There are few artists as closely tied to America’s memories of the 1960s as Joan Baez. From marching in the Civil Rights Movement to performing at Woodstock, the iconic folk singer is one of the most recognizable images of the counterculture movement. For over 50 years, she has been singing her original songs and providing masterful interpretations of songs by others; New Jersey gets the opportunity to see her in person when she takes the stage at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on June 19th. The award-winning folk/rock duo, the Indigo Girls, is also on the bill.
Baez may have released her last album in 2008, but the spotlight has continued to shine on her in recent years. In 2009, she attended the first presidential inauguration of Barack Obama and performed at the Peace Ball. Her life story was told later in the year with the PBS American Masters Series, “Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound.” The following year she returned to Washington, DC, to celebrate Black History Month as part of “In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement.” In 2011, her debut record on Vanguard Records from 1960 was inducted into the Grammy® Hall of Fame. At the same time, the prestigious Folk Alliance International presented her with its Lifetime Achievement Award. The impressive year continued with Amnesty International bestowing her with the inaugural Joan Baez Award for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights during the organization’s 50th Anniversary Annual General Meeting.
Throughout her career, Baez has not only sung about freedom, Civil Rights, and peace, but actively worked for issues like these. In 1964, she withheld over half of her income tax from the IRS to protest military spending, and was part of the initial Free Speech movement at University of California at Berkeley. She co-founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence in Carmel Valley (CA) in 1965, and stood alongside Cesar Chavez and migrant farm workers striking for fair wages in 1966. Her passion towards the causes she believes in continues today. One recent example was a benefit concert for Citizens Reach Out (CRO), a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and improving the lives of war victims around the world, that she was part of in 2012.
Musically, she helped usher in the folk movement of the 1960s with the release of her first album; featuring folk music staples along with songs by the Carter Family and Woody Guthrie, she mixed gospel with traditional ballads and blues. Many of the songs on her early albums would be recorded by the popular rock and roll groups of the day; songs like “House of the Rising Sun,” which became a hit for The Animals; “John Riley,” recorded by The Byrds; “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” recorded by Led Zeppelin; “Jackaroe,” recorded by the Grateful Dead; and “What Have They Done To The Rain,” recorded by the Searchers.
Baez has put her unique stamp on songs by some of the best songwriters in the industry. Early albums featured her beautiful voice covering songs from artists such as Phil Ochs, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Johnny Cash and The Beatles. Later work featured covers of songs by Jackson Browne, John Prine, Dar Williams, and Richard Shindell. Her most recent release contained interpretations of songs by Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Patty Griffin and Steve Earle. Of course, her career has also been intertwined with that of Bob Dylan, an artist she basically introduced to the world.
You’re bound to hear a mix of these artists during her performance at NJPAC. Every concert by Baez is like getting an education in songwriting. For decades, she has been introducing the world to the best and brightest new songwriters. And for even more great songwriting, there’s the opening act…
The Indigo Girls bring a different type of folk music to the night. The duo from Georgia, comprised of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, burst onto the scene in the late 1980s with their self-titled release that included the hit “Closer to Fine” and went on to win a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Recording. The band’s most popular singles include “Closer to Fine,” “Hammer and Nail,” “Galileo” and “Least Complicated.” All total, the pair would eventually garner several more Grammy nominations through a career that contained seven gold records, four platinum records –including one double platinum– and overall sales of more than 12 million records. Their 14th studio album, “Beauty Queen Sister,” was released in 2011.
Joan Baez & Indigo Girls will be performing at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, located at 1 Center Street in Newark, NJ, on Wednesday, June 19 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit the venue’s website at http://www.njpac.org.