The audience at MPAC in Morristown, NJ, this Sunday, October 24, 2021 evening is getting ready for a concert of classic folk-rock music from legendary singer/songwriter Judy Collins.
The lights dim as an announcer says, “Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Judy Collins.”
Strumming her 12-string guitar, Collins, 82, opens with “Mountain Girl.” Accompanied by Russell Walden on piano, her strong soprano floats out over the audience as she sings, “Mountain girl in the city/You’ve been gone far too long/Find your way back to the mountains/Where you know you belong.”
Following avid applause, Collins greets the audience and shares anecdotes about several of her musical contemporaries including Dolly Parton, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez. She follows up with Baez’s haunting love ballad, “Diamonds and Rust,” where she sings, “Ten years ago I bought you some cufflinks/You brought me something/We both know what memories can bring/They bring diamonds and rust.”
Interspersing her songs with stories of singing with her father on the road and how she became captivated by folk music, Collins performs Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” her clear voice and precise diction communicating the lyrics which illuminate a problem that still exists today. At the conclusion of this poignant and sad number, a patron in the crowd murmers, “Wow,” before the audience breaks into applause.
Cascading piano and soft strumming guitar help Collins tell the haunting story of “Anathea,” a woman who tries to trade her virginity to save her imprisoned brother.
After announcing that she will release Spellbound, her first-ever recording of all-original songs in February, 2022, Collins performs one of the songs from that album, “Girl from Colorado.” Arpeggiated piano underscores her vocal which features focused breath control and a pure vocal tone as she sings, “When I was a girl in Colorado/I could conquer anything.”
Reminding the audience about a 115-show tour she did in 2018 with musician Stephen Stills, Collins acknowledges, “We had an affair in 1968, but we stayed friends. He admitted that he wrote this song about me.” Here, she launches into “Helplessly Hoping.” Performing a spirited folk version of the song with grace and charm, her light soprano deftly handles the lovely descant on this Crosby, Stills, and Nash staple as Russell Waldon adds vocal harmonies in the style of Stephen Stills.
Collins talks about meeting a young Robert Zimmerman who, at the time, was “homeless, and badly singing old Woody Guthrie songs.” “I’d laugh to myself, ‘He’s going nowhere,’” recalls Collins, before seeing the lyrics to “Blowin’ in the Wind” published in Sing-Out magazine by the newly renamed Bob Dylan and thinking “There must be some mistake” but then realizing, “There was no mistake.”
Collins starts off her next song, Dylan’s “Masters of War,” in the wrong key, and jokingly attributes the error to “Bobby’s revenge.” Her voice haunting and engaging on this Dylan classic, she follows up with Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” inviting the audience to sing along. The crowd happily joins in on the catchy “Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me/I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to” chorus.
The audience applauds when they recognize Russell Waldon’s gently rolling piano introduction to Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Collins’ simple and compelling vocal sounds like a lullaby as she sings, “It’s coming on Christmas/They’re cutting down trees/They’re putting up reindeer/And singing songs of joy and peace/Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”
Announcing, “This is my favorite song about reincarnation,” Collins tunes her 12-string guitar before launching into Jimmy Webb’s “Highwayman.” Her voice cries out as the arrangement continues to build with Walden adding vocal harmonies and a cascading piano part.
Walden exits the stage and Collins takes a seat at the piano to perform a sequence of original songs about the Grand Canyon, rising musical stars in Greenwich Village, and the monk, Thomas Merton. Moving on to “The Blizzard,” Collins sings, “Colorado, Colorado/When the world leaves you shivering/And the blizzard blows/When the snow flies and the night falls/There’s a light in the window and a place called home/At the end of the storm.” Impressing the crowd with her emotional vocal and arpeggiated piano accompaniment, audience members rise to their feet cheering and applauding.
Russell Walden returns and the pair performs a highlight of tonight’s show — a live rendition of Collins’ 1968 Top Ten hit, “Both Sides Now.” Standing center stage behind the microphone, Collins breathes new life into the song by singing around the melody on the famous “I’ve looked at life from both sides now” lyric.
The crowd leaps to its feet again and Collins and Walden take a bow together. Collins throws a kiss to the audience and exits the stage. The audience cheers until she returns to thank MPAC in addition to her accompanist, Russell Walden.
Inviting the audience to “sing the melody, or harmony, or another song entirely,” declaring, “it’s the spirit that counts!” Collins performs an encore of “Amazing Grace.” The crowd sings along on the well-known “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/That saved a wretch like me” lyric of this simple arrangement with sparse piano accompaniment which brings “bravos!” from the audience as Collins bows one last time and departs the stage.
As we exit the MPAC auditorium, we chat with several music lovers in the house who share their thoughts about tonight’s performance. Declares Steven from Wayne, “Judy Collins was wonderful — just extraordinary!” adding, “We share a long history that brings back a lot of memories of times long ago. She’s just a great talent.”
Sharonmarie from Medford recalls, “I first saw Judy Collins at the Academy of Music over 40 years ago, so I was wondering how she would sound tonight, and she sounded great! It’s amazing that, at 82, her voice still sounds the same and that she can hit all the notes. Also, I loved all of her anecdotes and stories.” John from Bloomingdale agrees, pointing out, “The stories themselves are songs that take you on journeys — for instance, I especially loved the song about Colorado, ‘The Blizzard’ — and her voice is wonderful, too.”
Rosemary from Pompton Plains contends, “Judy Collins has an amazing voice and her show is so elegant. She was relaxed and natural, and she is so musically talented. She didn’t hit a bad note. She handled each song in her own impeccable, beautiful style. ” Judy from Pompton Plains concurs, adding, “In addition to her crystal-clear voice, Judy Collins is an awesome storyteller.”
Janice from Morristown exclaims, “We loved tonight’s show — it was great! It was so good to see Judy Collins. She sounded so strong, and it felt good to be out again. This was my first outing since COVID cancelled everything, and I really do like this theater. It was very enjoyable evening.” Kathie from Boonton Twp. agrees, remarking, “MPAC always does a great job,” before concluding, “This was a really nice and relaxing performance. Judy Collins was wonderful and articulate. I’d give her an A+.”
To learn more about Judy Collins, please go to judycollins.com. For information on upcoming concerts at MPAC — including Little Feat on Nov. 13, Boyz II Men on Nov. 20, and Max Weinberg’s Jukebox on Dec. 11 — please click on mayoarts.org.
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