I knew that Joan Baez is somewhat of a legend, an icon, and still somehow had never got around to listening to a single song of hers until now. I am sure we all have such artists, that we hear of, read of, register in our minds, but just cannot cross that threshold of interest that will drive us to actually seek him/her out in cassettes/CDs before and Youtube or any of the streaming services now to understand what the fuss is all about. And it isn’t even due to any doubt of “if-the-fuss-is-real-at-all”, that may be the case for new artists who have burst into the scene with all the promise and the fan followings and critical nods to back it up but have yet to pass that hardest hurdle, the test of Time! You are great today but will I remember you tomorrow? In my books, the test of true greatness is the test of time, generations roll over, tastes change, the world moves on and no artist (especially in music), no matter how great, can be expected to draft new legions of fans once they are past their prime. Even if they are still in their prime but at a point of time when the ever-widening generational gap is wide enough to start needing a bridge to cross over, and very few, I would say almost none, is able to cross that bridge. Some may walk over from the other side (like me for quite a few artists of my dad’s generation), but we are more or less entrenched. And that is the reason why I, an 80s kid, am more enthusiastic about attending a Joan Baez concert (whom I hadn’t listened to yet but know that is great enough to be talked about even today among her generational blast radius), than any of the leading acts of today (like say Twenty One Pilots or Sia, heard there shows are pretty good).
Due to the reasons cited above, I was initially a bit undecided on whether I really would go, I felt that I eventually will but put her up on my concert calendar as “Joan Baez – Tentative”. But she is still very popular, enough to have a second Oakland, California show added due to popular demand and that is what sealed the deal for me. Being on a Monday worked better for me as well, no infringing on weekend family time! Wife at office, me working from home, even cooked a quick dinner before diving into the evening office traffic. This is the part I don’t enjoy about concerts in Oakland, traffic on the I-880 freeway is always a mojo-killer especially on weekdays when it can take 1.5 hrs to just get there. Waze tried to be a bit creative, routing me through a maze of other freeways and smaller roads before putting me back on 880, but not sure how helpful that was, still seemed to just take forever. Finally reached a little before 8 PM, didn’t fuss too much about the $20/- “event” parking that still required a healthy walk and voila, finally was in front of Fox Theater. This was my first time at this venue and after the majestic Paramount Theater (also in Oakland) for the Norah Jones concert, this seemed something along the same lines! Oakland is a place that we had always heard of in the context of “Don’t take a wrong exit and stray there, dangerous place, gangs and shooting and stuff”. As a result, we never go to Oakland for sightseeing and I initially used to skip concerts there as I usually watch concerts alone and didn’t feel it would be very safe there. But this and the last concert has opened my eyes, yes there may be crime in pockets but there are also such beautiful and exquisite places with such great music. When I settled down on my seat there was an old lady next to me and I made a comment that the interior décor was amazing and that got her started about how some wealthy Oakland businessmen had taken up the project to renovate this venue to infuse hope and vibrancy to the locality and I have to say, they must have succeeded in their goal, as I, a first-time tentative visitor immediately had a very positive impression. Another comment that she made was “Its funny, us attending a Joan Baez concert the day before the election! I just hope Trump doesn’t win.” In fact, Joan Baez had named her show “Nasty Women with the Bad Hombres”, derogatory and racist terms used by Trump during his campaign! However as we all know now, he did win and that wasn’t funny at all!
Joan Baez didn’t keep us waiting too long and she got on stage at 8:15 PM wearing a “Nasty Woman” t-shirt, to the surprisingly loud cheers from the crowd and started with the beautiful “Love is a Four-letter word”. Now I will not lie; I felt compelled to read her up on Wikipedia to know more about her and that’s where I got to know the details around her relationship with Bob Dylan. And then before the second song itself she took a dig at her past lover and current Nobel Laureate, “Among other things about this tour, this is Bob Dylan appreciation month. His manners suck but his songs are great”, that had the audience is splits. She took couple of digs throughout the show, like after singing “Diamonds and Rust” she said, “I should have just kept the diamonds”! But I felt it was all in good jest and she still had more love or at least acceptance, than hate or anger in her towards him (but then what do I know!) But as she enthralled us with one after another soulful and heartfelt songs, this not-at-all-nasty woman of 75 showed the fire in her, steadier the flames may be now but still fire and not just embers of a bygone era. But what was a bygone era being this sound, a folksy, feisty and yet tender songs on social issues, personal journeys and a call for greater goodness. As I was listening to her songs over the week I was initially a bit surprised by the fact that most of her more famous songs were covers and the brilliant ones composed by her like “Diamonds and Rust”, “Silver Dagger”, “Prison Trilogy” etc. made me wonder why she didn’t do more of her own compositions. But as I slowly walked this musical journey with her, I realized her brilliance in the selection of these great songs and giving it her own soul and in this process giving them a fresh leash of life in many cases. When I drive to a concert, in most cases I will have done my homework and revert back to Radiohead or whatever CD or cassette is on my old Toyota Corolla (yes, it has a cassette player as well). But this was the first time I kept on listening to her on my phone, to unearth more and more of her songs on Youtube (spending valuable data) in this long 1.5 hrs drive and sunk deeper and deeper into her world. And now I can say, I know Joan Baez and her music and what she stands for, she is no longer a known stranger in my musical universe.
- Concert#: 108
- Season: 2016
- Date: 07-November-2016
- Band/Artist: Joan Baez
- Tour Name: Nasty Women with the Bad Hombres
- Opening acts: None
- Venue: Fox Theater
- City: Oakland, CA
- Fun Fact: Attended Joan Baez concert on the day before the US election which elected Donald Trump! Also my first concert without any merchandise, not even a postcard :’(
- My Concert Quotient: 4/5