Joan Baez Sings 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down'?

First, I’ve got to tell you all about this wonderful site. FYE. They let you mix and burn your own CD’s. Or you can download them as MP3’s (I’ve never done the latter, I should tell you all).

Anyways, they have quite an eclectic selection. Not just top 40. But religious, oldies, the whole bunch. (I esp. like religious and inspirational tunes. I am not too religious per se. But I like what I like.)

Anyways, I recently got The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down sung by Joan Baez. I already had it by another band, that did a cover version of it. And what can I say? I like the song. It is a very catchy tune.

But I can’t understand why Joan Baez does a version of it. It seems to praise and even glorify the South in the American Civil War. As I said, I just like the tune. Here are the lyrics, if you want to decide for yourself.

As I said, why Joan Baez? She usually does songs of social protest. And I remember her mentioned in the 1988 presidential election. SNL portrayed her as a Dukakis Democrat. I am sure it was a joke and probably an exaggeration. But either way, her social justice credentials seem impeccable. So why does she do this song?

Thank you in advance for your kindly replies:).


It’s not as if the Band were a conservative outfit, either.

Things were different back in the Sixties. Thanks to America’s post-Reconstruction education system, people didn’t automatically make the connection “Confederacy=slavery”, and the Civil War was seen by many (white) people as a symbol of rebellion against the Man in Washington DC, nothing more.

Maybe she felt the same way. Sometimes musicians give music priority over politics.

In any event, the notion that the Confederacy should disappear down the memory hole is a very recent development.

The Wikipedia page on the song is rather interesting. Songwriting credit goes to Robbie Robertson, who’s actually Canadian, and Levon Helm, from Arkansas, helped with some research.

There’s a great version of it from the Band’s farewell concert. If Wikipedia can be believed, that was the last time Helm performed the song.

Joan was a fervent participant in the Civil Rights movement. At a concert of hers I attended in 1985 the program featured a picture of her marching arm in arm with Martin Luther King.

The song is about a family of poor farmers, and the theme of solidarity with the working class and the poor runs throughout her repertoire. Also, she specialized in interpretations of old ballads and historical themes. She made a swerve to country music in 1969, partly because her husband liked country, and that year saw a trend among folk-rock artists go country, including Dylan and the Byrds. There was also a sense in the New Left about that time that 60s radicals needed to adapt their strategies to make common cause with the rural poor, which opened their sensibilities to country music too.

For further context, Dylan’s 1963 song “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” about the racism of poor Southern whites, commented that they were “not to blame,” because they’d been manipulated and conned into racism by the Southern elite, to keep the working class divided and servile. Joan sang that with Bob at Civil Rights rallies.

My feeling is that all these things taken together could explain the appeal that the song held for her. The musical setting of the song has that timeless feel of the best Americana, which was the Band’s specialty.

Spoiler…she’s also not a man named Virgil Kane.

Where in the song does Virgil praise the South? To me, the song sounds a bit like the lament of the working poor who suffer as the result of war.

To me, it sounds like the singer’s blaming the Yankees for all his troubles.

I’m not aware of this development. I am aware of efforts to put it in its proper historical context as a movement to preserve slavery in southern states. Almost immediately after the civil war ended, there was a development to whitewash the confederacy and there is renewed push back on this intentional misinformation campaign. Interestingly, some of the first people to push back at the development of rewriting confederate history were Union veterans who were very alarmed to see the veneration of Robert E. Lee and the rewriting history. But I’m not aware of the development you mention, cold you elaborate?

She covered it because it is a good song. That’s the simple answer.

Joan also covered a numbered of standard folk songs in the 1960’s. It didn’t all have to do with protest.

Well, they did tear up the tracks and shoot his brother. Whether they were justified in doing so is another story.

To me, not the Yankees so much as the war, and forces beyond his control. Like the bulk of rebel soldiers, he thought he was defending his home against invaders. At the time of the song, he was facing the fact that he’d have to rebuild his home and family and life from ruins, and preparing himself for the job. It’s a song about a dedicated working man doing what he had to do in spite of the hostile forces oppressing him - and that theme is in a folksinger’s wheelhouse.

I like your explanation. With what’s going on today, though, I doubt she would have made the same decision if it was 2018 when the opportunity to cover presented itself.

And the funny thing is, I just made the same remark as the OP to a buddy of mine last week.

Oh, and for the record I absolutely LOVE Joan Baez. One of my all time favorite singer/song writers.

Within the past few years that we see increased public outcry against Confederate monuments and demands that they be removed. Schools and anything else named after Confederate leaders are being renamed. Confederate flags are banned from being displayed at various places.


But Robert E. Lee came by while she was chopping wood, took the very best, and paid with money that was no good.

Why would Joan Baez be opposed to the Confederacy? Leftists at this time were buying the Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse-tung, who murdered 25 million people. They were cheering the Castro dictatorship in Cuba. Their intellectual forefathers Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson were big fans of Uncle Joe Stalin. They were sucking to murderers like the Black Panthers and rapists like Eldridge Cleaver. A few years later when George Lucas made the first Star Wars, the one Black character was the most evil man in the universe. They were living in lily white neighborhoods like Norman Lear who denounced working class whites in Queens as bigots. “60 Minutes” in a rare moment of journalism revealed that liberals like Nicholas von Hoffman sent their children to private white schools while denouncing as bigots the middle class whites who did the same, something people like the Clintons, Gores, Obamas and Michael Moore still do. How about the “Oscar so white” movement? Who runs the entertainment industry? Liberals, when people like Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves, Al Franken and John Conyers are busy assaulting women
Al Capp, who was smart enough not to get fooled by the KKK changing the initials to SDS, parodied Baez as Joanie Phony. She sued him; good liberals can’t allow criticism
You want a truly hysterical song about Joan Baez, look up a “National Lampoon Radio Dinner” parody called “Pull los Triggeros, Negroeses”. She is truly righting the world with tedious songs, supporting them just across the bay

How is that making the Confederacy disappear?

Most of the monuments were not put up after the Civil War. They were put up in the 1900s as symbols of white supremacy. Same thing with waving the Confederate battle flag, which only became popular in the 1960s as a symbol of support for segregation.

Dude, it’s the people who wave the Confederate Battle flag who want people to forget about the Confederacy.

She also sang songs about the murder of lovers. Pretty sure she does not advocate for the actions in Silver Dagger.

Caine. Virgil Caine.

I wish Joan would have looked up the lyrics that The Band wrote before singing her version too. It’s “Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again” Not “Til so much cavalry came.”

Of course that was pre-internet, but still, she could have made a phone call. Or opened a history book.