Judy Blue eyes
Collins’ voice still pure, emotive and eloquent
Known for singing activist songs since the early 1960s, legendary musician Judy Collins was recently moved to highlight the plight of immigrants in a new song, “Dreamers,” which she released as a powerful video.
Sung a cappella to still images of immigrant children and their parents, it is conveyed from the perspective of an immigrant mother who fears her daughter will be deported.
“This land was made by dreamers/ And children of those dreamers,” she sings. “We came here for democracy and hope/ Now all we have is hope.”
When Collins first performed it in concert, she received a thunderous standing ovation.
“I had seen a young Mexican woman on television, and she was a dreamer,” she explains. “Her mother was worried because there was a possibility she would be deported. I’ve been singing it at every show.”
At the age of 79, Collins’ voice sounds as remarkably pure and emotive as ever.
“I’m very lucky,” she says. “I’ve worked very hard at my health, and I had a lot of training too.”
She is a prolific artist — Amazon lists 90 albums by her, and that doesn’t include the zillions of collections she’s featured on. Over the years, musicians that have covered her songs range from Natalie Cole and The Byrds to Nina Simone and Hawaii’s Na Leo Pilimehana.
Most recently, she’s been touring with Stephen Stills following the release of their collaborative recording, “Everybody Knows.” Along with a lovely version of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country,” the album includes Collins’ original “River of Gold,” and a song Stills wrote many years ago for her, “Judy.” She even rocks out with him on a couple of tracks.
“It’s been great fun,” she says. “I had a ball being the girl in a rock-and-roll band. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Raised in Denver, Collins began her impressive music career at age 13 as a piano prodigy dazzling audiences, performing Mozart’s “Concerto for Two Pianos.”
Inspired by the folk revival music of artists such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, she began performing in local clubs before moving to New York in the early 1960s to become a bright light in the city’s mushrooming folk scene.
“I was part of the folk revival,” she notes. “I was 15 when I heard my first folk song. I stopped playing Rachmaninoff and Mozart and started playing ‘The Gypsy Rover’ and ‘Barbara Allen.’ “
Bob Dylan was one of her contemporaries, and by her Grammy-nominated third album in 1963, she began recording Dylan songs including a superb version of “Masters of War.”
“I met him in Colorado,” she recalls. “He used to come see me where I was working, and he looked homeless. He was playing old Woody Guthrie blues. I met up with him again in New York, and then he began to write those incredible songs.”
Collins’ major breakthrough came in 1967 with Joni Mitchell’s song, “Both Sides Now,” which earned her a Grammy. Three years later, her a cappella recording of “Amazing Grace” remained on the charts for over 70 weeks, becoming part of the soundtrack to the opposition of America’s involvement in Vietnam.
In recent years, Collins has been creatively prolific, earning praise for her 2015 album “Strangers Again,” which featured duets with stellar friends like Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald and Jackson Browne. And last year she was nominated for a Grammy for Best Folk Album for the acclaimed “Silver Skies Blue,” which she collaborated on with singer-songwriter Ari Hest.
She’s currently working on three album projects.
“I’m recording with a (bluegrass) group called the Chatham County Line, and I’m recording with a Norwegian star, Jonas Fjeld; then I’m going to make an album of my own new songs. I’ve written a huge batch of songs since ‘Dreamers.’ I’m busy.”
Fresh from opening for rock legend Steven Tyler at the MACC –and joining him on stage singing the joyous, “I Make My Own Sunshine” — and selling out the Castle Theater with Amy Hanaiali’i for a brilliant Christmas show, Willie K and the Warehouse Blues Band return to the A&B Amphitheater at 6 p.m. Saturday for the annual BluesFest. Guests this time include Tommy Castro and The Painkillers, Tavana McMoore and John Akapo, with surprise guests likely.
First picking up a guitar at the age of 10, Castro was initially influenced by Eric Clapton, Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield. As he got older, he discovered the classic blues of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Freddie King, Buddy Guy and Elmore James. By his 20s, he was playing in a variety of San Francisco-area blues and soul bands.
During the 1990s and into the 2000s, Castro recorded a series of critically acclaimed CDs, with No Depression magazine noting: “Castro plays gritty, string bending blues like a runaway soul train . . . a glorious blend that rocks the soul and lifts the spirits.”
Castro formed The Painkillers in 2012, with bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist Michael Emerson and drummer Bowen Brown.
Reviewing their latest album, BluesBlast Magazine praised, ” ‘Stompin’ Ground’ finds Castro and The Painkillers delivering the same style of music that kept folks up and dancing since emerging from San Jose, Calif., in the mid-’90s. The balance of the disc is a soulful, upbeat blast.”
Guests on the album included guitarist David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite and guitarist Mike Zito, who recorded an album featuring Maui’s Hutch Hutchinson.
Multi-instrumentalist Tavana dazzles live, employing electronic drum triggers to lay down a variety of grooves with his feet while simultaneously playing guitar, banjo, lap steel or ukulele and singing soulful, island-inspired rock and blues. His fourth album, “Aloha Spirit,” was nominated for a Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Best Contemporary Album of 2018. He’s opened for Alabama Shakes, Shakey Graves, Xavier Rudd, Jenny Lewis and Julian Marley.
Akapo’s career has included luau musician, bandleader, solo entertainer, and more recently, hip-hop producer and vocalist. His debut album, “Paradise Blues,” highlights his love for the blues where he pays tribute to such luminaries as Robert Johnson with “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” Muddy Waters with “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and Tommy Johnson with “Big Road Blues.”
“I think my music is like a tree rooted in traditional blues but sprinkled with Pacific salt water,” John reports. “I’m merely telling a story of where I’m from and how I got here, set to a mellow acoustic blues soundtrack. I play the blues because it feels familiar to me. I feel a connection to the story behind the blues, and I’m just trying to continue the story from another perspective.”
• The Willie K & Friends BluesFest is presented at 6 p.m. Saturday in the MACC’s A&B Amphitheater. Gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets for general admission are $40 for adults and $10 for kids 2 to 12. Assigned seats are $65 and $85, with a limited number of $250 VIP packages (plus applicable fees). VIP tickets include: premium seating, opportunity to mix with the artists, access to the Yokouchi Courtyard bars and restrooms, a Willie K CD, souvenir commemorative lanyard/VIP pass and complimentary parking. For tickets or more information, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or go online to www.mauiarts.org.
A cappella group Straight No Chaser returns to the MACC’s Castle Theater tonight at 7:30 p.m. In the forefront of the revival in a cappella performance in the late 2000s, their breakthrough recording mashed up “The 12 Days of Christmas” and Toto’s “Africa,” which has so far logged 22 million YouTube views.
The group is touring in support of their latest recording, “One Shot,” a diverse collection of classic soul (“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “When a Man Loves a Woman”), and ’70s pop and rock (“We’re an American Band” and “Homeward Bound”).
Reviewing one of their concerts, Allentown, Pa.’s The Morning Call praised: “All the songs were rich in gorgeous harmonies. The a cappella group is packed with talent, and they know how to put on a crowd-pleasing show.”
• Tickets are $33.50, $48.50, and $58.50 (plus applicable fees). For tickets or more information, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or go online to www.mauiarts.org.