Possessing a soprano with a three-octave vocal range and a distinctive throat vibrato, Joan Baez's highly distinctive voice put her front and center as the queen of folk music in the 1960s. As one of the most accomplished interpretive folksingers, Baez had relentlessly put her voice in the service of activism, particularly in the areas of nonviolence and civil and human rights. On this performance, recorded at the comfortable outdoor setting of the Music Inn in Lenox, MA, Baez's brilliance as an interpretive singer and as an activist is revealed with an inspired choice of songs. Only the tail end of her first set that evening was captured, a rousing rendition of the Edwin Hawkins Singers' "Oh Happy Day," but the second set contains a wonderful selection of material.
Baez begins her second set with "Love is Just a Four-Letter Word." Written by Bob Dylan circa 1965, this song has long been associated with Baez, who can be seen singing a fragment of this song in a hotel room, when it was still unfinished, in the Don't Look Back movie documenting Dylan's 1965 European tour. First recorded by Baez on her 1968 album of Dylan covers, she obviously holds a special place for this song as she has since recorded it several additional times. Needless to say, this is a thoroughly engaging opener to this set. A spontaneous moment next occurs when an audience member shouts out a request for "Be Not Too Hard," the lovely cover of the Donovan song she recorded on her 1967 self-titled album. Although unprepared, Baez obliges with the caveat that she might not remember all the words. However she does and receives a standing ovation for her efforts. After encouraging the audience to sit back down, she next delivers a touching rendition of a Woody Guthrie's "Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)," which she included as a bonus 7" 33 1/3 rpm record with her Blessed Are album release the previous year. This clearly falls into the political and social relevance category for which she'll always be remembered.
Baez had recently released her Come From The Shadows album where she began offering some of her original songs to the public. It is first represented by one of her finest original compositions, "Prison Trilogy (Billy Rose)." This song clearly reflects the difficult era of her life when her husband, David Harris, was serving time in a Texas prison for draft evasion. Next up is Baez's distinct arrangement of the traditional lullaby, "All My Trials," venturing way back to a recording from her debut album. An important folk song during the social protest movements of the 1950s and 1960s, this tells the story of a mother on her death bed, comforting her children. This is followed by a lovely rendition of the classic country song, "Long Black Veil," before she delivers another remarkable original from her newest album, Love Song To A Stranger. However, one of the most compelling and far reaching performances is last as Baez tackles the Bob Dylan epic that closed his Blonde On Blonde album, "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." Although unfortunately incomplete due to the tape stock running out, the nearly eight minutes that was captured is overflowing with surreal poetic imagery and symbols and is a truly mesmerizing performance.