Here's Why We're Honored to Have Hosted Joan Baez's Final North American Shows Ever

May 21  / Tuesday
Words by Margot Reddy Photos by Andrew Scott Blackstein and Chad Anderson

Joan Baez is a folk singer, songwriter, musician, and activist. As the “Queen of Folk,” Baez has released over 30 albums, 8 of which are certified gold in record sales along with one gold single. Baez has achieved higher recognition through her acquisition of three BAMMY (San Francisco Bay Area) Awards, 7 Grammy nominations, the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On May 3 and 5, Joan Baez played her final North American shows ever, and we had the opportunity to celebrate with her. Below are 5 reasons why we’re honored to have hosted the event.

1. Baez was a key activist in 1960s civil rights movement

During the 1960s civil rights movement, Joan Baez could be found front and center, immersed in the action. In 1963, Baez sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Following this event, Baez continued to fight for civil rights as she led children to their newly integrated schools alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Mississippi. And even before her involvement with Martin Luther King Jr., Baez conducted her first out of three concert tours with strict anti-discrimination policies in the spirit of the civil rights movement.

2. Baez kept her music relevant by diversifying the folk genre

Joan Baez transformed her legendary folk sound by coupling its sound with spins from different genres. While working with Bob Dylan in 1963, Baez shifted her traditional material toward the socially conscious work of the emerging artists of the 1960s. Additionally, after her marriage to country fan and anti-war protest leader David Harris, she transformed her songwriting style to match that of a country songwriter, producing the gold-selling album Blessed Are…, but her genre-morphing tendency did not stop there. In the 1970s, Baez moved towards a pop/rock sound, which yielded her gold-selling album, Diamonds & Rust.

3. Joan Baez helped launch Bob Dylan’s career

Bob Dylan would not be as popular as he is today without a little help from the “Queen of Folk,” Joan Baez. When the duo met in 1961, Baez was already a well-known musician. In 1963, Dylan, yet to have his breakthrough, played with Baez during the Newport Folk Festival and he was invited on tour with Baez for duets and short solo spots to help him make his mark.

4. Baez is a huge advocate for civil disobedience

Joan Baez’s career in activism did not end with the civil rights movement of the 1960s and it did not start with it either. In high school, she performed her first act of civil disobedience by refusing to leave her high school during an air-raid drill, one of her many acts to protest the war. In later years, Baez withheld 60 percent of her income tax, the estimated amount that goes towards military spending. Her many forms of protest lead to a bit of trouble, but Baez views this as honorable rather than shameful: “My foundation in nonviolent political action was set before I started singing, and both are second nature to me. So I do not preclude the possibility of civil disobedience and even going to jail. Someone will have to. Then again, perhaps there is virtue to having carried the flame, and grace now in passing the torch.”

5. Baez uses music to assist the defenseless

As quoted by Joan Baez: “Songs change a lot. Music lifts the spirits, crosses boundaries and can move people to do things they would not otherwise have done.” Baez stays true to her words. In the 1970s, Baez performed at benefit concerts to defeat the California legislation that would have banned openly gay people from teaching public schools and made free concert appearances for civil rights organizations, anti-Vietnam War rallies, and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). And in 1972, Baez delivered Christmas presents and mail to American prisoners of war in Hanoi (the capital of Vietnam) during an intense bombing campaign. She transformed her experience in Hanoi through her album Where Are You Now, My Son?- a 23-minute spoken-word piece that includes sound clips recorded during the bombing.

Joan Baez helped to change the way music is viewed today: as a vehicle for social and political change. We are saddened for her to end this chapter of her life, but honored to have hosted her final North American show.

"When I feel the sadness part [of no longer playing], then it feels profound. The relief and the joy are also profound, but I think you tend to hide the sorrows as long as possible and it’s not good for the system.” -Joan Baez.