Joan Baez - acoustic guitar, vocals
Though sandwiched between louder rock bands, Joan Baez's solo acoustic set is at the S.N.A.C.K. Benefit was one of the true highlights of the day. Possessing a soprano voice with a three-octave vocal range and a distinctive throat vibrato, Baez' highly distinctive singing style put her front and center as the queen of folk music in the 1960s. As one of the most accomplished interpretive folksingers, Baez had always put her voice in the service of activism in the areas of nonviolence and civil and human rights, and consequently made a welcome addition to this day.
This set also captures Baez at a pivotal time in her career. Though she'd been out of the popular music spotlight for several years, Baez had just completed sessions for her career rejuvenating album, Diamonds and Rust. The album had not yet been released, but Baez was clearly heading in a more mainstream direction and had even begun writing her own songs.
On this set, Baez excels in both her role as an interpretive singer and as activist, performing an inspired choice of songs. "Help Me Make It Through The Night" and her cover of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" show her brilliance as an interpretive singer. The latter, with studio accompaniment, would go on to become the biggest hit of her career, and this stripped down solo acoustic version is just as captivating.
The remainder of the material also displays her great interpretive abilities, but clearly fall more into the political and social relevance category for which she'll always be remembered. Book-ended by two Dylan classics, "I Shall Be Released" and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," the set also features two of her most beautiful older songs, "Joe Hill" and "All My Trials," that work perfectly in the context of the day.
Baez is also a master of getting the audience involved, and "Bridging The Gap" works perfectly as a sing-a-long number - as does the set closing "Amazing Grace," her voice soaring above thousands of others.
This set signals the return of Joan Baez to the popular music scene. Within months, she would again be topping the charts with the release of Diamonds and Rust, and by the end of the year, she'd be back on the road with Bob Dylan as part of the legendary Rolling Thunder Revue. A great time to catch Baez at her best.