Monday June 24, 2013

LENOX -- Folk music is timeless. Folk singers, not so much.

There was a moment, both poignant and sweet, at Sunday afternoon's Tanglewood show when folk icon Joan Baez reminded the audience about an August night at the legendary Woodstock Music and Arts Fair 44 years ago.

"I was pregnant when I played that show," she said. Then, she swept her arm toward her drummer. "And now? There's m'boy."

Her son, Gabriel Harris, took a bow.

There was a lot of nostalgia, and virtually no marijuana, in the air on Sunday, when Baez took the stage to cap a big weekend of popular music at Tanglewood. On Friday, rocker Melissa Ethridge performed. On Saturday, it was Warren Haynes and a tribute to former Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia.

On Sunday, Baez headlined, with the Indigo Girls as the opening act.

Baez began her storied career 55 years ago at the old Cafe 47 in Cambridge. She still has a very animated fan base in the Berkshires.

"I last saw her in 1966 or ‘67," recalled Jonathan Pyenson of Otis. "She used to play around here all the time, mostly at the [former] Music Inn in Lenox."

Pyenson said that Baez is still so popular "because she never became real commercial. She remained true to her work."

"I came today becauase I wanted my daughter to see her," said Jenna Crafts of Southern Vermont, gesturing to a young woman standing to the right of her. "[Baez] is a very important artist. She is a performer who goes her own way.


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Sheri Lublin of Lenox was at the show with a number of friends with whom she has been attending shows since the 1960s. She first saw Baez 10 years ago.

"We're revisiting our youth," she joked.

Noting that Baez has publicly fretted that her voice was deteriorating, Lublin said the singer sounded in fine form.

"I don't think she has anything to complain about. She sounds great."

Baez has been so good for so long that she is now "multi-generational," said Arnie Malasky, who has a second home in Lenox and is a friend of Lublin's.

"She's someone who is very passionate about her work, and about issues that affect us all," said Stephen Chella of New York City.

Chella, 22, had never seen Baez before Sunday. He said he wanted to go because he enjoyed listening to her music, but also to support an activist for peace for the past half-century.

"That impresses me as least as much as her work," he said.

WAMC pundit and Berkshire Eagle columnist Alan Chartock was at the show with his wife, Roselle.

Chartock recalled an recent interview with Baez.

"I did some research and I found out her father, who was a professor at MIT, invented the electron microscope," said Chartock. "So I asked her, ‘Do you ever get stopped in airports by people who ask you if you're the daughter of the guy who invented the electrom microscope?'

"And she looked at me with a straight face," said Chartock with a grin, "and said ‘All the time.' "

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile