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Memories of Woodstock: Joan Baez at Jazz in Marciac 2018

Luke Seabright By

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The couple had in fact met in prison a few years beforehand, after Baez was arrested, alongside her mother and dozens of other women, for blocking the doors of an induction center in Oakland, California to prevent young inductees from entering. Dedication to various forms of social activism has always been central to her music and public persona (she famously performed "We Shall Overcome" at the 1963 March on Washington). She made no exception on this night. Her cover of Woody Guthrie's song "Deportee" had a devastating poignancy in light of the current US government's immigration policies ("you won't have a name when you ride the big airplane, and all they will call you will be deportee"). She spoke of healing in the face of hate in "The President Sang Amazing Grace," written in memory of the 2015 Charleston shooting. The song was the first of three she would perform from off her latest album, Whistle Down The Wind, released in March 2018 ("Silver Blade" being another, which has everything of a future classic).

The emotion was palpable throughout the night, not least on stage. In interpreting the Anthony and the Johnsons song "Another World" (also on the album), Joan Baez candidly revealed to the audience her apprehensions as her life nears its close ("I need another world, this one's nearly gone"). Such uniquely personal covers of other composers' works are of course what she is most famous for. At Woodstock, before singing "Sweet Sir Galahad," she says "I'm just smart enough to know that my writing is very mediocre." Most fans however would challenge this claim. One of her own compositions, "Diamond and Rust," remains one of her most beloved songs. Unsurprisingly, it drew a rapturous response from the Marciac crowd which, at many points throughout the night, was invited to sing along. When the English language was required, this would often be tentative (one exception being the refrain from "The Boxer"). However, when she started to sing, in impeccable French, the George Brassens classic "La Chanson Pour L'Auvergnat," the whole tent seemed to join the chorus in unison.

The insatiable crowd succeeded in bringing Baez back to the stage three times until eventually the lights were switched back on and people started to disperse. As they slowly made their way to the village square to cap off the evening with some jazz, the tent freed itself up for an army of blue-collared volunteers to execute their final mission for the night: clear out all 6000 chairs before the last concert. Every year the festival programs a standing event on the last night, and for the 2018 edition they were expecting an 11000-strong crowd, which is unheard of in Marciac. Who was able to attract such numbers to a small village in southwest France? Carlos Santana. To many jazz fans, Marciac may be the European Newport, but on those last two nights, it had a clear flavor of Woodstock.

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