An Intimate Evening with Joan Baez at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome

Gabriel Harris, Joan Baez, Marianne Aya Omac and Dirk Powell on stage in Rome

When folk music legend Joan Baez last played at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome a little over five years ago something rather special happened: after the close of the show, when the house lights were up and many people had already left the theatre, she returned to the stage and led the remaining members of the audience in a sing-along a cappella version of We Shall Overcome. It was one of those magical you-had-to have-been-there moments that one treasures, so much so in fact, that I had, rather foolishly as it turned out, almost feared that seeing Joan Baez in concert again might in some way prove disappointing, or mar the memory of that past event. Fast forward to this year's Luglio Suona Bene season of open air concerts in the Cavea and Ms Baez was back at the Auditorium on Friday evening in a show billed as “An Intimate Evening with Joan Baez”. And it turned out, of course, to be another truly wonderful concert.

Joan Baez at Luglio Suona Bene 2012
Rome audiences clearly adore and respect Joan Baez. Applause for the singer began even before she took the stage; starting as a ripple when a handful of people spotted her in the wings, it broke into thunderous whoops and cheers as she made her way to the spotlight at the centre of a simply dressed set, which included a sofa and reading lamp. She opened with a newer song - Steve Earle's lovely God is God from her 2008 album Day After Tomorrow – and we were all instantly captivated, from the very second she started to sing. Her pitch-perfect chrystalline voice may be a little huskier nowadays, yet it has lost none of its soaring power, and if anything, has gained a new warmth and depth over the years. Be Not Too Hard and the Dylan classic Farewell Angelina were next up before she quite literally kicked off her shoes and called her band on stage – a pared-down two man affair she jokingly referred to as her “mega band” - her son Gabriel Harris on percussion and cajon box drum, and multi-talented musician Dirk Powell on accordion, banjo, mandolin, and keyboards. They instantly displayed their refined musicianship, and easy affinity with Baez, in a wonderful version of the traditional folk ballad Lily of the West.

Beyond the odd smattering of “ciao” and “grazie”, and the occasional “buona sera”, very few artists who play in Rome make much of an effort to address the audience in Italian. Joan Baez instead, in a gesture of enormous generosity towards her audience, and as befits a singer of songs with meaningful, often political, lyrics, read Italian introductions to almost all the songs she performed. She also sang two songs in Italian – Gianni Morandi's 1960s hits Un mondo d'amore and C'era un ragazzo che come me amava i Beatles e i Rolling Stones, to the obvious delight of the audience. Explaining that during the tour the band had supported Italy and Balotelli during the recent European Football Championships, she laughingly apologised when she was joined by her extremely talented French guest performer Marianne Aya Omac and said that they would be singing in Spanish! This enjoyable interlude with Latin American music was followed by a Tunisian song - Jari Ya Hamouda – which she dedicated to those involved in the Arab Spring.

Showcasing the singer's entire career, the setlist was a dream selection, with too many highlights to mention, her choices markedly demonstrating how Joan Baez has always managed to take an iconic song that is synonymous with its author - The Boxer, Suzanne, Imagine, and Blowing in the Wind, to name but a few - and some how borrow it for those moments and truly make it her own.

I lost count of precisely how many encores Joan Baez performed at the end of the show to a standing ovation – the cheers and applause were deafening and she kept coming back out to sing song after song! Saving the most exquisite moment for almost the very end, Friday evening's version of Diamonds and Rust was heartbreakingly beautiful, with its updated lyric “50 years ago I bought you some cufflinks” adding to the poignancy. Then, at the very close of the show, rather as had happened five years ago, Joan Baez let us sing the final chorus of Donna Donna. The perfect end of a perfect evening.


LindyLouMac said…
How lucky you are to have been at both concerts.