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Judy Collins - Ravinia Park, Chicago, 6/6/2013

  by Lisa Torem

published: 30 / 6 / 2013

Judy Collins - Ravinia Park, Chicago, 6/6/2013


Lisa Torem watches 60's folk veteran Judy Collins play an emotive and cobvincing set at Ravinia Park in Chicago

Judy Collins' crystal clear voice and heartfelt delivery contributed greatly to the 1960s burgeoning folk movement. Also a selective performing and recording artist, she propelled the songwriting careers of the likes of Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman and Leonard Cohen. That said, it’s easy to understand why the statuesque icon was chosen to jump start this summer’s concert series at Ravinia Park, along with Don McLean. A bouquet of bright red roses sat snugly against a gleaming grand piano – the stage setting, so simple but so elegant, foreshadowed a unique evening. Her musical director, Russell Walden, who won a Richard Rodgers award for his musical, 'Juba', in 1991, served as the flawless accompanist for much of the set, after which the confident Collins doubled on twelve-string acoustic guitar and her first serious instrument, the piano. Dressed in a crisply tailored black jacket with shocking pink cuffs, her long silver hair gracing the collar, she welcomed her audience with the uplifting ‘Open the Door.’ “I’m so glad to see you, my friend/You’re like a rainbow coming around the bend,” she sang, and, even though there was a distinct chill in the night air, she conveyed immeasurable warmth within seconds. When she sang her Grammy winning version of Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now,’ the gentle lyric drawn from such an innocent time, flowed. She held the final note with stunning precision. “The sixties are on their way back,” she announced coyly. Nobody would argue that she did bring back happy memories full force for the mostly older crowd. But early in this set, a woman cried out. She was in a great deal of pain, grieving over the recent death of her son. She exclaimed that friends had urged her to come out tonight to hear Judy. All eyes were on Judy who had to make a quick choice. Would she ignore the woman and continue singing or address her concerns? It was a tough spot to be in even for a seasoned performer who had also experienced tragedy. “I love you. I’m so sorry for your loss,” Judy responded intimately, as though the woman were in her living room. “Let’s talk about this after the show,” she added, with conviction and a great deal of grace. From the great American songbook, she sang the classic ballad, ‘Where or When,’ followed by a gorgeous Irish ballad, which underscored her sterling range. “All the songs of the Kerry dancers/The thrill of the piper’s tunes,” she sang a capella, ringing out the final note, whilst shrugging her shoulders as if she had nothing to do with the angelic tones rising from her lips. Great friend and fellow folk singer, Joan Baez, wrote ‘Diamonds and Rust,’ an autobiographical tune about her love affair with Bob Dylan. A song with outstanding lyrics: “Yes, the girl on the half shell would keep you unharmed,” and “bluer than robin’s eggs” eyes, it truly exemplified the 60's ethos: poetic license fuses with love. Collins introduced ‘Barbara Allan’ by extolling the husky vocal power of singer Jo Stafford, to whom she owes her initial attraction to the folk music genre, claiming it was “a song that changed my life.” Although Judy had picked up her acoustic guitar for several other numbers, she wisely beckoned Walden to take over this time. Honouring yet another songwriting colleague and friend, Jimmy Webb, she sang ‘Campo De Encino’ which appears on her most recent album, 'Bohemian'. Standing against a crimson curtain, this more upbeat tune provided a great contrast to the earlier folk staples. One of the more endearing moments occurred when she let us in on a historical moment. Creeping down the stairs after hours, during an event where the two artists were scheduled to perform, she overheard Dylan composing verses for what would become ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ Back to her own compositions, Collins sang ‘My Father,’ which is about Charles Collins, the popular Colorado radio personality, and then smoothly segued into the melancholic Brel epic, ‘Sons of,’ about fallen heroes. The oldest of five, Collins was particularly close to her mother, Marjorie, for whom she wrote ‘In the Twilight,’ also recorded for 'Bohemian'. Seated at the piano, she ushered out lush voicings whilst mesmerizing the audience with a celebration of a woman’s full life, including a decline into dementia, beautifully told as the stage lights cast a baby blue hue on her silhouette. With images about “Chardonnay in a crystal glass” to the affectionate “sweet Marjorie in the garden,” Collins' song is a masterstroke and with her soaring vocals she served up another illuminating moment. But Judy Collins, lover and preservationist of quality music, would have been amiss if she had left the stage without her rendition of Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ from the musical, 'A Little Night Music'. Magical red and orange lights magnified her presence. “Isn’t it rich, aren’t we a pair?” Like so many of her carefully chosen covers, the opening line immediately drew her audience into her magical aura. Collins received several standing ovations from a grateful audience (now wrapped in blankets and overcoats, and then came back for another nod to a more innocent time – ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow'. From “ice crèam castles in the air” to “way above the chimney tops” Judy Collins, with the utmost ease, elevated her audience with a voice and personable style that has become increasingly rare in these complicated times.

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Judy Collins - Ravinia Park, Chicago, 6/6/2013

Judy Collins - Ravinia Park, Chicago, 6/6/2013

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