Joan Baez has become, if anything, more elegant with age. Her face and her voice have never been warmer or more lovely.
She played to a nearly full house Thursday night at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus. There were a number of college-age fans in the audience - and even some children, including one tow-headed girl in the front row to whom Baez dedicated "Forever Young" - but most in the audience were in their 50s. The people who've listened to Joan Baez for 35 years seemed as charmed by her as they've always been.As a warm-up, Katie Curtis radiated. The lanky Curtis sang her own compositions (mostly love songs), was a great guitarist and told several quirky little stories to make the audience chuckle.
Then came Baez. It was like watching royalty.
Her voice is controlled. Her stage presence is one of contentment and ease.
For the first part of the program, Baez performed new songs from her latest album, "Gone From Danger." "If I Wrote You," and "No Mermaid," which are just right for her. (She said of Sinead Lohan, who wrote "I am No Mermaid," "She's not a feminist, she's just very intelligent," and when the audience laughed, she smiled and said Salt Lake was quick to get that one.) Then she did "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." It was a surprisingly lush rendition of her trademark, full of harmony.
Not surprisingly, Baez has excellent musicians playing with her. At one point, Carol Steel, her percussionist (oh those flourescent green bongos) did a drum solo while Baez and the male guitarists and sax player danced across the stage behind her in a conga line.
Baez also did "Diamonds and Rust" and, as part of the encore, "Don't Think Twice," imitating Bob Dylan on the last verse.
Her best new song is "Reunion Hill," written by Richard Shindell. Baez said she'd intended to make "Gone From Danger" a collection written exclusively by women. Then she heard Shindell's new songs and realized that idea was silly.
"Reunion Hill" is much like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." It's folksy, poignant, lyrical. And it's about the Civil War.
Baez's voice, pure as that well water, proves perfect for this - or any - haunting song.