It’s appropriate that singer-songwriter Judy Collins’ parents named her after Judy Garland: could they have guessed their daughter would turn out also to have one of the most unique and popular voices the world’s heard? Probably not, but maybe; after all, parents always expect a lot of and for their children. Whenever the name Judy comes up, these are the two women I always think of. They pretty much own that name as far as I am concerned, but it would be cool to see more namesakes.
Collins’ February visit to Seattle was one I absolutely looked forward to. I’d never seen her before, but had always been intrigued by her music and presence. Only twenty one years old when her first album, A Maid of Constant Sorrow, a collection of folk songs was released, Collins would surely have been surprised if you told her she’d play the Neptune Theatre. She spent formative years in Seattle, where the Neptune Theatre was an actual movie theatre (it was remodeled a few years ago to become a live music venue; I am still amazed at how beautiful the venue is). That remodel retained the beautiful stain glass art of the Greek god Neptune with his Trident, helplessly equating for me, anyway, the spirituality of music.
That spirituality came through in Collins’ performance. It also came through in her rapport with the audience as she spoke about her life and told some really good stories involving meeting Bob Dylan for the first time in the ’60s (he was some guy named Robert Zimmerman; she performed a cover of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”); an awful drug trip; her parents getting together (her mom’s parents weren’t too excited that she was marrying a blind musician); and how, by working with Leonard Cohen, she was able to get the courage to write, he to sing. Here’s the thing about Collins: she is cool. She looks cool. She dresses cool. She sings cool. She plays cool music. You might want to be her when you grow up.
I’m not sure how Collins goes about arranging her setlist for her tours. Do you go with covers? Your own songs? A mix? For the Seattle date I would say she leaned more towards covers, and that worked for a show that felt a lot like a gathering of people who knew each other. When Collins asked that people not use their phones, they listened to her. To get an audience to obey in that way, and, likewise to be completely quiet during songs is impressive. Also impressive was Collins’ voice. She takes excellent care of that voice, which didn’t sound different from those familiar recordings. I especially loved “In the Twilight” (about her mom), “Send in the Clowns” (a Stephen Sondheim cover, which I bet you didn’t even know wasn’t her song), and “Suzanne,” a Leonard Cohen cover that dug right into the body and soul.
Collins’ final song was a splendid version of “Amazing Grace.” This was a spot-on choice for such an elevating show.
Opening the night was Rachael Sage, a talented singer-songwriter (and artist!) with whom Collins recorded a cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless.”