There was a time in the 1990s when folk singer and counterculture icon Joan Baez was ready to accept that her career might be over. She was without a record label, concert audiences kept dwindling, she had started to feel the effects of age on her once crystalline voice, and Reagan-era politics had pushed her kind of idealism thoroughly out of style.
"Everybody said, 'Oh she’s great, a legend,' but they did not want to sign me," she told the Telegraph a few years ago. "If we’d sent out demos of what I was doing and put 'Young woman songwriter' on it, we’d have had a better chance than putting 'Joan Baez' on it."
A couple decades later, Baez -- who performs in the Bay Area next week with long-time compadres the Indigo Girls -- is going stronger than ever at the age of 73. Credit a voice coach and daily practice drills for keeping her tone strong and pure and affiliations with next-generation folkies such as Steve Earle and Dar Williams for keeping her repertoire fresh.
She's even managed soften her notoriously serious image ("Saturday Night Live" once parodied her style with mock game show called "Make Joan Baez Laugh"), cracking well-timed jokes between concert numbers and knocking 'em dead in several extended runs as Madame ZinZanni in the loopy Teatro ZinZanni.
Life is good for the singer, who recently completed a Latin American tour that saw her performing in many places where she was banned a few decades ago because of her politics. Baez has a fulfilling second career as a painter, enjoys tending the small farm adjoining her longtime home in Woodside and derives more fun out of performing than ever.
"I'm piling it on for now because who knows how long it will go on?" she recently told the Marin Independent-Journal. "And I'm happy to do so. I have a tremendous amount of energy."
Joan Baez and the Indigo Girls perform 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. Tickets are $49.50-$79.50.