Some months ago, on a whim, my wife and I decided to go see the “Four Voices” concert on June 6th in Charlottesville, VA—a lineup which featured Joan Baez, the Indigo Girls, and Mary Chapin Carpenter all together (could this really be happening?!). We hadn’t been to a rock concert in years, and it sounded like a great idea when I bought the tickets.
But in the weeks before, the logistics seemed daunting.
We had several, “What were we thinking?” conversations. A weekday concert that was three hours from our home? With kids, jobs and middle-age responsibilities, it was a logistical nightmare.
The tickets–symbols of impromptu concerts gone-by in our pre-kids days—hung provocatively from a magnetic chip-clip on the fridge for months. They took a place of honor among our 7- and 10- year olds’ school event flyers, holiday photo postcards (from the kids’ first three years when we actually had our act together for such a mailing) and hand-drawn pictures of the family.
Finally, it was June 6th. Grandma had agreed to pick up the kids from their afterschool program, we reserved a hotel room, and I went to work that morning. An old friend had to back out of meeting us there because she had to attend to the logistics of her own family. Our daughter’s sniffles the night before had decided not to evolve into a strep/vomit-like illness that we feared would cancel our trip.
As a social worker, I knew my job could be unpredictable, but I somehow thought the Pleiades star formations would align, the Goddesses of Reclaimed Youth would be on our side, and I could work during the day and still go to the concert.
So when I had to accompany a sick client to the hospital mid-afternoon, my altruistic heart melted into narcissistic anger. The minutes ticked by, and I thought all was lost until an ER doc made a quick evaluation and discharged my client. I bid her adieu, and I picked up my wife.
As we drove down to the venue, I read on my phone that Joan Baez was 76, and the Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter were all in their 50’s. And all doing a major concert tour. Meanwhile this 45-year-old still struggles with getting out of bed in the mornings.
We drove from the DC area through rural Virginia. As we passed our umpteenth pickup truck with Trump stickers and rebel flags, I asked my wife if liberal lesbians were allowed to drive on these roads at all. After all, 13 years ago, we moved from Alexandria, Virginia to Maryland just so my wife could adopt the kids we had through IVF.
The rural highways eventually opened up into the outskirts of the liberal yuppie college town, Charlottesville. We passed a Whole Foods and an L.L.Bean store.
We checked into our hotel. The baby-dyke front desk clerk said she had never heard of Joan Baez. In her Southern drawl, she explained that she had looked her up on Spotify because of the concert, and she sounded “pretty good.” Baez on Spotify? I shot the clerk a courteous, “fuck you and your youth” fake smile, and grabbed my room key.
The Sprint Pavilion concert venue had a Sydney-Opera House-like white awning pointing skyward, and food and alcohol vendor carts on the sides. I was happy to be carded when I got a glass of wine. I grabbed a lawn spot. Realizing I was enveloped by a tribe of strong, liberal-looking women, I exhaled.
The audience consisted mostly of women in their 40’s to 60s, and clearly, many were lesbians. They were sporting Tevas and Keens and had closely cropped hair or neat grey pony tails sticking out of baseball caps. I observed many a dyke swagger (legs spread, confident-strut). Mostly missing from the crowd were women of color.
The four singers entered the stage, guitars in hand, and started by singing Bob Dylan’s, “Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright.” Their harmonies instantly dissipated any feeling about the long journey it took for us to get there. As a folk fan, I had heard Don’t Think Twice many times. But, somehow, on that warm buggy evening in Charlottesville, the liquid voices of those four strong women seemed like the only way that song was meant to be sung.
The women took turns doing solos and singing with the group. When Amy and Emily sang “Closer to Fine,” my heart swelled as I held my wife’s hand without worrying about others flinching, watching older and younger women holding their partners’ hands too. The audience danced and swayed as the soundtrack of my late high school/early college days played into the night air.
The concert had moments of levity and humor—like when Joan and Mary did backup for “Heartache for Everyone” using kazoos, but there were very serious moments as well. Subtle and not-so-subtle Trump-era dissent and resistance were plentiful. Tears came to my eyes as the four sang Woody Guthrie’s homage to migrant workers, “Deportee,” which seemed especially poignant in the context of the anti-immigration policies of late. Joan Baez, whose protest songs from the Vietnam War to Civil Rights have spanned over 55 years, belted out her newest tongue-n-cheek creation, “Nasty Man.”
Joan even sung the line: “Noone gives a damn about his tweets, he’ll be finally and forever obsolete.” And when Mary belted out, “The Hard Way,” in her gritty, sultry voice, it solidified that we were seasoned veterans, all in this battle together:
We’ve got two lives, one we’re given and the other one we make
And the world won’t stop, and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, and your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard way
“The Hard Way,” like all the songs of the evening, was universal and intensely personal at the same time. Meant to be about a personal relationship, the song was applicable, of course, to our situation as a country.
The audience stood up through three encores because it was great and because, I suspect, we were not fully able to sit down and get back up. We were an audience united–united as tired, Nasty Women of a certain age, wanting change and wanting the night to never end.