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Concert review: Joan Baez lives up to her legend for thrilled crowd at Red Butte

JOAN BAEZ AND GUY CLARK, Red Butte Garden Amphitheater, July 7

Joan Baez was a friend to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., César Chávez and Nelson Mandela.

She helped put Bob Dylan on the map and later allowed the world to watch her on again, off again relationship with the singer fall apart for good in a widely-released documentary film.

She has been a performer for more than 50 years, sold millions of records and woven her unique brand of political activism into all that she has done.

And on Wednesday night, she brought that voice — one that is still very much a clear and moving presence — to Salt Lake City's Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre.

Baez, who turned 69 in January, treated the comfortably full garden venue to a fine retrospective, pulling pieces from throughout her long career.

The opening, "God Is God" from 2008's "Day After Tomorrow," was classic Baez. She took the stage, sans banter, picked up a guitar and instantly hushed the audience with her quiet power.

Baez sprinkled her covers of traditional songs, such as "Handsome Molly," "Freight Train" and "Railroad Bill," in with classics from her past, including "Farewell Angelina" (a 1965 tune penned by Bob Dylan) and "Blessed Are" (from the 1971 album of the same name).

The few moments Baez took to chat served to endear her even more deeply to a clearly enthralled crowd. She recounted an experience singing with her 6-year-old granddaughter, Jasmine, at a school event called "Kidstock" (a sly aside appreciated by all) and, true to her spirit, injected a bit of political commentary into the evening.

In introducing her version of Woody Guthrie's classic "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" Baez made note of the furor surrounding recent immigration legislation in Arizona.

"This is for all of the people in Arizona standing up to one of the ugliest laws that's come down," Baez said.

Guthrie wrote the song in protest of what he considered racist coverage by the media of a 1948 plane crash in which 32 people were killed. Twenty-eight of the passengers were deportees on their way back to Mexico. Newspapers at the time only identified the three crew members and guard who were killed in the accident.

Baez split time on stage alone with her guitar and with a four-member backup band that includes her son, Gabriel Harris, on drums.

The band was in especially fine form on two great covers, one of Elvis Costello's "Scarlet Tide," and a slow and haunting version of "House of the Rising Sun."

Dylan was purported to have said, "At times in my life, the only place I have been happy is when I am on stage," but on Wednesday, it was Baez's presence on the Red Butte stage that had everyone heading home with a smile at the end of the night.

e-mail: araymond@desnews.com