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Joan Baez

at Usher Hall

* * * * *

Farewell tour from first lady of protest song reminds us what we’ll miss.

Image of Joan Baez

Joan Baez is a legend, a woman who sang with the young Bob Dylan (indeed, for a time she was his partner), sang at Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963 and for 60 years has supported progressive causes around the world. In addition, she possessed one of the most beautiful and pure soprano voices, one that would not have been out of place in the opera house. Now at 77, she is more of a mezzo soprano and is engaged in her last world tour, which she calls a “Fare Thee Well Tour”. Scotland has been lucky to get two dates in Glasgow and Edinburgh, both of which quickly sold out. The Usher Hall is therefore packed to say farewell to the queen of the protest song.

She walks on to the stage almost without notice and proceeds to sing many of our old favourites, as well as some from her latest album, Whistle Down The Wind. She is occasionally backed by some very good musicians, including her son on drums, but really this is a one woman show. And what a woman!

In between songs, she talks a little and in particular, mentions her Scottish origins. Her mother was born in Edinburgh and her grandfather was a preacher here, in a church which she visited and in which she sang during her stay in Edinburgh. She also link some of the songs to ongoing political struggles. The Times They Are A Changing she dedicates to the students in America struggling for gun control, Woody Guthrie’s great song Deportees she dedicates to refugees everywhere, and although she never mentions Trump, she sings The President Sang Amazing Grace about Obama’s response to previous shootings, by way of contrast.

Of course, at 77 the voice is not what it was in the 1960s, yet it still has a purity, an integrity and a colour which marks out it as Joan Baez, and occasionally she soars above her throaty mezzo voice back into the soprano range. The packed Usher Hall audience, many of whom have grown up and grown old with Joan Baez, love it all and when she ends after 90 minutes of singing they demand and get several encores including The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. At the end, everyone leaves happy to have seen this legend for the last time, but sad that we will never see her like again.


Hugh Kerr has written on music and cultural politics for the Scotsman, the Herald, the Guardian and Opera Magazine. With Nana Mouskouri he was in charge of music policy for the European Parliament from 1994-99. He has visited over 50 opera houses round the world and this is his 50th Edinburgh Festival

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