I grew up going to folk festivals in Sonoma County.
While my parents weren’t hippies by any means (they were both career newspaper people), my mother’s love of folk music had a big influence on our family.
We went to lots of live performances in places my parents could take their kids. We went to places that no longer exist, and some that still do. The Painted House was a cafe and coffeehouse in Santa Rosa where I ate my first alfalfa sprouts and heard Kate Wolf sing. West of the Laguna was a pizza joint in Sebastopol where kids ran around between the tables and guitar-pickers showed off their syncopation. Dinucci’s family-style Italian restaurant is still in business in the tiny coastal town of Valley Ford, and I remember going there to hear The Irish Rovers sing the unicorn song that made them famous. My parents took me to hear Burl Ives sing “Big Rock Candy Mountain” in Sparks, Nev. (some of you younger types will know him as the voice of the narrator snowman in the original Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer Christmas special).
There are singers I’ve never heard live, but only on my mom’s albums – people like Woody Guthrie, Odetta, Pete Seger, Bob Dylan, June Carter Cash, and Phil Ochs. Some of them I’ll never have the chance to hear, because, as the saying goes, heaven has a hell of a band. But I’m still a fan of live music, and I’ve been blessed to hear more wonderful amazing artists live than I could begin to count.
While we heard lots of other kinds of music too – like our local symphony orchestra on Sundays – it’s the voices of these folk singers that feel like old friends.
In the 1970s, the football field of Santa Rosa Junior college became the site of a short-lived regional folk festival. We gathered with other families to spread our blankets out in the sunshine and picnic on celery sticks with organic peanut butter and cheese from local cows. The festival experienced many missing years and reorganizations, but is the forerunner of the now firmly established Kate Wolf Festival, named for folksinger that died in 1986, that happens every year at the end of June at Wavy Gravy’s Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville.
This is why I felt right at home yesterday on the lawn in San Francisco’s Stern Grove, listening to Joan Baez.
Joan Baez is one of those voices from my childhood. Now 68, she is a graceful and elegant woman, grown out of the girl sensation that sang on the stage at Woodstock 40 years ago.
She’s made a career of music, but is equally known for her vocal and unflagging support of non-violence, civil and human rights, and the environment. Against war, in support of gay and lesbian rights, against the death penalty, for the planet, and now for Iran, this woman has used her voice to the benefit of so many people.
Just weeks ago, she was moved to post this video on YouTube, recorded in her kitchen, of her singing “We Shall Overcome” in Farsi in support of the people of Iran.
Shortly thereafter, this message appeared on Iranian.com, encouraging Iranian people to come to the Stern Grove concert:
As many of you know, Ms. Baez, who has been a beacon of the American civil rights movement, has already expressed her solidarity with Iranian people’s struggle for civil rights. Ms. Baez has performed the famous “We shall overcome”, the iconic song of American civil rights in Farsi.
Since those of us who have been following the struggle of Iranian people for their freedom and justice in Iran are looking for venues to express our solidarity with Iranian people in Iran we would like to ask all of you to participate in this concert. Our presence on Sunday gives a voice to Iranians who have been killed, are currently in jails under the worst unimaginable tortures, and are currently continuing this struggle.
Since the color of green has been recognized internationally as the symbol of current struggles in Iran we would like to suggest to those who decide to participate to consider wearing greens and bring green balloons.
Yesterday, she was joined on stage by Iranian musician Tahmoures Pournazeri, the son of musician Kaykhosro Pournazeri.
Someone who was at the concert made this video. The camera spins around a lot, but you can really get the feeling of the energy of the concert, and all the people on their feet:
Also, present at the concert was Baez’ 96-year-old mother, to whom she dedicated “Forever Young”. A strong woman in her own right, her mother was arrested, along with Baez and nearly 70 other women in October 1967, for blocking the doorways to an Oakland induction center to prevent entrance by young inductees, and in support of young men who refused military induction.
There was so much love in the crowd yesterday. You could feel it hanging in the air the way marijuana smoke hung in the air at the folk festivals of my childhood. You could feel it in the awesome opening act, the popular Bay Area band Blame Sally.
I was in my favorite place, on a blanket on the lawn with a good friend, and surrounded by a great group of women. We were sharing wine and cherries. Everything thing was exactly the way it should be. And, in the minutes before the concert started, the sun broke through the San Francisco fog to shine on Joan Baez – undoubtedly expressing its appreciation for everything she’s done.