Judy Collins celebrates 80 by playing shows.
Judy Collins doesn’t watch as time goes by, she outruns it.
At 77, she has work to do. In June of 2016, she released “Silver Skies Blue,” collaboration with Ari Hest. Last year, “Strangers Again,” an album of duets that included the likes of Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffett, debuted at No. 1 on the Amazon music chart.
In addition, she recorded a PBS special of Stephen Sondheim songs with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, finished a book that will be published in 2017 and will play more than 100 shows before the end of the year.
It seems almost ridiculous to talk about the blue-eyed beauty who was the inspiration for the Crosby, Stills & Nash hit, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” and captivated a nation with her versions of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and Ian & Sylvia’s “Someday Soon” in the 1960s.
But Collins is patiently gracious, recounting stories from junior school in Denver as well as explaining how she constantly is looking at talent for her Wildflower label, which was how she found Hest
“I heard him at a concert I was doing for this festival in New York about four years ago,” Collins says. “I said to my manager, ‘Oh, my what a voice, I like that.’
“We did a number of appearances around the country where he would be the opener, then I would come on and sing. I never had openers in the old days, I always wanted to be the only person on the stage.”
Collins and Hest co-wrote eight of the 12 songs on the new album, and he wrote or co-wrote three others. In addition to her pristine voice and striking appearance, Collins is also known as a shrewd judge of writing talent (see Mitchell, Sondheim and Leonard Cohen), so Hest had a high bar to earn her seal of approval
“He is such a pleasure and he’s a beautiful singer,” Collins says. “He’s a seasoned musician, he does a lot of different kinds of writing and singing with people. He made eight albums before working with me … so I was lucky to get him.”
It turns out that the world was lucky to get Judy Collins, the folksinger. Growing up in Denver, she was a classically trained pianist who concocted a musical revue with two girls who are still her best friends
“We had a group called Little Red Riding Hood,” she says. “They were both dancers and I would sit at the piano and make up the music and sing about the different characters. We did it at the Lions Club, the Kiwanis, the children’s hospital.
“But I turned on the radio one day and I heard ‘Gypsy Rover’ (by the Clancy Brothers) for the first time. And the next week, I heard (the traditional Scottish ballad) ‘Barbara Allen.’ Those two songs completely turned me around, so I started learning folk music and finding out what this new thing was.”
To do that, she headed to the New York of 1963 where Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez held court. It was a journey she beautifully recalls in “Home Before Dark” on “Silver Skies.
That was just the beginning of Collins’ quest for new things that is still in high gear more than 50 years later.
Judy Collins and Ari Hest performing “Home Before Dark”.