On Aug. 2, iconic folk singer Joan Baez stepped onstage at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, a full half-century after her star-making performance as an 18-year-old at the event’s inaugural edition in 1959.
In typical Baez style, she summed up the journey concisely.
“Hello Newport. Hello 50 years later, my goodness gracious,” she said. “Here we are, still putting one foot in front of another. I’m glad it led us back.”
Putting one foot in front of another is a modest way to describe how Joan Baez, who’ll play the first show of the Clear Summer Nights Concert Series on Sunday evening in Bend (see “If you go”), has carried herself throughout her storied career.
She was at the forefront of the 1960s folk explosion, a prominent figure in the scene with Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, and Bob Dylan, her occasional romantic partner.
Her crystal-clear soprano and interpretations of folk classics made her a star.
She’s been an activist for as long as she’s been a musician. Baez marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, loudly opposed the Vietnam War, and immersed herself in countless other social, political and environmental causes over the past five decades.
But the past is the past, and Baez is no relic from the bygone heyday of folk music. In recent years, she’s experienced a late-career surge, both creatively and reputationally, beginning with the Lifetime Achievement Award she received at the 2007 Grammys. (A cynic might say she got the award as a make-up prize from the Grammy organization. From 1963 to 1993, Baez racked up six nominations for music’s biggest award, but never took home the statue.)
Last year, she released her first album in five years, “Day After Tomorrow,” which featured songs written by young whippersnappers Elvis Costello, Eliza Gilkyson, Tom Waits and Steve Earle, who also produced the collection. The Boston Globe said the Baez on “Day After Tomorrow” “has never sounded wiser, or more deeply human,” and the album returned the singer to the Billboard pop chart for the first time in 29 years.
Today, Baez is between the re-release of her autobiography, “And A Voice To Sing With,” in July, and a PBS documentary on her life and career that will air in October. Think of those as the big picture, examining her entire journey from Newport 1959 to Newport 2009.
Now narrow your focus back down to Aug. 2, where Baez shared that Newport stage not only with her contemporaries, like Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Judy Collins, but hip, young artists like Neko Case, Fleet Foxes and The Avett Brothers.
It was an appropriate gig, perhaps, for a woman who has seen many places and sung many songs over many years, simply by putting one foot in front of another.