and the energy of each song flowed through me, moving me.
When she introduced ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ she said it was about Obama visiting a church to console the survivors of a shooting. The song told the rest of the story and I was in tears once again like I was for much of the night. I can’t describe how spot on the song is and how well the sad story is told. Next was ‘Joe Hill’, the “most famous organizing song” that she’s been singing since Woodstock. Joan joked about having known ‘Darling Corey’ for 100 years so it must be 200 years old. Not only is it a banjo song, but contained some great percussion too. 🙂 The main set was closed with ‘Gracias a la vida’, reminding us that we should be thankful for everything we have and this time we did sing and clap along in the chorus. 🙂 She thanked us and her band, bowing to them as well as us. It was a nice gesture.
Three more times Joan came back for encores, playing ‘Forever Young’ and ‘Imagine’ with the band, sharing vocals for ‘The Boxer’ with Grace and finally coming back all by herself, ending the show like she had started it, alone with her guitar, playing ‘Donna Donna for us. For the last two we sang along too. It was amazing! She impressed and moved me even more than I had expected her to and I was happy to have had the chance to be there. Thank you for an unforgettable night!
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (Bob Dylan)
Whistle Down the Wind
It Ain’t Me, Babe (Bob Dylan)
Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) (Woody Guthrie)
Diamonds & Rust
Me and Bobby McGee (Kris Kristofferson)
Catch the Wind (Donovan)
Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (Pete Seeger)
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Bob Dylan)
The President Sang Amazing Grace
Joe Hill (Earl Robinson)
The House of the Rising Sun
Darling Corey (Pete Seeger)
Gracias a la vida (Violeta Parra)
Forever Young (Bob Dylan)
Imagine (John Lennon)
The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel)