Joan Baez – The Road to Woodstock: The Road to Peace

Posted on 29 April 2015

With the executions of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan—Joan Baez, a figure for activism and the power of song, is as relevant today as she was in the 1960s-70s. She worked tirelessly to help secure civil liberties for Americans of African descent and to stop the Vietnam war. She also campaigns to halt the execution of prisoners. In 1992 she held vigil outside of San Quentin State prison when Robert Alton Harris was to be the first person executed in California after the death penalty was reinstated. She held vigil again in December 2005 to stop the execution of Tookie Williams.

Joan Baez popularised the song that typified the era of peaceful protest, “We Shall Overcome“. Listening to Baez sing that song sends shivers down most anyone’s spine. However, her presence is a testimony to the fact that we all need to find the resilience and concern to continue working toward peace and justice throughout our lifetimes, not just for a brief moment in our youth. Noam Chomsky has said, “One of the problems with organising…is that people tend to think—even the activists—that instant gratification is required. You constantly hear: ‘Look, I went to a demonstration and we didn’t stop the war so what’s the use of doing it again?'”

Neil Cole has chosen powerful material for the times in writing Joan Baez – The Road to Woodstock, a cabaret production currently showing at Chapel Off Chapel. Petra Elliott plays ongoing hero Joan Baez. Baez’s vibrato became stylish in her opening era with others bringing that sweet trill to their music as well, notably Buffy Sainte-Marie. Elliott chose not to use that accent, but nevertheless brought a similar strength and honesty to her performance. The show as a whole is about bringing the spirit of Baez to Australia and making it live. Elliott understands this and weaves together an important performance that speaks to us today. The audience appreciated the gentle command she brought to the role and roundly applauded her efforts with calls of “Brava!”.

Supporting the show are Bekkie O’Connor as Janis Joplin and Paul Watson as Bob Dylan. O’Connor is an exceptional singer. I feel the advertising for the show did both Elliott and O’Connor a disservice. The show follows the Joan Baez story, but the advertising seems to imply that you probably don’t know Baez—but come along because it also has Joplin and we all know how cool she is. The image on the Chapel Off Chapel site compounds the problem by making it look like the show is equally about Baez and Joplin, it is not. Expectations are seriously skewed, and all the women deserve better. Watson brought a solid rock and roll quality to his character. It would have been fun to see a touch more interaction between he and Elliott.

Joan Baez – The Road to Woodstock is a good show with great music and some significant insights. The sixties were a time when strong women had strong voices and made a difference. We can have that again: if we choose to speak out with our hearts as well as our minds, if we find it within ourselves to be dedicated to a better world as a way of being not just a moment of passion. I am so pleased Petra Elliott had a chance to stand in such big shoes and bring this woman to our current generation.

Tickets can be purchased through the Chapel Off Chapel website.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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