Going on tour, for a singer or a band, is a grueling task. There is traveling from city to city, and different countries, perhaps. There are the interviews with the media, the sound checks, the show, the packing up to do it all again at the next venue. It’s exhausting. But don’t tell that to Judy Collins, the prolific folk and rock and roll singer/songwriter icon from the sixties. Collins loves touring and has no intention of stopping. “I think retirement is the key to death,” she said.
Ask anyone who was at her sold-out performances on Friday night March 6th at the Avalon, and they’ll agree that Collins hasn’t lost any of the magic and relevancy that even today, at the age of 80, sells out concerts. Yes, her vocal range isn’t what it used to be, but she is still capable of hitting those incredible high notes and singing a song with as much conviction and accuracy as any singer today.
On this particular tour, the Grammy-winning artist is touting a brand-new album, Winter Stories, which was released last November. The 10-song set was recorded with Norwegian singer Jonas Fjeld and the American bluegrass musical group, Chatham County Line. But, pulling up a setlist (songs played during a concert) from the current tour proved useless. With a repertoire as varied as her discography, she could (and does) change it often. That’s why people keep coming back to see her perform, she says. “They’re never going to hear it the same way twice.”
What the Avalon audience did hear and experience on Friday was a throwback to a different era, a time-machine of sorts, said a NY Times article. Guitar in hand with just a piano player behind her, Collins took to the stage and never let go. The old songs were not only revived, but they were also reshaped and recreated by the artist who had once represented a different generation. The new songs she introduced were infused by the unmistakably Judy Collins’ sound and interpretation.
In between the ballads, Collins entertained the audience with her anecdotes, recollections and some behind the scene conversations and experiences with other song legends: Joni Mitchell, Ari Hest, Leonard Cohen, and Willie Nelson.
The concert started with “Both Sides Now.” Although written by Joni Mitchell, it was first recorded by Collins. She reminisced about how in the sixties, musician and record producer, Al Kooper (also known for organizing Blood, Sweat & Tears) called Collins, insisting that her voice would be a perfect fit for the new songwriter he had just heard–Joni Mitchell. He was right, and it became one of her top ten hits from the sixties. This was also the start of her putting a stamp on other people’s songs and making them famous.
Other familiar songs included the evocative Joan Baez song about her love affair with Bob Dylan, “Diamonds and Rust,” and “Send in the Clowns” by Stephen Sondheim, which charted for Collins both in 1975 and 1977. From the 2015 release of the album of duets Strangers Again, she sang “When I Go,” a ballad, she ‘couldn’t get out of her mind’ and one she recorded with Willie Nelson.
Highlights from the new album, Winter Stories, included “Northwest Passage,” “Mountain Girl,” “The Blizzard” (from a 1990 album), “River” (another Mitchell cover), and “Highwayman.”
Lest you think she’s lost her social conscience and activist edge, Collins at one point during the show, put down her guitar and sang, a cappella, “Dreamers,” a poem turned to music which she began performing with Stephen Stills last year. It was a delicate, ethereal rendition with a clear message about DACA, a message not lost on the silent crowd which wiped away tears and jumped to their feet, giving her a standing ovation.
For an encore, Collins sang her unmatched rendition of “Amazing Grace,” which, as a side note, was selected to be in the National Recording Registry for preservation by the Library of Congress for its artistic significance.
Friday’s appearance represents Collins’ fifth time at the Avalon and the first since 2015. Suzy Moore, Avalon’s Artistic Director, said, “In my honest opinion, Judy Collins is the epitome of grace and talent. She has a feisty spirit and delivers a great show.” Collins returned the compliment praising the Avalon, comparing it with the Oslo Opera House, a place where she recently played and also sold out.
Before looking into what’s coming up for this inexhaustible artist, it is worth mentioning the act that opened for Collins, folksinger/songwriter Kirsten Maxwell. Maxwell surprised the audience. She was personable, talented as hell, and well-deserving of the approval. Maxwell informed the crowd before leaving the stage that Judy Collins would be producing her next album.
So, besides producing, will we finally see Collins slow up? Not a chance.
She will be performing through the end of March, and then head overseas for a series of concerts in Norway where she has been nominated for a Spellemann Award (often referred to as the Norwegian Grammy), before returning to the U.S. and continuing her tour.
Also upcoming is another new album, Resistance and Beauty, which will be out this year and will feature the haunting song, “Dreamers.”
But that’s not all.
In the summer, she will launch a new tour with Arlo Guthrie.
Collins is also a fertile writer. Although she’s published fiction, most of her books have been memoirs and dealt with food and alcohol addictions, her life in the music industry, her suicide attempt, and even her son’s suicide. Is there another book on the horizon? Perhaps.
In her spare time, Collins continues to be a social activist, representing UNICEF and numerous other causes.
With no retirement in sight, Judy Collins might just prove that eighty is the new thirty.
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