When Joan met the Obama-Baez girls

A special gathering, from left: Andrea Swensson, Joan Baez, Stacy Schwartz and Alexa Jones.
Photo provided by Stacy Schwartz
A special gathering, from left: Andrea Swensson, Joan Baez, Stacy Schwartz and Alexa Jones.

The poster made its way around the world, so much so that when it was presented to Joan Baez herself Thursday night in Minneapolis, she told the poster makers, “I saw it online.”

Back up. When photographer Stacy Schwartz, Alexa Jones and writer/editor Andrea Swensson wanted to make a pro-Barack Obama statement a few weeks before the election, they took inspiration from some fellow Obama-Baez girls in Brooklyn, and an anti-draft poster that Baez and her sisters created in the late ’60s.

They dressed in their best Carter Family-doing-Bonnie Parker garb, shot the photo, and slapped on the slogans “Girls Say Yes to Boys Who Say Obama” and “Minneapolis Artists Against Palin. Vote Nov. 4.” Never mind that some killjoys have labeled the “yes” bit as sexist and anti-feminist;  when Baez came to the State Theater in Minneapolis Thursday night, the folk songstress gave the Yes Girls her blessing during a private post-concert meeting.

According to Schwartz, all three women received bear hugs from Baez, the whispered message ” ‘Yes’ across the generations” and posed for a photo. Reports Schwartz: “We brought her posters, she signed our vinyl. Andrea teared up. I babbled. Alexa was quiet. It was freaking awesome.”

And here’s Swensson’s account. Enjoy:

“I’m always a bit hesitant to pull strings with my job, but sometimes you come across an opportunity so cosmically aligned that you’d be a fool not to harass every publicist you can find to make it happen.

“My friends and I made an election poster, a replica of an old Joan Baez anti-war poster called ‘Girls Say Yes.’ We did it on a whim, mostly to be silly and to show our love for Obama. We put it on the internet and people really liked it, so we printed out copies and plastered them around town and felt, on a small level, like we were a part of what was happening with Obama and the election and history.

“The other day, Stacy sent me an email. JOAN BAEZ IS COMING ON NOVEMBER 13. I knew what I had to do. I emailed, and emailed, and emailed, and finally on the day before the show her publicist caved and said she would give us three after-show passes to meet Joan and give her our poster. We were ecstatic. But we wouldn’t really believe it until we were backstage shaking Joan’s hand.

“The day of the show, the three of us piled in Alexa’s car and giggled all the way downtown. We got there toward the end of the show (none of us got tickets to the actual performance), and a security guard gave us our wristband passes. We stood at the door to the auditorium and pressed our ears up to the crack. Her voice was wafting through above all the other instruments and applause, and it was immediately identifiable. Joan was in there.

” ‘I’m going to cry,’ I said, my excitement billowing. Alexa and Stacy laughed. I wasn’t kidding.

“As the show let out, streams and streams of middle-aged, graying folks came out of the auditorium, smiling and reveling in their Joan experience. The three of us headed into the auditorium, the youngest in the crowd by about 20 years, and stood by a small group of people who were waiting to be taken backstage.

“Before we knew it we were being led down three flights of stairs into the underbelly of the State Theatre. There was a small reception room for us to gather in, with wine and bottles of water that nobody touched, and just as we were starting to get fidgety she appeared.

“She was tiny and beautiful, a shock of gray hair standing up on her head. She had changed into a starched white shirt and jeans; she looked like the image of the Unitarian hippie mom that everyone wanted to have. Her tour manager came up to us and eyed Stacy’s hand, which was clutching a stack of our posters.

” ‘Did you make something for Joan?’ he asked, and we all giggled. He grabbed a poster and ran over to her, interrupting her mid-conversation with other fans to show her our poster. She bounded over, past all of the other people waiting to meet her, and held the poster up.

” ‘Is this you?’
 
” ‘Yes!’ we cried in unison. Stacy started to explain why we made the poster, shoving the rest of the stack into Joan’s hand.

” ‘Oh yeah, I saw this on the internet!’ Joan said. We all stood slack-jawed. ‘These are for me?’

“She disappeared for a moment to set down the posters, and returned to give us hugs. She leaned in to hug me and as soon a she touched me a warmth shot through my whole body, my eyes welling up with tears. ‘It’s so nice to meet you,’ I said, cutting myself off before the tears could start streaming down my cheeks. I hope she knows I really meant it.

“The rest of the experience was a blur. She hugged Stacy and Alexa, and then signed the vinyl records they had brought. Stacy made some comment about ‘that one being REALLY old,’ which I thought was funny, considering they were Joan’s records. We posed for a picture, and Joan seemed sincerely happy to meet us and see our posters. The tour manager said he would put our poster and our photo with Joan on her website. And before we knew it, we were already walking back up the stairs and out into the night, past the other fans who were gathered near her tour bus, past the strangers on the street who were hoping for a glimpse of Joan.

“Stacy gave me one of her signed records to take home as a souvenir. But the part I’ll never forget is the moment when the famous folk singer touched my arms and my friends and I got to feel, for a moment, like we were the kind of women that Joan Baez wants to meet.”

And here’s Alexa Jones:

“On Wednesday afternoon, the better part of my work day soundtrack was provided by Hype Machine as I listened to every single Joan Baez song the site had available. ‘Yep, yep, yep’ ran through my mind, song after song, as I worked. I knew these songs, quiet soundtracks to my life. Honestly, I still couldn’t tell you the titles of them, but they were there in my mind, resurrected by modern technology in my sterile work environment, taking me back to my childhood, my mom’s childhood, my grandma’s.

“As she sang to me and I typed, it still wasn’t real what was going to happen. We were going to get to meet Joan Baez.

“Stacy, Andrea and I made a picture, an homage to her famous print. Dressed in puffy skirts and vintage dresses, we sat stoically on Stacy’s red leather couch with a guitar and an old fashioned camera. I sat up bone straight, lifting my leg slightly to try to get the perfect, non-cellulite angle.

” ‘You look angry,’ my roommate said as he looked at my face in the poster. ‘I am,’ I thought. I kept that to myself at the moment.

“Last Tuesday, girls and boys everywhere said yes to Obama and my poster hangs prominently on my bedroom door. I couldn’t keep the joy to myself as I clapped and cheered, hugging my election night date with tears streaming down my face.

“I picked the girls up last night and drove into downtown Minneapolis. Parking in a garage, we walked the wrong way out the door. Typical for me. We ran around the block, joking about how anti-climactic it would be if we got there too late and she had already left or was sleeping or something. None of us had actual tickets to the show, just after-show backstage passes. Andrea had worked her connections and we were going to get arguably the most influential woman in folk music, shake her hand, thank her, give her our poster.

“We stood in the vast State Theatre lobby, pressing our ears against the door, quietly rambling, clutching our posters and albums, listening to the last 15 minutes of her show. The audience clapped and cheered and the doors opened. We watched as people streamed out. A young guy with shaggy hair saw the three of us and said we ‘gotta be the youngest in here by about thirty years.’

” ‘Yeah,’ we all said.

” ‘Kick ass music knows no age,’ he replied with a huge smile.

“The girls and I walked down the aisle, still nervously rambling. We flashed our wristbands and were told directions on where to go meet Joan Baez. We walked down several stairwells into the basement of the State, not exactly sure if we were headed the right way. I began to get REALLY nervous and resorted back to my old reliable comfort: cracking jokes.

” ‘This is exactly like Spinal Tap’ or ‘This is exactly like the time I went into the basement of the Fine Line to meet the Neil Diamond cover band.’ All facetious, obviously, but I just didn’t know what else to say. It was becoming real.

“We stood in this large, sterile room that glowed with neon lights. I looked at the couch, the two vending machines, the loaf of bread and apples on the table, taking it all in. A small crowd milled about for a moment.

” ‘There she is,’ Stacy smiled.

“My back was turned to the door and I whipped around.

“The three of us looked. Joan Baez was small, dark skinned, white hair. She was simply and stylishly dressed in dark blue jeans and white button up shirt with a silver bangle. I thought of my mom and how a student teacher of hers once told her she looked like a young Joan Baez. I thought of my mom.

“Her tour manager took our poster over to her as she hugged this couple and their young girl. I suddenly felt overwhelmed with embarrassment and turned back around. ‘Joan Baez is going to think this is stupid. Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god,’ I thought. My mind was racing.

“She quickly walked over to us and we handed her a pile of our posters. ‘Are these for me?’ she asked. ‘Yep.’ We introduced ourselves. I felt my mouth move and heard my voice ring in my ears as I said my name. Everything was heightened. She put the posters away and went down the line, hugging us three girls. She got to me last and I stood up on my tippy toes, even though I didn’t really need to. She is shorter than I. ‘Thank you so much,’ I whispered.”

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by ann klefstad on 11/14/2008 - 04:51 pm.

    “the Unitarian hippie mom that every kid . . .”: Hey! I’m a Unitarian hippie mom. I hope that means my kids like me . . .

Leave a Reply