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Joan Baez Says She’s Retiring From Touring, and Has Some Parting Words for the Left

"The voice is so difficult to deal with now," the folk icon tells Variety.

Joan Baez was one of several singer-songwriter luminaries to appear Tuesday night(Oct. 11) at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles for a benefit concert supporting the JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service). The folk icon and recently inducted Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer was joined by Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, Steve Earle, and Brandi Carlisle, and revealed to Variety shortly before taking the stage, that she’s winding down live performances in the near future.

“Next year is my last year of formal touring,” said Baez. “There will be four different tours, one month each, and then that’s it. I can choose if I want to go sing at a protest, or do something like this. The voice is so difficult to deal with now that having a point where I don’t have to do it anymore will be wonderful.”

Baez is already set on her next endeavor, one that follows in the footsteps of several of her folk icon peers like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. “I’ll paint,” she says, pointing to the success of her recent exhibit, ‘The Mischief Makers,” in Mill Valley, Calif. “The exhibit was really successful, so I’ll probably do another round of mischief makers, social change makers.”

Before that though will be the as-yet-untitled collection produced by Joe Henry. Baez offered a preview: “I’ve done something from Antony & The Johnsons, two from Tom Waits – ‘Last Leaf’ and ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ – Josh Ritter, one from an unknown, Zoe Mulford, brilliant. Twelve songs and they’re done. There’s one I might redo, Steve [Earle’s], because it has too much instrumentation and you need to hear the words.”

Actions are equally important to Baez, whose long history of activism has made her a historic figure of American protest. Today’s charged political climate, she said, “is overwhelming, really,” adding that, “those of us who feel we’re in the know are just so overwhelmed with the shit.”

What’s the path forward for the left? Stepping up their rhetoric, for starters. “I think Trump kind of picked the scab off what’s been really ill down there for decades,” said Baez. “The right wing, conservative movement has spent 40 years in think tanks … planning for this to happen. And the liberals are just not smart enough to know how to talk. For instance, [Nancy] Pelosi, in [referencing] a bill democrats wanted passed, will say, ‘All we were asking is…’ You can’t say that. ‘We are demanding’ or ‘We are calling for.’ All we are asking’ — it ain’t gonna work. Part of it is about the language. And the conservative party, the really smart ones, are changing the language.”

Like the global refugee crisis, which Baez has been involved with since the 80s, the question is “whether there’s time” for substantive change.

For more information on JRS, head to the non-profit’s site.

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