Walking casually past Lisner Friday evening, March 27, may have caused some people confusion. From the corner of 21 and H streets, it sounded as if the 1960s were back and as turbulent as ever inside the auditorium.
The names and faces have not changed in 35 years. The messages were all the same – only now, the world is different. In 1959 Joan Baez took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival and forever changed the way people look at folk music. She sang and spoke of social change, rights and responsibilities, and the gross infringement on human rights committed by the American government. Last week, Baez continued to speak on behalf of those whose voices are unheard.
Baez was born January 9, 1941 in Staten Island, N.Y. After hearing Martin Luther King Jr. lecture on nonviolence and civil rights in 1956, she bought her first guitar. In 1958 Baez and her family moved to Belmont, Mass. where she first met folk music legends Bob Gibson and Odetta.
Her first album, Joan Baez, became a huge success and propelled her to national stardom. Soon after, she met up-and-coming folk music prodigy, Bob Dylan. Their friendship lasts to this day, and the work they did together always will be remembered.
Baez and Dylan teamed up to produce some of the most important music of the time. Often misconstrued as a communist, Baez fought for civil rights at home and abroad. Her work for Amnesty International, an organization designed to promote the advancement of human rights internationally, not only raised millions of dollars but, more importantly, heightened public awareness of serious human right violations. In 1979, Baez founded Humanitas International Human Rights Committee, which she headed for 13 years.
Last Friday found Baez’s message wholly intact. She reminisced about the last 40 years, recounting stories of burning draft cards, going to jail and marching for peace in cities around the world. While her list of evils has changed from unnecessary wars to child abuse and the harsh realities of America’s prison system, her message was the same. The world, and everyone in it, can be saved – but only with love.
At one point in the show Baez told the story of recently getting her guitar fixed. When the technician removed the top, he found the words, “Too bad you’re a communist,” penned in the body, left there from another technician years ago. Baez recalled thinking, “If he only knew.”
Between songs, audience members chanted “Berkley, Berkley” and “Newport, Newport.” It was disconcerting not to smell the aroma of marijuana, as the social atmosphere seemed to suggest it. Baez also stunned the crowd by covering newer artists, proving she is able to preach love in a world where times are ever-changing. The evening ended with the whole audience giving a raucous rendition of “Forever Young,” a song written by Dylan in the 1960s.
The 1960s were a massive explosion of both political and social ideas throughout the country. Baez had the courage to stand in the fire and capture the sound of that explosion. In doing so, she reflected the hearts and minds of a generation. After last Friday evening, it is evident she survived and has been singing the right tune all along.