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Joan Baez still as outspoken as ever


October 12, 2005 - By ALAN SCULLEY

For the Call

When Joan Baez toured in Europe last year, she had a special message for her audiences.

"I would learn in each language to say: 'I want to apologize for what my government is doing to the world,'" Baez said in a re-cent telephone interview from her San Fran-cisco Bay area home. "I'd get a standing ovation for saying that because they were so happy that somebody was expressing what they felt."

Baez won't need to take any foreign language lessons this fall since she's touring the United States. But she promises to be just as outspoken as she voices her opposition to the war in Iraq and to the administration of President George W. Bush.

The legendary folk singer/political acti-vist also realizes the timing for her to be on tour couldn't be much better as it comes in the wake of Cindy Sheehan's anti-war vigil at Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch and the federal government's much-criticized response to the Hurricane Ka-trina tragedy.

"I have to say, after ("Fahrenheit 9/11" filmmaker) Michael Moore, Cindy was the first thing to me that's made it completely relevant to do what I'm best at doing," Baez said. "All of a sudden different songs become relevant and I become very happy to sing them.''

Some of those songs, Baez suggested, will be familiar protest songs as well as tunes like "Silver Dagger" — from her 1960 debut album — and "Jackaroe" — from 1963's "Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2" — that helped bring Baez into the folk-music spotlight some four decades ago.

Both those tracks are included on "Bow-ery Songs," a new live CD Baez recorded just days after last fall's presidential election at the Bowery in New York City. Baez hadn't been playing those songs on the tour, but added them to the Bowery shows to help balance her set.

Musically, the shows on the fall tour will be notably different than those of last year, as Baez has chosen to perform in more of a stripped-down setting. "Bowery Songs" captures Baez playing with a full band that included guitarist/lap steel player Erik Della Penna, guitarist Duke McVinnie, bassist Graham Maby and drummer George Javori. For this tour, just Della Penna and a bassist — whom Baez didn't name — will join her for the shows.

Live albums have been a regular part of Baez's recorded output almost from the outset of a career that went national when she was featured on the 1959 album, "Folk-singers 'Round Harvard Square." By the time of that release, Baez, now 64, already was a familiar figure on the New York City folk scene.

She followed her self-titled debut record with a second studio release, "Joan Baez, Volume 2," in 1961 before releasing a pair of back-to-back live albums, "Joan Baez in Concert" (1962) and Joan Baez in Con-cert, Part 2" a year later. A half dozen other live releases — including "From Every Stage" (1976), "Diamonds and Rust in the Bullring" (1989) and "Ring Them Bells" (1995) — have been interspersed between the nearly 50 studio records and compilations that make up her catalog of American releases.

Her early records, as well as such notable later releases as "Farewell, Angelina" (1965) "Any Day Now" (1968) and "Diamonds and Rust" (1975) established Baez as one of the most important figures in American music, and as her career became intertwined with that of one-time boyfriend Bob Dylan, she helped lead a resurgence of folk music during the early 1960s. She also became one of the most socially conscious musicians of the 1960s, becoming one of the early public figures to voice opposition to the Vietnam War in 1964, as well as an outspoken advocate for civil rights and women's rights.

Her success as a musician waned somewhat during the 1970s, and especially during the early 1980s when she went several years without a record deal. But she re-bounded with the 1989 CD "Speaking of Dreams" and has released CDs on a regular basis throughout the past 15 years while solidifying a loyal fan base.

Now, the arrival on the scene of Sheehan, who lost a son, Casey, in the Iraq war and has become a leader of the anti-war movement, helped spur Baez to once again step up her political activities. Baez joined Shee-han in August while Sheehan conducted an anti-war vigil outside Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch, where the president was on an extended working vacation. Sheehan un-successfully sought to have a meeting with Bush during the vigil, but Baez believes the vigil accomplished its goals.

"I think it was very unsettling to the ad-ministration," Baez said. "I think they thought it would go away. They didn't count on a funny housewife woman to be serious. She's serious ... He was on an everlasting vacation, which also was not useful to him with Katrina. So maybe people are beginning to see the emperor has no clothes, and that would be very helpful for this world."

Joan Baez plays Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Meridian Ballroom in Southern Illinois Uni-versity at Edwardsville's Morris Univer-sity Center. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show cost $24 for the general public.

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