on the road imageOn The Road

U.S. FALL TOUR 2010
by Jim Stewart

joans and emmylouJoan Baez debuted her new concert format featuring just one supporting musician, Dirk Powell (piano, guitar, mandolin, bass, violin, vocals), at Napa, California's lovely Napa Valley Opera House before an appreciative audience that included her delightful 97-year-old mother and fellow singer, Emmylou Harris.

Traveling by van for the three California shows, Joan, her tour group, and manager Mark Spector, broke up a six hour southward trip to Solvang with a visit to the beautiful Alma Rose Vineyards at Buellton, where the group stretched their legs and feasted on cheese and wines while enjoying a beautiful sunset.

windmills Rolling into Solvang I thought van driver/tour manager Blair Woods had made a wrong turn, since the view was suddenly filled with windmills and Dutch-themed restaurants and bakeries that made it seem like we had arrived in Holland. Even the Solvang venue, the Festival Theater, featured otherworldly Shakespearian architecture and an audience that appreciated Joan's scaled down, back-to-basics presentation. As folks filed past my merchandise presentation, I recognized the elegantly dressed television interviewer/gossip columnist Rona Barrett, who stopped to chat for a little while and was pleased when I mentioned her 1974 interview with Joan. Dirk's daughters and his father, geologist James Lawrence Powell, visited us at this show. Mr. Powell presented me with autographed copies of his informative, entertaining and amazing books, Solving Earth's Grandest Puzzle and Deal Pool (Lake Powell, Global Warming and the Future of Water in the West) that appealed to my passion for Arizona's wondrous natural wonder of the world, The Grand Canyon.

Thankfully, we had a couple of days off to enjoy San Francisco before the next concert that was part of the free 3-day Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park. This annual event featured major artists like Elvis Costello, Indigo Girls, Steve Earle, Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris, and Patti Smith. I used some of my time in San Francisco to head to the local vinyl emporiums including the huge Amoeba Records store. On Saturday and Sunday, Joan's personal tour assistant Emma Vasseur and I joined our California pals Nancy Lutzow and Kevin McGiboney to catch our favorite Festival acts, including Joan Baez, who was joined onstage by her son, percussionist Gabe Harris.

joan Next up was a flight to Kansas City, where we hooked up with our tour bus and driver Brant Quick, who chauffeured us to the Raphael Hotel where I had tons of CDs, DVDs and books waiting to be stored on the bus. Emma and I strolled around the City of Fountains and found a Williams-Sonoma store where we stocked up on bus supplies and treats. Kansas City always brings back fond memories of my previous visits there to see my dear friend Gisele MacKenzie, who appeared at the city's marvelous open-air Starlight Theatre in Swope Park in productions like "The King and I," "Gypsy," and "Annie Get Your Gun."

Joan's Kansas City venue was a "working" church, the Unity Temple, that seated over 1200 people and hosted entertainment events on its days off from spiritual activities. After the show we piled on the bus for a drive to Iowa City and a show at the Englert Theatre.

On October 7th we arrived in Madison, where Emma ran in an organized race, and Joan and I walked around the shopping area near the hotel and admired the colorful autumn foliage and took photos of leaf stains on the sidewalks. Several people along the way recognized Joan and welcomed her to Madison, asking her to "say hello to Emma." Joan and I looked at each other and wondered if Emma might be a local celebrity. Later, as we were dining in a nice restaurant, a waitress recognized Joan and proceeded to ask how Emma was. Curiosity got the best of me, so I inquired how everyone knew who Joan's tour assistant is, and the waitress presented us with a two-page article from the Wisconsin State Journal that told how Emma, a recent University of Wisconsin at Madison graduate, had the good fortune of finding a job traveling the world as Joan's tour assistant/guitar tech. The modest Emma hadn't told anyone about the impressive newspaper interview, complete with many photos of Joan and the tour group. After dinner, Joan and I returned to the hotel for tea and caught ourselves tiredly drifting off and just staring blankly through the hotel's screened windows. Joan began to laugh and sang a line from the John Prine composition, "Hello In There" -- "...Me and Loretta, we don't talk much now...We sit and stare out the backdoor screen..." We both laughed and hoped that we had aged well, then went off to our rooms to catch some rest. Joan amusingly shared this story with her Madison audience the next evening and performed the song.

emma and jim On our way to Milwaukee word came that King Solomon Burke had passed away, which seemed uncanny since I had just purchased one of his CDs at Amoeba Records that became standard listening fare on the bus. A few years ago, King Solomon was on a festival bill in Croatia, peforming just before Joan, where we marveled at the rotund performer's dazzling stage presence. He sang from a red and gold throne surrounded by a kingly court of dancing backup singers who strolled over from time to time to wipe the sweat from his brow.

While in Milwaukee, sound engineer Jason Raboin, Emma, Brant and I followed Blair to Solly's Restaurant, home of the Butter Burger, a tasty, generous-sized beef patty topped with a big slab of cheese and crowned with about half a stick of real butter. I couldn't help but marvel how appropriate it was that the Milwaukee Heart Hospital was nearby!

saugatuck Blair used some extra imaginative and creative efforts to find unique, comfortable and out-of-the-way places for us to stay on this tour. In Saugatuck, Michigan, we had private condos not far from Lake Michigan, where we had an unusually long three day stay. Lake Michigan was beautiful in the fall, and the dunes were amazing and inviting. One afternoon, Joan wandered to the beach and had been out of touch for some time. Suddenly, my cell phone rang to announce that she was hopelessly lost somewhere in the sand dunes along Lake Michigan. The autumn sun was beginning to set and it was getting cold, so I formed a one-man search party and headed out to find our lost singing legend. Luckily I ran into Jason, who was jogging along the shoreline and had seen Joan some distance back and was able to point me in her direction.

On the outskirts of Saugatuck, Joan and I stopped at a roadside market and bought small pumpkins for her to carve for Halloween, fresh honey, homemade bread, pumpkin pie, and apples, so she could make some of her famous fresh apple sauce on the bus. Each of our rooms had a kitchen, so our culinary genius opened Emma's Breakfast Cafe, where she served delicious omelets, fruit and toast to the tour group each morning. Lucky us! After the Saugatuck show we all were a little sad to be leaving, but looked forward to a series of Canadian concerts.

blair, joan, dirk It's always amazing to go to sleep on the bus in one place and awake to find myself in a new city and country that's waiting to be discovered. I often joke that I have to get a newspaper as soon as I get off the bus to find out where I am and what day it is! The weather and people were lovely in Kitchener, Ontario, where we stayed in a marvelous bed and breakfast, and dined at several local establishments. Some 400 miles away, in the next concert city, Montreal, we had a couple of days to shop and peruse the city's magnificent old town.

Roaming around Ottawa was a true delight as I encountered an amazing life-sized bronze sculpture of favorite musical son, legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. The 2200 folks in the audience at the Theatre St.-Denis warmed the cockles of all our hearts with a fine reception for Joan, after which we headed back across the border for more U.S. shows. When we reached the border, everyone was awakened in the middle of the night and herded from our cozy bunks into the cold night air so the bus could be x-rayed by an amazing machine that scanned the entire vehicle from one end to the other, while we were safely hidden away behind concrete walls.

joan, jim Fall was well underway when we arrived in Clinton, New York. This lovely, small town was homey, with the trees decked out in a most colorful array of yellow, orange and red. At the show, Joan and Dirk re-introduced his beautiful composition, "Just The Way You Are," to the set list.

Next up was my birth state of Ohio, so the bus headed for our third visit to the wonderful Bear Run Inn Cabins and Cottages near Logan, where we celebrated our lovely hostess, Tonya's birthday. Once again we got things going in the kitchen and made a home-cooked meal which we shared with Brant's visiting parents. On the way to the concert at Newark's Midland Theatre, we passed signs announcing the start of my hometown's big festival, the Circleville Pumpkin Show. Sadly, I missed the event.

When I got off the bus at the venue in Newark, a gentleman handed me one of the more interesting requests I've encountered since working for Joan Baez - it asked Joan to use her influence to get Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones to record a gospel album and include the old hymns, "Just As I Am" and "The Old Rugged Cross." I scratched my head and wondered if the gentleman had Mr. Jagger confused with Tennessee Ernie Ford!

busAfter the Newark, Ohio, show Brant pointed the bus eastward for Reading, Pennsylvania, and then on to Buffalo, New York, where he encountered snowfall during the overnight drive! It was great to be back in Buffalo where Joan's dear childhood friend, Lily Zendano, visited with her. Buffalo is known to us as "Blairsville," since our tour manager has a lovely home there, and invited us to the monthly soup night he shares with his friends and neighbors. There were four different kinds of soup, and Blair's family and friends brought wonderful side dishes. We all had a grand time and were delighted to meet Blair's wife and their new puppy!

A quick stopover at Rochester's Auditorium Theatre was next on the agenda, followed by shows in Poughkeepsie and Troy, where Joan and Dirk performed "Much Better View of the Moon," a song she recorded for her pivotal 1992 Play Me Backwards, but didn't make the final project. Joan revisited the song while reviewing unreleased material the expanded and remastered double CD release of the album. Joan also added the traditional Carter Family classic "Wildwood Flower" to her set list. The restored Troy Music Hall was an intriguing opera house that has hosted many legends over its long history, including Marian Anderson, Leontyne Prcie, and a favorite of Joan's, Jussi Bjorling. The spruced-up original seats in the auditorium were equipped with racks where long ago stylish top hats could be safely tucked away during performances.

A French film crew was awaiting Joan's arrival at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, to film interviews and promo spots for her spring 2011 tour of France. Then we were off to Philadelphia and Newark, New Jersey, where Joan shared concert bills with her friend and producer of Day After Tomorrow, Steve Earle.

mugsThe colorful autumn leaves had mostly taken their places on the ground by the time we reach North Conway, New Hampshire, for a few days stay at the hospitable Kearsage Inn where everyone in the group had sets of yellow, red, blue and green engraved Joan Baez mugs waiting in their rooms. The touristy town had a wonderful shopping and dining area, where Emma and I spent time exploring the quaint emporiums and found treasures to take home. The show was at the smallest venue Joan has played in quite some time, the cozy 240 seat Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine. It featured a basement filled with entertainment memorabilia, including stacks of old albums that Emma and I dug through and played after sound check. Jason proved his wide ranging sound expertise by making this tiny venue sound just like the massive opera houses and auditoriums we had played elsewhere on this tour.

The tour's next stop was a return to Burlington, Vermont's Flynn Center, where I had a lovely reunion with my former Arizona neighbor, Tani Gagner and members of her family for dinner before the show. Early the next morning, we were on our way to Concord, New Hampshire, for a show at the Capitol Theater. Then it was on to the tour's finale at New Haven's Schubert Theater, where everyone marveled at the Broadway show artwork displayed all over the backstage walls, and where Joan added her signature to those of Ethel Merman, Mary Martin and the like.

It was getting cold and damp in the northeast, which always makes me homesick for my Arizona home. I arrived home a couple of days later to welcoming Tucson sunshine and warmth, and headed out for my favorite hiking trail that takes me to waterfalls in the Catalina Mountains, all the while contemplating great memories of a successful tour and planning for the upcoming spring tour of France and Scandinavia.


Photos (top to bottom) by Blair Woods, Jim Stewart, Kevin McGiboney, Emma Vasseur, Emma Vasseur, Emma Vasseur, Emma Vasseur, Emma Vasseur, Jim Stewart, 2010

Be sure to take a look at the many other photos from this tour. Enjoy!


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