Who knew what the prevailing mood would be at Joan Baez’s sold-out concert Saturday at the State Theatre in Minneapolis?
Would the emotions deal with experiencing the folk-music queen's final Twin Cities appearance as part of her Fare Thee Well Tour? How would the Kavanaugh confirmation color the mood? What would the godmother of social activism say or do?
Baez surprised. After her first song, she called this a sad day because of the death of Spanish soprano Montserrat Cabelle. Reading from a prepared statement on a folded sheet of paper, she talked about how remembering the beauty of Cabelle’s music would overshadow the darkness of the day.
Even though fans shouted things like “Run for President,” Baez focused on music, including her own classics “Honest Lullaby” and “Diamonds and Rust”; John Prine’s ode to long-term relationships “Hello in There”; the activist anthems “Joe Hill” and Woody Guthrie’s “Deportees,” and six numbers from her new album “Whistle Down the Wind,” notably the dark but gorgeous “Another World” by Antony and the Johnson.
And, of course, there were Bob Dylan covers. Four of them, including “Forever Young” as an encore.
But she wouldn’t let her old lover Dylan have the last word. She then played Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” with the key line “the fighter still remains.”
Yes, she’s still a fighter at age 77 on her farewell tour. When a female fan asked what her message was to new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Baez simply said: “Up yours.” The crowd roared its approval.
It wasn’t her only political expression of the night. Baez gathered her bandmates and crew, including her massage therapist, onstage for a bow. Then a recording of Jimi Hendrix doing “The Star Spangled Banner” played and Baez and her fellow players joined arms and took a knee. Message delivered.
During the 1 3/4-hour concert, Baez was in good spirits and good voice, though she doesn’t have her high notes anymore. All told, it was a night of grace, gratitude and unwavering fortitude.
After playing much of the show backed by multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell and percussionist Gabe Harris (her son), she closed solo with her acoustic guitar, singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” And Baez ad libbed the ending “coming to carry me. To carry you. To carry us. To carry Donald. Home.”