Joan Baez - vocal, acoustic guitar; David Briggs - keyboards; Danny Ferguson - electric guitar; Jim Gordon - drums; James Jamerson - bass
Possessing a soprano with a three-octave vocal range and a distinctive vibrato, Joan Baez's highly captivating voice put her front and center as the queen of folk music and political activism in the 1960s. By the 1970s, Baez was still a serious interpretive singer and activist, but she was beginning to embrace a more mainstream sound, had gained confidence in her own songwriting ability, and was openly displaying a ribald sense of humor on stage. This previously unheard Joan Baez performance, recorded during the summer of 1975, is notable for not only capturing a pivotal time in Baez's career, but also for the stellar cast of characters involved. This set signals the return of Baez to the popular music scene, when her newest album, Diamonds And Rust was rejuvenating public interest, but prior to her reconnecting with Bob Dylan for his legendary Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Unlike the raw and loose approach taken later in the year on that tour, here Baez is accompanied by a tight cohesive band, giving this material a considerably slicker and more contemporary sound.
The musicians accompanying Baez on this tour include noted session guitarist Danny Ferguson and famed keyboardist/producer David Briggs, who had worked with Patsy Cline and Elvis Presley, but is probably best remembered for his extensive work with Neil Young. She was also traveling with an incredible rhythm section, consisting of former Delaney & Bonnie/Derek & the Dominoes drummer, Jim Gordon, and possibly the most influential bass player of all time, James Jamerson, who had expanded the instrument's role in popular music as the bassist on countless Motown Records hits during the 1960s and early 1970s. Add to this stellar aggregation Baez's soaring voice, and it's not surprising that they were quite capable of gripping an audience.
This recording begins a cappella, with Baez alone at the microphone, firmly stating her convictions on "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around." On this and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," which is also performed a cappella later in the set, Baez's voice sails through the amphitheater, carrying all listeners along for the ride. A more traditional approach is also explored on "Gracias A La Vida, which she plays by request, accompanying herself on guitar. However, it's when this remarkable band joins in that the set truly begins to soar.
Baez's evocative and reflective love song to Dylan, "Diamonds And Rust," is an early highlight of the set, as is her cover of Emmylou Harris' "Boulder To Birmingham," which begins with tasteful piano accompaniment by Briggs, before the entire band kicks in. These engaging performances aside, it is the last three numbers that display her great diversity and skill as an interpretive singer. This final sequence begins with the joyous gospel flavor of The Edwin Hawkins Singers' "Oh Happy Day," followed by the obligatory Dylan cover, "Forever Young" which is taken at a slower tempo than the bouncy Planet Waves track.
After announcing the bandmembers, Baez closes the show with the Martha & the Vandellas classic, "Dancing In The Street." Although this signature Motown song is well outside Baez's comfort zone, she is obviously having a great time and even lets out an uncharacteristic growl here and there. Drummer Jim Gordon gets a brief solo spot in the middle, before Jamerson leads the band into a hot little jam, where Ferguson and Briggs get an opportunity to solo, before bringing the set to a close.