Few folk artists are as revered or everlasting as Judy Collins, though a perusal of her more than 50 album catalogue also finds her masterfully interpreting the worlds of pop, rock, show tunes and standards. At 76-years-old, the singer/songwriter and social/environmental activist is just as committed to her craft as ever, turning in the brand new collaborations project “Strangers Again” and embarking on an exhaustive tour that includes a two night stand at Chicago’s charming City Winery (continuing on Friday, February 5).
Of course, much of the crowd probably came for Collins’ renditions of classics such as “Both Sides Now,” “Bird On A Wire,” “Send In The Clowns” and “In My Life,” all of which were channeled through the voice of an angel who’s stayed impressively steady with age.
Sharing the spotlight with the seasoned veteran this time through was opener and part time collaborator Ari Hest, who’s a formidable acoustic troubadour in his own right. In fact, even with a guest list as illustrious as Willie Nelson, Joan Baez, Stephen Stills, Jackson Browne, Michael McDonald and Glen Hansard (amongst many others), Collins personally chose the 36-year-old to kick off the collection with his self-penned title track and join her on the road for the last three years.
The pair’s chemistry was apparent when they performed “Strangers Again,” plus several others from an upcoming (and unexpected) project reserved for just the two of them, an admitted first for Collins who insisted its never to late to try something new. The brand new “Silver Skies Blue” and “Drifting Away” were traditional in their storytelling nature but contemporary in their arrangements, while the venue’s understated acoustics seemed tailor made for such sweet vocal interplay.
Of course, much of the crowd probably came for Collins’ renditions of classics such as “Both Sides Now,” “Bird On A Wire,” “Send In The Clowns” and “In My Life,” all of which were channeled through the voice of an angel who’s stayed impressively steady with age. And even when she wasn’t perfect, the legend beamed as the audience hung rapturously on every word, especially when she traded her guitar for a seat behind the grand piano during the vivid narratives “My Father” and “The Blizzard.”
After the latter, she exclaimed that winters aren’t as cold as they used to be, but quickly joked she wouldn’t get political. However, she did comment on the world’s ongoing sense of crisis, but rather than dwelling on the inventory of seemingly daily disasters, simply offered up a prayer of “Amazing Grace” like only she can as one of the most authentic gestures in an already substance-filled evening of enchantment.
Upcoming concert highlights at City Winery include Judy Collins & Ari Hest (Feb. 5); Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Feb. 7); Albert Lee (Feb. 9); Grant-Lee Phillips & Steve Poltz (Feb. 11); 10,000 Maniacs (Feb. 12 & Feb. 13); B.J. Thomas (Feb. 14); Eric Burdon & The Animals (Feb. 15-16); Buckwheat Zydeco (Feb. 17); Lyfe Jennings (Feb. 20); Yael Naïm (Feb. 22) and Howie Day (Feb. 25-26). For additional details, visit CityWinery.com/Chicago.