Memories, markers and special times

Joan Baez: Fare Thee Well Tour – Brighton Dome (February 2019)

Despite battling a chest infection Joan Baez strode onto the stage of the Brighton Dome on the opening UK night of her extended farewell tour and delivered a performance that was masterful, moving and mesmerising.

The 78-year-old singer was determined that her concert was not going to be diminished by anything as mundane as a pesky illness. True to form she sang beautifully, just occasionally, and I mean occasionally, struggling for a note.

After 60 years on the road Baez knows how to optimise almost any concert  situation. So it was that alongside a wonderful catalogue of songs, starting with her alone on stage singing Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright – the first of five perfectly pitched Bob Dylan covers – we also heard her singing the praises of Britain’s National Health Service.

She had arrived in Brighton via a visit to A&E: “Hey the doctors all looked about 15-years-old but they clearly knew what they were doing,” she told us, revealing that blood tests had been made and antibiotics prescribed and all for free. “We don’t get that where I come from,” she sighed.

The medics had done well and more than 20 songs and nearly two hours later Joan Baez finally left the stage to a standing ovation after a series of  encores that had included sure-fire crowd pleasers like Forever Young and a singalong to John Lennon’s Imagine.

For most of the concert Baez had been joined on stage by her son the percussionist Gabe Harris and multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell. There was also some impressive input from singer Grace Stumberg. Age may have taken the top register from Baez’s soaring soprano but she knows exactly how to use her mature voice to maximum effect. Stumberg meanwhile is on hand to add vocal depth and harmonies to songs like Diamond’s and Rust, Donovan’s Catch the Wind and some belting country blues on Kris Kristofferson’s Me and Bobby McGee.

It was a superbly constructed set featuring songs from throughout the long and illustrious Baez career. Early favourites included Phil Och’s There But for Fortune, Dylan’s Farewell Angelina, Woody Guthrie’s Deportee and the traditional Darling Corey.

 It was an evening full of memories and markers of special times. When she sang Joe Hill many members of the audience will have recalled her performance of the same song at the Woodstock Festival 50 years ago this summer. She was six months pregnant at the time. A glance at percussionist Gabe brought recognition that he had been there too. Yup Woodstock in the womb. How cool is that?

But anyone thinking this tour is purely about nostalgia is sorely mistaken. There was also a good showing of high-quality material from her latest album Whistle Down the Wind with some beautifully reflective writing from people like Tom Waits and Antony and the Johnsons.

Like the every song in the set these are the kind of numbers that in the capable hands of Joan Baez can live and breath forever! Judging by the length of this extended farewell tour, there’s a good chance that she can too.

Jeremy Miles


Author: Jeremy Miles

Writer, journalist, photographer, arts and theatre critic and occasional art historian.

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