Joan Baez’s first major performance was at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, back when she was 18, and she quickly became known as the “Queen of Folk” music and as a prominent activist for political and social causes. Fifty-five years later, on Wednesday night, we were fortunate to have her grace the stage of the Santa Barbara Bowl on a shared bill with folk duo the Indigo Girls.
From their earlier days came the old favorites “Power of Two” and “Galileo,” the latter arguably one of the best songs ever written about reincarnation. Their midcareer was nicely represented by the call to activism “Go” with impassioned vocals by Ray, and the mesmerizing “Everything in Its Own Time.”
From their latest album were the songs “Share the Moon” and “Able to Sing,” which Saliers introduced by saying that she wrote it after a mysterious red-winged blackbird die-off on the Fourth of July a few years ago, which got her thinking about children’s nursery rhymes like the one about the birds in the pie.
“It’s real depressing, but it’s kind of up-tempo,” she said to laughs.
Also on the program was Ray’s solo performance of “More Pills” from her recent country record Goodnight Tender, which started out with the amusing lyric, “If I had more pills, I’d take ’em.”
But the highlight of The Indigo Girls’ set was definitely their early hit “Closer to Fine,” here augmented with an amazing third voice courtesy of Grace Stumberg from Baez’s troupe. Stumberg took
the third verse, and the crowd’s reaction points to a very bright future for her.
Next up was the legendary Baez, sounding and looking great at age 73. For the first two songs she sang and accompanied herself on guitar, and then she was joined by her son, Gabriel Harris, on percussion (if you’ve seen the videos of the pregnant Baez singing at Woodstock, that was with Gabriel), and Dirk Powell “on everything else” — namely banjo, mandolin, guitar, accordion and keyboards.
After “Lily of the West,” Baez joked that Flora, the subject of the song, “was a mean old bitty.” This cracked up the audience, and Baez dedicated the next song, Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” to the guy who had responded with a great laugh. For this song, she did part of the last verse in her “Bob Dylan voice,” at which point I realized that Baez is actually funny! This came as a bit of a shock, given her oh-so-serious image.
In fact, Baez did several other funny things, usually related to her dog, Ginger, who was lying close to her on the stage. For example, when she had a little time to kill waiting for her guitar tech, she played a clip from her phone of a hilarious “duet” between her and Ginger. And after an absolutely beautiful version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and an excited audience member let out a howl that was matched by the rest of the crowd, Ginger got up but stayed relatively calm, leading Baez to joke that Ginger wasn’t so laid-back until they recently visited Mendocino County.
Also amusing was the song “Gimme Cornbread When I’m Hungry, and Corn Whiskey When I’m Dry,” which had her dancing with Powell while Harris did a percussion solo.
This was followed by “House of the Rising Sun,” a song that she recorded for her 1960 debut album, before the versions by Dylan or The Animals. Next up was the only Baez original of the evening, “Diamonds and Rust,” which reflects on her early romantic relationship with Dylan. This had a few changed lyrics: the phone call happened “50 years ago,” not “10 years ago,” and the song ended with the lyrics “And if you’re offering me diamonds and rust / Well, I’ll take the diamonds.”
The Indigo Girls then joined Baez for the last four songs of the evening, leading to heavenly three-part harmonies for the Indigo’s “Our Deliverance,” Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” the
traditional “The Water is Wide,” and the cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” the latter a hit for Baez back in 1971.
All told, it was quite a memorable and enjoyable evening at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Long live the Queen of Folk!
Indigo Girls Setlist
Love Of Our Lives
Fill It Up Again
Power of Two
Three County Highway
Able to Sing
Everything in its Own Time
Share the Moon
Closer to Fine
Joan Baez Setlist
God is God (Steve Earle song)
There But for Fortune (Phil Ochs song)
Lily of the West (traditional)
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob Dylan song)
Gracias a la Viva (Violeta Parra song)
Go Wherever You Want to Go (Patty Griffin song)
Just the Way You Are (Dirk Powell song)
Jerusalem (Steve Earle song)
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (American spiritual)
Seven Curses (Bob Dylan song)
Gimme Cornbread When I’m Hungry, and Corn Whiskey When I’m Dry (Dock Boggs song)
House of the Rising Sun (traditional)
Diamonds and Rust
Our Deliverance (Indigo Girls song)
Don't Think Twice, It’s All Right (Bob Dylan song)
The Water is Wide (traditional)
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band song)
Click here for a related Noozhawk interview with the Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.