When she started her musical career, she was a young guitar-playing troubadour with long dark hair and an unmistakable high vibrato. Now age 68, Joan Baez wears her gray hair short, her voice has been deepened by gravity—but still has a two-and-a-half octave range, she said—and she still plays music that has for decades made her an icon among both folk music lovers and the civil minded, two groups that are seldom mutually exclusive.
Baez's public support of President Obama during the election was a first for her. She has long been an outspoken supporter of civil rights, often singing protest songs but, until now, pointedly never endorsed a presidential candidate. So why Obama?
"At first, I felt it was anti-instinctual, but then I felt it was a very strong impulse within me that didn't go away," Baez said. "I investigated it and never exactly knew the answer, but it was the right thing to do. The reason I would not have would simply be because I would be following an old pattern. It's not worth copying myself ... I went ahead and did what I felt was right. I mean, the guy is quite extraordinary. Somebody running for president who has The Life of Ghandi in their top 10 favorite books is something new and different and extraordinary."
Baez hasn't yet received an embossed, wax-sealed invitation to the White House but imagines a proposal may be forthcoming. "I'm not in any big rush [to meet with Obama] although I would love that. He has a few things to do [first]," she said, laughing.
She has work of her own to do, too. She still tours regularly, sometimes doing three-week stints, sometimes out on the road as long as six or seven weeks. She's mid-tour right now, mining from an extensive discography of more than 30 albums, including her newest release, Day After Tomorrow. The new CD, which garnered Baez a Grammy nomination, is in tune with Baez's longstanding modus operandi of covering songs by brilliant songwriters—notably Bob Dylan—but on this album, she searched for music by modern musicians.
Baez said as far as she knows, "God is God" and "I Am A Wanderer" were written specifically for her by Steve Earle (who also wrote "Jericho Road" and produced the album), but the process for finding the other tracks on the CD was an organic one in which the stellar talents of Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and Patty Griffin were tapped.
"I'm not sure in the beginning we knew what we were looking for. It kind of developed itself along the way," Baez said. "This one began developing pretty quickly into something that was going to be reminiscent of the beginning of my career hundreds of years ago, but definitely contemporary and very grounded in the earth."
Baez is playing mostly sold-out shows in 800- to 1,500-seat venues to audiences that certainly include baby boomers, but their progeny as well. "The base of my fans remains people who've been with me a long time, but there are a lot more younger people," Baez said. And though parents may bring their children, it's more fun for Baez to see the children bringing their parents out. "There are a lot of those," she said.
Saturday, March 21, 8 p.m., $45 advance, $48 door available through brownpapertickets.com, The Record Exchange or Boise Co-Op. Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St., 208-387-1273.