Live Music: Judy Collins at the Valley Performing Arts Center

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles, CA. Judy Collins was back in town Friday night for her second major Southland appearance in less than a year.   This time, she was performing at CSUN’s beautiful almost-new Valley Performing Arts Center.

Once again, her performance was a virtual spoken memoir with songs.  Collins’ musical and personal history has taken her through some of the most fascinating eras and compelling personalities in the history of 20th century music.  And the full house crowd signaled their approval of her many songs and tales with repeated, enthusiastic applause.

Garbed in a svelte, white silk gown for her opening set, her pure white hair flowing freely, she accompanied herself on 12-string guitar along with the piano backing of her music director, Russell Walden.  In the second half, she emerged wearing a black tights outfit and headed straight to the piano, accompanying herself for the balance of the show.

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Her manner, her appearance and the selection of material underscored the stylistic diversity of Collins’ art, as both an interpreter and a songwriter. At 73, her voice is still a warmly expressive instrument, fully capable of roaming convincingly through a range of fascinating musical byways.

She sang John Denver songs – “Rocky Mountain High” and “Country Roads” among them – tapping easily into their country/folk roots.

From there she moved into more eclectic territory: Jacques Brel’s “Sons Of,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns,” Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” and – surprisingly – “Over the Rainbow.”

Between songs, Collins was an engaging raconteur.  She described a night in the ‘60s, when she heard Bob Dylan writing “Mr. Tambourine Man.”  She briefly recalled the relationship with Stephen Stills that resulted in the songs “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes” and “Helplessly Hoping.  And she joked about the first time she saw Cohen, deciding that he looked so attractive that it didn’t matter whether he wrote great songs or not.

She also included several of her own songs, noting how much her songwriting had been encouraged by Cohen.  And she performed, with passionate intensity, one of her best known originals – “My Father.”

And there was more, much of it recalling the transformative late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  Whether Collins was reminiscing about a past relationship or joking about the era – “If you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t there” – she was an engaging performer, bringing her songs and stories vividly to life in another one of her memorable appearances.

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