Sunday, July 17, 2005

Judy Collins shines brightly

Last night, we drove to a nearby town to see Judy Collins in concert. Again, there was an absence of very young people, and it was their loss. We were in a very conservative community, yet the crowd--despite the singer's lifelong devotion to liberal causes, or perhaps because of it--was charmed by and wildly enthusiastic about her.

Collins has been performing for four and a half decades, and though she has sung many styles of songs, she has never left her folk roots. Famous for her moment on the witness stand at the outrageous Chicago 7 trial, Collins was the subject of the Crosby, Stills & Nash hit song, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." She has also written two books, Sanity and Grace, and Morning, Noon, and Night, which was recently released.

Accompanied by a pianist, Collins played her acoustic guitar, but during the course of the performance, switched over to both electric keyboard and grand piano. She sang several of her own lyrical compositions, as well as covers of her favorite songwriters. She delivered all of the expected songs--"Some Day Soon," "Both Sides Now," "Send In the Clowns," and "Amazing Grace," and mildly disappointed me by not singing "Albatross" or "Sisters of Mercy." Her Leonard Cohen moment did come, however, at the end of the first set, and was worth the price of the concert ticket. Collins went to the keyboard and performed a spirited, gospel-blues version of "Bird On a Wire" that sent an electric-like charge through the atmosphere.

Another great moment in the concert, also in the first set, came when she expertly covered Joni Mitchell's wonderful "That Song About the Midway," which she has recently recorded. Collins also led the audience in a plaintive and lively rendition of "City of New Orleans," and sat at the piano and sang two songs she had recently written. I hoped she would sing her recently recorded version of "Sally Go 'Round the Roses," but she did not.

If ever the word "timeless" applied to anyone, it is Judy Collins. She has never changed the way she perfoms her art because she has never had to. Her vibrant soprano voice has always been all that she has needed, though it is a bonus that she is also a fine songwriter. Her luminous blend of leftist politics and artless spirituality is her other gift to the world, and it was a privilege to see and hear her perform.


Ms. Collins is a rare talent. About as close as I shall ever come to fame is having met Judy at a party in 1963. She grew up in south Denver, and my wife was a classmate of hers at Denver South High School. Even then, we all knew she was very special.

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