Freebie of the week: Who the heck knew? Iconic folk singer Joan Baez, just as famous for her anti-war activism as for her incredible, three-octave-range voice, has harbored a secret side of herself since the age of 5. “Am I Pretty When I Fly Upside Down?” (Godine Press, $45, 120 pages), just published this week, is a slim volume packed with hand-drawn images she has been creating as a form of self- therapy throughout her life and career. Her whimsical drawings, done upside down and sometimes with her nondominant hand, became a way of quelling anxiety and sparking creativity. The collection has been labeled “a book exploding with spontaneity and humor” by no less an artist than Steve Martin, who possesses those qualities himself in abundance. The now 82-year-old Baez, a resident of Woodside in the Bay Area, will make a free appearance at City Light Books in San Francisco at 6 p.m. Thursday, and we advise you to line up early, as seating is first come, first served. If you miss her there, catch Baez at another appearance at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley at 7:30 p.m. May 6 as part of the Bay Area Book Festival. Find tickets, $15, at baybookfest.org.
Presenting a premiere: Quinteto Latino, a Bay Area-based wind ensemble that champions the works of contemporary Latino composers, brings its latest commissioned piece to the public at 8 p.m. Friday at the Center for New Music, 55 Taylor St. in San Francisco. And Venezuelan guitarist and composer Victor Márquez-Barrios will be on hand to discuss his new, intriguingly titled “The Spanglish Dances” with the ensemble and the audience. Quinteto Latino’s members are flutist Diane Grubbe, oboist Kyle Bruckmann, clarinetist Leslie Tagorda, French hornist Armando Castellano and bassoonist Shawn Jones, who will be absent for this performance with season guest artist Jamael Smith substituting. Also on the program are “Puzzle-Tocas” by Gabriela Ortiz, “multiple winds in the distance” by Orlando Jacinto Garcia and Felipe Nieto-Sáchica’s “C U Z A,” another Quinteto Latino commission. Find tickets, $10-$15, at www.centerfornewmusic.com.
Border politics: The Haskell Free Library and Opera House is an unusual building. Not because it doubles as a library and an opera house, but because it literally straddles the Canada/U.S. border and has two addresses, one in Stanstead, Quebec, and one in Derby Line, Vermont. When then-President Donald Trump put the so-called Muslim travel ban into effect in 2017, the library made news as a place where Canadians and Americans affected by the move could meet each other (much to the chagrin of the Trump Administration). Canadian-born playwright Kareem Fahmy saw the situation as ripe for a theatrical production and the result is his new play, “A Distinct Society,” now getting its world premiere at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. The drama centers on a half-dozen people and how their lives are interwoven into the ban, the library and the political turbulence that has become standard operating procedures for the U.S. “Distinct Society” plays through April 30 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $30-$90; go to www.theatreworks.org. To read our interview with Fahmy, go here.
“English” lessons: The powerful impact language has on who we are and how we live is a major theme of “English,” a stage comedy/drama by Sanaz Toossi making its West Coast premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The play, which won an Obie Award as best new American play, centers on four Iranian adult students and their instructor in an English as a second language class. The students are preparing for their final exam in the class, the subject of which offers new possibilities in their lives yet reveals limitations as well. Politics and history are key characters here, too: The play is set in 2008, not long before a contested presidential reelection in Iran led to waves of protests and brutal government crackdown. “English” is playing through May 7 at Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre. Tickets are $43-$119; go to www.berkeleyrep.org.
Visionary Vijay: A return to the Bay Area by jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer is always a welcome development. On the keys, he is a technically brilliant musician, and his compositions capture mesmerizing complexity and sublime beauty. He’s coming to the SF JAZZ Center, 201 Franklin St., for a series of shows this week. The MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” winner performs solo on April 6 and with his trio, featuring bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, on April 7-9. The trio will be spotlighting works from its soon-to-be-released new album “Compassion,” and will probably toss in some cuts from its brilliant 2021 release “Uneasy,” which was something of a response to the state of the COVID world. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25-$96; go to www.sfjazz.org.