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Judy Collins @ The Ark (Concert Review by Anja S. and Robin W.-S.)

Judy Collins in a blue dress and short hair faces the crowd at The Ark

The theme of Judy Collins’ soulful show at The Ark: spellbound. Incidentally, this is also the name of her newest album, her only release of completely original songs in her 60 year career.

Collins came out onto the stage at The Ark in a flowy blue dress with a twelve-string guitar hanging on a bedazzled strap. She immediately broke out into her classic hit, Both Sides Now, to much applause from the cozy seated audience. We were astonished at her ability to so deftly cover the range of the song at her age of 85. Collins was accompanied by her music director, Russell Walden, on piano and backing vocals.

In a tribute to her childhood spent in Colorado, she performed When I Was a Girl in Colorado off of her new album. This track rivals Rocky Mountain High as a new Colorado state anthem, so I hope that Coloradoans catch on quick!

After a few more tracks from more recent albums, we quickly realized that the real stars of the show were the stories and tidbits of her life during the 1960s folk revival scene that she shared between songs. Mentions of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Peter Paul & Mary, Arlo Guthrie, Leonard Cohen and more were passed around as she recounted the highs and lows of living in New York City while cutting records. A performance of Baez’s Diamonds & Rust was accompanied by a story of how Collins is still good friends with Baez and has some of her art. Similarly, Collins recounted how she first met Cohen in Greenwich Village while he was still just writing poems. Her recordings of some of his poems helped his career take off, most particularly Suzanne which Collins led the entire audience in singing a capella together (one of my favorite moments of the night).

Collins has also always been noted for her activism, and although mentions of the suffering in Gaza were not made explicitly, she performed a rendition of Dylan’s Masters of War. This was fortuitous timing, as the night of the show was the last night before the University of Michigan encampment for Gaza was raided and forcefully swept by police.

Throughout the evening, Collins deftly moved between emotional ballads and entertaining anecdotes. Her decades of performing showed in her incredible ability to capture the audience. Before the show, we struck up a conversation with the people sitting next to us, who, like many others in attendance, grew up listening to her. Like us, they were impressed to see her still touring. She’s a true star, and it was a privilege to see her in her element.

Though she could easily rest on the laurels of a decades-long career, Judy Collins isn’t done yet. As she wryly remarked during the show, “85 is the new 27.”

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