coveron the road

by Jim Stewart

joan Just two weeks prior to the start of this tour, and with thousands of copies of the new U.K./European CD release of Bowery Songs along with A&M and Vanguard box sets and remastered classic catalog titles set for strategic deliveries around the U.K. and Europe for upcoming Joan Baez tour venue sales, I found myself lying flat on my back in a hospital with a bacterial infection. But thanks to a terrific team of doctors, I was able to board my flight to London as scheduled. Limping and armed with a heavy duty prescription antibiotic, I was relieved to know I'd soon be meeting up with Joan, her manager Mark Spector, tour manager Crook Stewart, Jason Raboin (stage and house sound design engineer), and band members Graham Maby (bass, guitar and vocals) and Erik Della Penna (guitar, dobro, mandolin, slide steel and vocals).

When I arrived at our London hotel I spotted Crook and Jason on the front steps where Crook announced that his airline had lost all of his luggage, leaving him without the materials necessary to make a tour happen, not to mention all of his clothing and personal items. Crook was heading out to buy some basic items so he could escort Joan to the BBC London television studios early the next morning where she would sing "There But For Fortune," talk about her career and promote the tour and the deluxe edition of Bowery Songs on the Proper label. While enjoying the live telecast on my hotel room TV, I picked up the Sunday London Times magazine section and spotted an article on Joan by Tony Barrell that traced a day in her personal home life, including "...beautiful moonlit nights" spent in her little treehouse.

erikOn March 6, the entourage headed for Brighton on a double-decker bus driven by Billy Glanville for the tour's first concert. Upon reaching Brighton, Joan recalled a lovely little restaurant near the hotel where she had dined during her 2004 tour stop in Brighton, and headed off for a meal there where the staff cheerfully greeted her. She treated her Greek host to a song in his native language. Seated at a table in the restaurant's front window, Joan was greeted by a few people who passed by and recognized her. When Joan arrived back at her hotel, she ran into an elated Crook who reported that all three of his bags had been found and delivered to the hotel, which was good news for everyone! (photo at right: Erik)

After successful shows in Brighton and Bristol, newspaper reviewer Ludovic Hunter-Tileny aptly summed up Joan's performance at London's Barbican Centre by pointing out that "(her) sense of self possession is what makes (Joan) a great singer. It allows her to stamp herself on her songs."

After the successful London show, the group headed for a day off in Birmingham, followed by a concert at the city's beautiful Symphony Hall, where we were told that Joan had set the all-time ticket sales record for a non-classical performance at the large, formal venue. Standing before the hall's stately pipe organ, Joan sang a tribute to the elegant performance center by singing, "I will walk all the way from London to Birmingham, just to see this place..." to the tune of Emmylou Harris' "Boulder to Birmingham."

claire Lovely young Claire Maby (photo at left) had joined the tour for 10 days while on school break to sight-see with her father, Graham, and visit relatives throughout the U.K. Everyone got a kick out of the large star that appeared on a backstage Birmingham Symphony Hall dressing room door, proclaiming that the room was being occupied by Claire, who had earlier received praise from Joan for her backstage performance on the flute that echoed throughout the hall.

Immediately after the show, Billy drove the group safely over 300 miles of rain soaked highways to Glasgow, Scotland, where we awoke to an unexpected snowfall that had blanketed the area during the night. The weather had shut down public transportation, forcing stranded citizens to sleep in restaurants and bars. It wasn't long before Joan was making snow angels in a park near her hotel, and Erik and I were having a snowball fight. Despite the weather, the Royal Concert Hall was filled with appreciative Joan Baez fans. Just for the Scots, Joan reached back some 40 years into The Joan Baez Songbook and performed the traditional gem "Henry Martin," and, as a special request, did "Mary Hamilton" as one of her encores.

The next night Joan announced to her Manchester audience that she hadn't sung "Geordie," another traditional song, in about 30 years. Later, an audience member requested "Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream," and Joan commented, "Oh great...I haven't sung that one in about 35 years!" Nonetheless, she did the song flawlessly, and it never sounded better than in the beautiful Bridgewater Hall.

joan graham erik Due to threatening weather conditions, Billy elected to take a longer daylight route from Manchester to Sheffield, where the group was captivated by the hauntingly beautiful scenery as the bus passed through the expansive moors. Joan, Graham and Erik were rehearsing a song in the bus' lower lounge when Joan requested that Billy stop for a photo opportunity, and Crook took the group's picture with the snow-covered moors as a backdrop. (see photo at right)

The acoustic tour's set list included (but was not limited to) "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" featuring a robust vocal solo by Erik, Elvis Costello's "Scarlet Tide," the traditional "Fennario," Bob Dylan's "With God On Our Side," "Long Black Veil" (as a Johnny Cash tribute), "Strange Rivers," "Joe Hill," "Stand By Me," "Christmas in Washington," "Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word," "Jerusalem," and "Gracias a la Vida." As usual, Joan provided a solo segment each evening with her guitar and included career favorites like "Honest Lullaby," "Diamonds and Rust," "Farewell Angelina," "Lily of the West," "Carrickfergus," "Jesse," "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," "Marie Flore," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," and stunning a capella renditions of "Finlandia" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

The morning after the Sheffield concert the tour group flew from Manchester to Grenoble, France, leaving Billy to make the 785 kilometer bus trip alone. Staying in a nice hotel in the stunning resort village of Uriage-les-Bains, nestled in the foothills of the snowcapped French Alps, Joan was more than ready to take in the French cuisine and visited local shops to gather up cheeses, wine, chocolates, yogurts and breads for a feast in her room. Brazenly strolling through the fancy hotel's lobby with bags of goodies, Joan made her way to her room where I moved the patio table and chairs from the balcony inside, and we gorged ourselves in a most un-French-like manner which resulted in tummy aches that lasted for days! Joan later shared this tale with her French audiences, who were amused when she finished the story by singing a few lines from Edith Piaf's hit that despite the tummy aches, " regrets, now I have no regrets."

joan Joan was now including French favorites in the concerts' set lists like "Plasir d'Amour," "Le Deserteur," "Here's To You," "Suzanne," and a newer song that has become tremendously popular in France, "Manhattan-Kabul." The song traces the lives of a young Puerto Rican man feverishly enslaved to an American dream of success until he dies in the 9-11 attack on New York's World Trade Center and an unrelated young girl in Afghanistan, who has never heard of Manhattan and is suffering her own type of cultural enslavement. As soon as Erik played the song's beautiful opening chords on his dobro, the French audiences erupted in applause, and Graham's vocal harmonies were a perfect addition to the song's stunning French lyrics.

Everyone in the tour group was buzzing about what to do on a most welcome day off in Paris. Jason and I made tentative plans to visit the Catacombs, but, as often is the case on a tour, plans were quickly altered as Joan, who had developed a minor case of the sniffles and felt it was best to stay out of the chilly, damp Paris weather, sent fashion savvy Jason on a last minute mission to find the perfect stage outfit for her Paris concert. After some intensive effort, Jason returned to the hotel with a nice assortment of clothing that Joan was pleased with. The day of the Paris show, Joan's hotel room was filled with high energy activity as a variety of people made their ways in and out: a chiropractor, a tailor (to alter a jacket Jason had purchased), hotel staff with flowers, candy and breakfast, a hairdresser, her manager and tour manager.

The magnificently restored cinema/theatre, the Grand Rex, was Joan's Parisian showcase, complete with amazingly comfortable seats that looked as though they had been lifted from the first class section of a major airline. The show was pure magic as Joan, Graham and Erik, along with Jason's sound engineering, presented a concert of a lifetime for a most appreciative audience in the City of Lights. This marked the exact halfway point in the 2006 U.K./European Joan Baez tour.

(Part Two of this report still to come....)

Photos by Crook Stewart and Jim Stewart, 2006

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