Woodstock Performers: Joan Baez

Updated on April 29, 2019
Kaili Bisson profile image

Rockin’ before she could walk, a vinyl hound who can’t remember a thing because the words to all songs from 1960-2018 are stuck in her head.

Joan Baez onstage at Woodstock
Joan Baez onstage at Woodstock | Source

This series of articles—32 in all—covers each of the artists who performed at the original Woodstock festival August 15-18, 1969. Appearing on Day 1 prior to Joan Baez was Arlo Guthrie of "Alice's Restaurant" fame. The Queen of folk music was the perfect star to wrap up the opening day festivities. Due to delays throughout the day Friday, Joan didn't actually take the stage until about 1:00 a.m. on Saturday August 16th. So, technically, she became the first artist on the bill for Day 2. In reality, that honor went to Boston-based Quill.

Who Is Joan Baez?

Joan Chandos Baez was born on Staten Island, New York, on January 9, 1941, the middle daughter of a Mexican-born physicist father and a Scottish mother. The family moved many times in support of Baez's father's career with UNESCO, living in such diverse countries as England, France, Spain and Iraq.

A friend of her father's presented Baez with a ukulele, and she taught herself to play enough chords that she could play along to the R&B music she loved. When she was 13, her aunt took her to a Pete Seeger concert for her birthday, and she was hooked. She taught herself to play Seeger's folk songs and it wasn't long before she was playing in public. In 1957, she bought her very first guitar and practiced that instrument until her fingers were blistered.

He father's posting to MIT in 1958 had the family on the move again, this time to Boston, Massachusetts. Baez enrolled at Boston University to attend the theater school there, but dropped out after only a short time. She was drawn to the strong folk music scene in and around Boston, and started playing clubs in Boston and Cambridge, and even recorded a record with two friends on the Veritas label that had limited circulation, mostly around Cambridge. It was around this time that she met folk singer Bob Gibson, who was so impressed by her voice and presence that he invited her to perform with him at the Newport Folk festival in 1959. Her wonderful voice captivated the audience, and also caught the attention of a representative from Vanguard Records.

Baez released her first solo LP on Vanguard in October 1960, a self-titled record of folk songs, laments and ballads that reached the number 20 spot in the US, a feat unheard of for folk music, especially a completely unknown artist.

Baez went on to release eight more LPs on Vanguard between 1961 and 1969. Some fared better than others, with 1965's "Farewell, Angelina" making it to the #10 spot on the Billboard Pop Album chart.

Early Activism

It was in 1956 that Baez first heard Martin Luther King, Jr. give a speech on nonviolent social activism. The following year, she attended a lecture by Ira Sandperl, a Gandhian scholar who was also to have a big influence on her. By the early '60s, Baez was participating in marches, sit-ins and occupations and lending her voice to raise money and awareness for the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1963, Baez performed “We Shall Overcome” at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—on the very steps where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech—linking her name to that song forever more. War protests too, occupied her time, and she withheld 60% of her Federal taxes in her 1963 income tax return as another form of protest. In 1967, she went to jail briefly—twice—for participating in anti-war protests, and she also participated in organized sit-ins against the Vietnam war, joining crowds of demonstrators who were blocking entrances to draft centers.

Her distinct voice and her active and passionate involvement in marches and protests gave rise to a new form of popular music.

"Joe Hill ain't dead, he says to me

Joe Hill ain't never died

Where working men are out on strike

Joe Hill is at their side

Joe Hill is at their side"

Joan Baez's Woodstock

The drizzle had started up again when Baez arrived onstage. She made a comment about how her's would likely be a sunrise set, and opened with "Oh, Happy Day." She then moved through a song by Tom Paxton, followed by Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." It was at this point that Baez told the audience about how her husband David Harris was serving time in a federal penitentiary for resisting the draft. She then launched into the old union/organizing song "Joe Hill."

By the time Baez finished up about an hour later, the sky had opened up again. Closing her set with "We Shall Overcome," she had the crowd singing along with her to this civil rights anthem. It was 2:00 a.m.

Joan Baez Performing "Joe Hill" at Woodstock

Woodstock? Hell, I was already pushing my luck. I'd been on the music scene for ten years and I still didn't take dope or use a backup band. But Woodstock was also me - Joan Baez, the square, six months pregnant, the wife of a draft-resister, endlessly proselytizing about the war - I had my place there. I was of the '60s, and I was already a survivor.

— Joan Baez, when asked years later about Woodstock

Joan Baez Performing "We Shall Overcome" at Woodstock

Life After Woodstock

Baez hadn't needed a career boost from Woodstock, but she got one anyway. She continued to tour and record, lending her time and talent to causes that she believed in. During Christmas of 1972, Baez was even part of a peace delegation to North Vietnam.

Her LPs over the years have ranged in style, from traditional folk and gospel to pop. In 1971, she released a version of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which reached the number five position on the US charts. Her 1975 album Diamonds & Rust was certified gold in the US and contained a cover of Dylan's "Simple Twist of Fate," as well as a duet with Joni Mitchell. This is a spectacular album, and I highly recommend it. In 2008, she released her 24th studio album, which was produced by Steve Earle. In 2018, she released her 25th album "Whistle Down the Wind."

She has chalked up eight certified gold albums, a 2007 Grammy "Lifetime Achievement" award and nine additional Grammy nominations, as well as two honorary doctorate degrees. She has published books about her career and, in 2017, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Joan Baez "Diamonds & Rust"

Joan Baez performing for sold out audience in Albany, New York in March 2016
Joan Baez performing for sold out audience in Albany, New York in March 2016 | Source

Five Musical Facts

  1. In 1958, Baez committed her first act of civil disobedience when she refused to participate in an air raid drill at her high school.
  2. Baez was one of the only big performers to play a set at the "free" stage at Woodstock. When she heard that a tent had been set up so that people who couldn't afford to pay to attend the festival could still hear some music, she volunteered to perform. Of course, by that time, the fence had been pulled down and everything was free.
  3. Baez was six months pregnant when she performed at Woodstock. Her son, Gabriel Harris, makes his living making musical instruments.
  4. In the 1970s, Baez helped to establish the west coast branch of Amnesty International.
  5. "Diamonds & Rust" was also covered by Judas Priest on their 1977 LP Sin After Sin and the song remains a staple of their live performances. This is one of my favorite Judas Priest songs, and even Baez has said that she loves their version of the song.

Could Baez appear at a Woodstock 50th anniversary event? It certainly looks to be a possibility. She embarked on her "Fare Thee Well" tour in September of 2018, and has US dates booked into July 2019 at this point. What a coup it would be for the Bethel Woods Center, the site of the original festival, to have her on the bill, taking her final bow.

© 2019 Kaili Bisson

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaili Bisson 

      4 months ago from Canada

      Hi Linda,

      You are so welcome! She has had a fascinating life, that's for sure.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love listening to Joan Baez sing. Thank you very much for sharing these interesting facts about her life.

    • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaili Bisson 

      4 months ago from Canada

      Hello Pamela and thank you!

      Yes, it seems she has always had the courage of her convictions. I learned a few new things researching this article; I didn't know, as an example, that her father was a physicist who had a very interesting career.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Joan Baez has a beautiful voice. Yhis is such an interesting and well written article, I learned several new things about her life. It does sound she was always a very independent woman.

    • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaili Bisson 

      4 months ago from Canada

      Hello John and thank you. Her voice is still really wonderful, isn't it? I love her early stuff. Looking at her tour schedule, it is really possible she could be at Woodstock 50...that would be amazing.

    • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaili Bisson 

      4 months ago from Canada

      Thank you so much Flourish :-) I think Joan has always marched to the beat of her own drum, so the air raid protest was only the beginning. She was 17, and declared herself to be a "conscientious objector." She told the local paper that she didn't see the point of the drill, that it wasn't a method of defense and that the only real defense was peace.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Kaili, this is another wonderful article in your Woodstock series. Joan Baez is an amazing artist and person. I saw her perform a song live on Tv while in Australia about 18 months or two years ago. She is still a great performer.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 months ago from USA

      Exceptionally well written. She is one performer who epitomized the event. I wonder what her point was in the civil disobedience of the air raid drill in high school though.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://spinditty.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)