Arts & Entertainment

Joan Baez shows vitality and continuing relevance in her Palladium debut

October 24, 2016

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The nearly full house, consisting of mostly baby boomers who attended Joan Baez‘s concert at The Palladium Thursday were treated to a performance by a iconic artist who demonstrated that she is much more than a mere folk music relic or living legend past her prime.  The fact is that,  Baez, who is now 75-years old, is still going strong.

Though the power of her once crystal clear soprano voice and versatile range is obviously diminished, Baez was still able to hit high notes and there was no lack of energy evident in her tight delivery and seasoned showmanship.  As far as her guitar playing, Baez remains masterful.

Joan Baez

Joan Baez – Courtesy of the Center for the Performing Arts. Used by permission.

An internationally celebrated singer- American songwriter, musician, and activist, Baez is best know for her contemporary folk music which  includes songs of  social justice or protest. She also performs other genres that include folk rock, pop, country and gospel music. A performer for over 55 years, she has released more than 30 albums. The winner of numerous prestigious  awards and honors, Baez was most recently nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

Baez, whose short hair is silvery gray,  showed considerable vigor and looked fit as she took to the stage sans  introduction or fanfare. Dressed in a print top and tight jeans and wearing black ankle length boots, her clothing ensemble was as casual her as her easy going attitude and demeanor.  Her charismatic stage presence reflected a seasoned entertainer, supremely comfortable in her own skin, who is not resting on her laurels neither as an artist nor political activist.

Baez’s set list for her concert, which was 90 minutes without an intermission, consisted primarily of  songs she is best known for. Between songs she shared often funny commentary about past experiences, all of which reflected her dry wit and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Enhancing the quality of her concert were the stellar musicians who accompanied her on the majority of her songs.  They included her son, Gabriel Harris, on drums; Dirk Powell who played fiddle, mandolin, accordion, keyboards and  guitar: and Baez’s  super talented back up singer, Grace Stumberg.

Baez who began her concert, alone on stage, acknowledged Bob Dylan for winning the 2016 Nobel Prize before she sang his composition “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word.” She prefaced the song with a cutting remark about Dylan’s absence in responding to the award when she said “His manners suck, but his songs are fantastic.” She affectionately zinged her former boyfriend, Dylan. again when she sang her hit “Diamonds and Rust,” which was supposedly written about their relationship.  She changed the end of the song from “If you’re offering me diamonds and rust / I’ve already paid” to “I’ll take diamonds.” 

Paying  tribute to the new Nobel laureate for literature, Baez also covered his Dylan songs such as “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” (highlighted by an hilarious Dylan impression) as well as “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

An early civil rights activist, Baez also performed a powerfully affecting mash-up of Dylan’s “Auction Block” and “Oh, Freedom,” an African-American spiritual. It was followed by Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” which she introduced by telling the story of a black woman she met while serving a prison sentence,  who sung the song constantly. Baez offered that her fellow jail mate, who was not of fan of white people,  accepted her because the singer “was a non-caucasian white person.”

And what would a Joan Baez concert be without “Me and Bobby McGee,”  “Joe Hill” and “Rising Sun?” “Don’t Think Twice” ended the concert and prompted a spontaneous standing ovation from  a crowd made up of obvious worshipers and devotees.

I first saw Joan Baez perform at a free concert in New York City’s  Central park in 1979. Consequently, her Palladium concert was particularly nostalgic for me as it was, no doubt, for many of my contemporaries present. At the same time, however, it reminded me why artists, especially those, like Baez, never retire. And it’s a good thing. Considering  the toxic nature of our presidential campaign and the troubling state of the world in general, we still need troubadours like Baez and Dylan to inspire and remind us that hope and idealism are never out of style.

Joan Baez

Joan Baez, NYC 1979  – Photo by Tom Alvarez

For tickets and information about The Center for the Performing Arts’ 2015-2016 season call (317) 843-3800 or visit www.






























Tom Alvarez

Tom Alvarez is a freelance writer who has covered theater, dance, music and visual art for over 40 years. He has written for the Indianapolis Star, NUVO Newsweekly, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana and Tom appears regularly as a contributor on WISH-Channel 8''s "Indy Style." Also an actor/model, Tom is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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