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Michael S Baez, Collins, Thompson: old-folks fest (20) RE: Baez, Collins, Thompson: old-folks fest 02 Mar 09

I wanted to follow through. Thanks to all for indulging my concert "reviews." I don't own any Judy Collins albums, though my older sister owned Wildflowers way back when. I've seen her twice previously. Once in college (early 70s), in what I remember as very much a contemporary folk, singer-songwriter-style show. I loved it, and recall a very powerful song about the Attica prison rebellion that I've never heard again. A few years ago I saw her do several short sets at the folk alliance conference. It was all fairly informal and, again, I thought she was great. I know a fair amount of her repertoire through osmosis.

Her show on Saturday was a big disappointment. Yes, she presented herself very differently than Baez. Joan had a roots band with her, and her very professional show had a rootsy feel. (I do think it was "scripted" in that there was clearly a set list and I'm sure her patter was carried from show to show. Didn't bother me. She was engaging and I know it's a show.) As others have said, Judy had more of a self-consciously "artsy" feel. (And Judy did "dress up" a bit more than Joan, but that's neither here nor there. They both looked fine.) Judy's voice was still beautiful much of the time. Unlike Joan, she reached often for the high end of her range, and I found her voice up there to be horribly shrill. Still, that wasn't the problem.

The show was a cabaret act, without a folk or roots feel. Standing alone, I'm OK with that. Much of her repertoire lends itself to that treatment. Unfortunately, it was a very bad cabaret act. Her lone accompanist played a grand piano and he was quite accomplished technically. He sounded great on Who Knows Where the Time Goes, but when they played the "rootsier" (ahem) Country Roads (by John Denver) he was all wrong, and his frenetic playing overshadowed her voice and rendered her guitar a nullity. (I confess I've always found the song a bit lame.) When he sang harmony, he sounded like a Bill Murray satire on Saturday Night Live--very affected. The Beatles' When I'm 64 was done as a sing-along and had a predictably novelty feel. More frenetic piano, and I saw no need for her to say, in effect, "we're all old(er) now, but gosh can't we still have fun." That was a constant and boring theme of her patter. Judy talked A LOT between numbers. She hawked her records on stage, which I don't like in such a established artist. Worst crime of all-- it was over in 65 minutes. With her yakking, she maybe played 8 songs. It was unforgivable--top tickets were $60 plus $11 of those famous "convenience charges." I actually felt ripped off. Despite feeling she wasn't all that good, I wanted more. Emotionally, I cut the performance a lot of slack. This was Judy Collins--one of the greats, and I kept wanting her to redeem herself with a sudden string of great performances. Then she said "thanks, you're wonderful, good night."

A guest asked if this was a non-profit arts-council presentation. It was. This little theatre is set up as a non-profit and the founding directors (husband and wife musicians) present "multi-cultural" schools shows around the area. But they also present a full array of commercial concerts, many by well-known jazz and "world music" artists. Prices are always high and I'd never gone there before. There were two shows--separately ticketed at 7 and 9:30, so they were selling 600 seats. I saw the early show, so I figured we'd get 90 minutes. The second set is no excuse for the brevity. You have to give your audience fair value, so the venue and the performer have to work it out accordingly. (Starting on time would have helped.)

Tonight, I'll offer a shorter (I promise) note about last night's Richard Thompson show, which lasted over two hours, cost less, and was absolutely fantastic. Cheers to all.

Michael Scully

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