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Commentary: Kumbaya

The Huffington Post, an Internet newspaper, ran a story about one of my favorite performers recently. With a click of my computer's mouse, I was able to watch Joan Baez sing at Woodstock 40 years ago. The recording, Joe Hill, is an ode to the Swedish-American migrant worker turned union activist who was executed by firing squad in 1915 for a murder he probably didn't commit. Joan Baez's tribute to Hill is included in a Woodstock 40th anniversary CD released last Tuesday. I wasn't part of the muddy three-day celebration of peace and music held in Woodstock, New York, in 1969, but I've seen photos and news clips and heard the music. Ah, the music.

Forty years ago, I was married and had two little children. I was busy diapering, cleaning, and wondering where the next dollar would come from. Even if I'd wanted to drop out or drop acid, I couldn't have afforded it. I was a flower child wanna-be, though, concerned about ecology and the war. Which is why I liked the music -- folk songs and ballads of protest sung by Pete Seeger and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young -- especially, Joan Baez. Her clear, sweet voice verified what I already knew: something was amiss.

My children grew up with Joan Baez, Janis Joplin and Melanie blaring from the small stereo on the living room bookshelf. But it was Joan Baez my daughter really liked and when the artist came to Minnesota for an appearance at Northrop Auditorium, I took my 4-year-old to the performance. Decades later, when my husband and I heard there would be a Baez concert at the College of Saint Catherine in St. Paul, we ordered tickets right away. The evening of the show, we walked for blocks from our parking spot to the auditorium but didn't mind a bit. During intermission, we bought t-shirts and agreed Joan Baez hadn't lost her sense of commitment or her ability to stir the consciousness of her audience.

She performed at St. Catherine's many times after that but it was in the produce section of the nearby Mississippi Market, a natural foods co-op, that I next encountered her. I'd run in to pick up some items and when I saw her, I skidded to a halt and tip-toed to the back room where I whispered to workers, "Did you see her? Is that Joan Baez?" Neither uttered a word, just bounced their heads up and down.

I went back to the veggie aisle and stood next to the songstress. Excused myself for interrupting her and babbled my admiration for her and her music. Told her about taking my child to see her perform so many years ago. She set down her basket of food and reached for my hand. She rubbed the back of my hand and thanked me for telling her. Walking away was hard but I knew I had to let her finish shopping. When I got outside, I saw her tour bus parked across the street. I wanted to run back into the store and tell her my children were grown and I had no responsibilities. I could drop out now and follow her from venue to venue in my Chevy Prism and be her baby boomer groupie. I may have missed Woodstock, but I was still a hippie at heart.