Living in Nashville and working in the music industry, I’ve had incredible opportunities to go to lots of shows and even meet some of my favorite artists. Some days I wake up and have to pinch myself just to make sure I’m not dreaming. I recently attended a show close to home to see an icon of the 60s play some of her most loved songs. Judy Collins. Her records regularly make the rounds on my Crosley, along with Carole King, James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell. The warm analog sound takes me back to a time I wish I could have known.
In a concert industry where bigger and louder is better, this particular show boasted no fancy lights, no pyrotechnics, no video, no crazy outfits or choreography. Just Judy, a 12-string guitar, and a piano. I was probably the youngest person in the place (by at least 20 years). I looked around and wondered about all the people in the room and how their lives had been affected by Judy’s songs, marveling at how music really does bring people together.
Then without ado a willowy woman walked onto the stage with long silvery hair flowing behind her, stood at the mic, opened her mouth, and enchanted every person in the room. She sang “Both Sides Now,” a song Joni Mitchell sang over the phone to Judy before anyone knew Joni’s name.
She told stories, they poured out of her. I don’t ever think I’ve been to a show where the artist spoke so much, but this woman has so many stories inside of her, she can’t contain them all. I wish she had continued a few more hours!
She talked about New York in the 60s, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, all these songwriters she used to hang with. She talked about getting drunk with friends and hearing Bob Dylan writing songs in the middle of the night after a party. Her best line of the night was, “If you remember the 60s, you weren’t there.”
Judy is a treasure trove of legends and life experiences from an era gone by, an era of upheaval, war, musical genius, civil rights, activism, and free love. It’s so rare to hear an artist open up about their beginnings, and I’m incredibly thankful that she gives her audience this glimpse into how she became who she is through the songs that shaped her and gave her a melody.
Throughout the evening she sang snippets of tunes, giving us just a taste of an old folk song, or a sound byte of something her father sang to her when she was a girl… half the time she had no instruments behind her, letting her voice carry the story. Few artists could do this without an auto-tune mic and a hard drive behind them, but her voice is as strong as it ever was. She doesn’t need the technology to make music.
During the second half of the show she played folk songs on the piano that made your heart cry, she stood up and sang “Send In The Clowns” and I nearly wept from the beauty of it. Then she closed with “Amazing Grace”, no instruments, just that beautiful, melty voice, singing a hymn in the Bible belt, letting old ladies harmonize off key with her. My heart was inspired. I walked home through the humid summer evening and thought, “Thank God I live here so I can experience music like this.”
I was so moved by the evening, by Judy’s evident passion for the songs she sings, that I wrote a personal blog post about the show. The next day I saw to my utter surprise that Judy left a comment on it. Many times I’ve been able to meet an artist at an event while checking them in, or say hello in passing while posing in a group photo at work. Never has one reached out to me personally, so this was very special.
I can’t adequately say how much that meant to me, and I don’t even know how she managed to see the post. One person in an audience of many connected through social media to an artist I’ve admired for many years. A true moment to treasure.