coveron the road

U.S. Fall Tour 2005 (part two)
by Jim Stewart

joanAt the midway point of Joan Baez's Fall 2005 Tour in support of her recently released live album, Bowery Songs, Kira L. Schlechter (Harrisburg, PA, Patriot-News) commented that, "She might be 64 and a grandmother, but Baez is as vibrant and powerful a presence on stage as anyone, fully in command but not oppressive...(she) was flawless." Not only has Joan sustained her musical skills over 45 years of performing, but Time Magazine also pointed out that her physical beauty is still intact and used her as one of five examples of women aging gracefully in their October 17, 2005, cover story.

Joan's gold record single, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," with a solo verse by band member Erik Della Penna, continued as the tour's opening number at the October 21 show in Glenside, Pennsylvania. The second song on the tour's standard set list was the moving Academy Award nominated Elvis Costello/Henry "T-Bone" Burnett composition, "The Scarlet Tide," featuring bass player Graham Maby taking his turn on guitar and providing harmony vocals. Joan was quite pleased when an e-mail arrived from Elvis Costello, on the road in Brazil, who stated how much he and Burnett appreciated Joan singing their song with its powerful new lyrics ("...admit you lied, and bring the boys back home."). The new lyrics brought waves of approving applause at every show on the tour.

erikJason Raboin, the tour's stage and house sound engineer, made soundchecks fun time for Joan, Erik and Graham. No longer were they tiresome exercises in getting the sound right, but had become playful times when Joan and her band could experiment with new material. As I would set up the merchandise display in the various venues, I could hear Joan and the boys noodling with songs like Vaughn Monroe's cowboy lament, "Ghost Riders In The Sky," Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home" (with near heavenly vocal harmonies by the trio), Ben E. King's R&B hit "Stand By Me," and Teresa Brewer's hit "Music, Music, Music." At the Keswick, Joan and the band added "Stand By Me" as a semi-regular set list entry, which audiences immediately recognized from Graham's rhythmic opening bass riffs and commenced to sing along during the entire song. Midway through the Keswick show, an audience member yelled, "Please sing 'Finlandia' for my wife," which Joan did to great audience response. After the electrifying show, bus driver Robin Stewart started the group's 270 mile trip to Northampton, Massachusetts, for the next evening's return appearance at the Calvin Theater.

The Northampton show was one of those memorable blends of a perfect audience, a flawless performance and a comfortable venue coming together to make magic. Joan's regular set list now also featured a song she wished she didn't have to perform anymore, Bob Dylan's melodic yet highly critical "With God On Our Side," Gillian Welch and David Rawlings' 'nice little murder ballad' "Caleb Meyer," Joan's tribute to Johnny Cash, "Long Black Veil," Woody Guthrie's "Deportee," war protester and Gold Star mom Cindy Sheehan's favorite Baez song, "Joe Hill" (featuring Erik's stunning lap steel accompaniment), a traditional ballad from her first album, "Silver Dagger," which alternated with another traditional favorite, "Fennario," and Steve Earle's moving "Christmas in Washington." The Northampton audience was so wonderful that Joan offered three encores: "Gracias a la Vida," "Diamonds and Rust," and a compelling "Amazing Grace," which Joan reserved for what she considered the most supportive audiences on the tour.

graham Traveling up and down the eastern seaboard became a regular affair over the next few days, with the group next heading 400 miles south to the nation's capitol where Joan and the band recorded an hour interview with music for XM Satellite Radio. The group stayed in Georgetown and found some nice shopping and walking areas to enjoy. Joan discovered an interesting canal not far from the Potomac River, complete with a tourboat that navigated an actual working canal lock. Upon returning to her hotel, she heard a pianist playing songs from her favorite DVD on this tour, the movie musical "Phantom of the Opera." When the pianist played "All I Ask of You," Joan sat down next to him on the piano bench and hummed along. A couple sitting nearby recognized Joan and asked her to sing, but she was already making her way to her hotel room to prepare for the XM show and graciously declined. Immediately after the XM recording, the group headed back to Massachusetts for two Boston area shows at the Somerville Theater, where Joan dedicated a stunning version of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" to civil rights activist Rosa Parks, who had just passed away.

John Stewart's mystifying composition, "Strange Rivers" had been requested at a few concerts on this tour, so Joan had tour manager Crook Stewart find the lyrics so she could perform it at the first of the two Somerville shows. Steve Earle's "Jerusalem," Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," and Joan's mother's favorite song and the 'saddest song ever written,' "Carrickfergus," had also become regular set list features. Joan continued to reserve the last third of each show for her solo showcase where she'd sing whatever came to mind and always concluded with Dylan's epic and appropriate "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," which inspired every audience to rise to their feet. Joan would bring Graham and Erik back to offer "Gracias a la Vida" as a first encore.

The concert at Newark's New Jersey Performing Arts Center was co-billed with singer Richard Thompson. Each of them performed about 60 minutes each, and there was no doubt that the sold-out audience was enthralled with Joan's performance. Star-Ledger writer Jay Lustig wrote that "Baez has a wealth of experience that few, if any, other folksingers can match."

jason The next evening's performance at Peekskill, New York's Paramount Center for the Arts had an audience filled with friends like the parents of Dar Williams, Dr. Irwin Redlener, and Joan's former record producer Bernie Gelb and his family. Also there were Catherine and Deider Turek, who came from France to catch of a few of Joan's shows on this tour. When the tour rolled into Albany, New York, Erik's song Cassius and Graham's son Pierce joined the entourage and had a nifty time playing in the backstage lockers at the oddly named Egg performance center.

A beautiful autumn day greeted eveyone for their day off in Princeton, New Jersey. Although the upscale hotel was located in a rather dismal industrial park, Joan managed to find a railroad track lined with gorgeous trees where she strolled in peace, softly singing oldies like "Cross Over the Bridge," "Mockingbird Hill," "Lollipop," and appropriate train songs like "Wabash Cannonball" and "This Train Is Bound For Glory." In the meantime, Crook and engineer Jason Raboin transformed a room of the Hyatt Regency Hotel into a recording studio where Joan added her vocals to a recording by the next tour's opening act, Rhythm Village, for their forthcoming CD release produced by Alan Abrahams. A few takes later and Joan had completed her contribution to the recording of her rhythmic, gospel-styled composition "Isaac and Abraham." By the way, Joan's fans will appreciate the fact that Rhythm Village is fronted by her son, Gabe Harris.

robin That evening Erik fulfilled his fatherly Halloween duties and took both his sons, Cassius and Leo, trick-or-treating around Princeton. Cassius had donned his favorite baseball uniform and bragged that he had gotten alot of Reese's peanut butter cups, which made the rest of us drool with envy!

The next day, as Robin guided the bus into a narrow driveway that led to Princeton's McCarter Theater's loading dock, she noticed a lovely lady named Jill and her husband tending to their backyard garden. Robin was fascinated and extended a greeting to the couple, who advised her with British accents that the tomatoes weren't doing so well this year. Robin shared that band member Graham Maby is originally from England. Eventually the lady learned that it was Joan Baez' bus, and gushed that she had always enjoyed Joan's music and loved her recording of the traditional English Child ballad, "Mary Hamilton." When Joan heard about Jill, she insisted that she be invited to the show, and, for the first time in many years, Joan sang and dedicated "Mary Hamilton" to our newfound friend Jill.

The next day everyone sleepily stumbled off the bus to find themselves back in Washington, D.C., for return appearances at the comfy 500 seat Birchmere. At one of the two Birchmere shows, Joan stepped off the stage and gave audience member Julian Bond a big hug and told the familiar story of how she was instructed to sing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., awake from a deep sleep. She did so by singing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," after which Dr. King commented, "I hear the voice of an angel...sing me another one, Joanie!" Joan then sang "Swing Low" for Julian and her Birchmere audience. Another audience member shouted for her to sing "Let Us Break Bread Together." Though she hadn't performed that song for many years, she happily obliged.

restaurant It was hard to believe that the tour was quickly winding down, so Joan took the whole group out to eat as a thank you for a fun and rewarding tour. Off we went to a Durham, North Carolina, Japanese restaurant where the meals are prepared right in front of you. Everyone was impressed when our cook made a volcano out of stacked onion rings, dumped alcohol in the middle and made the erupting volcano shoot flames! In a cover story for Durham's Herald-Sun newspaper's entertainment section, writer Alan Sculley proclaimed that Joan is " of the most important figures in American music." Around this time Graham brought a New York Times article to Joan's attention that described dancer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's successful performance at the Joyce Theater, which featured de Keersmaeker dramatically dancing to the music on Joan's fourth album, 1963's In Concert, Part 2.

Soon the group found itself in Atlanta for the final show of the tour. Toward the end of the show, Joan thanked, and the audience dutifully applauded, each person of the tour team. Early the next morning the bus would begin making trips to the airport so each member could make his/her way home. Parting wasn't such sweet sorrow this time, since everyone knew they'd be reunited in three weeks for a mini-tour of California.

Click to read part one of Jim's report on this tour.

There are more photos from this tour. Be sure to check them out. Enjoy!

All photos by Crook Stewart, 2005

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