At 73, Judy Collins is busier than she’s ever been in her 50-year career — and she’s thankful for it.
The legendary folk singer, known for definitive versions of such varied songs as Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now” as well as her originals, plays about 100 to 120 shows a year. Part of that is due to the Internet, which she says has been “disastrous” — with pirating and downloads cutting into her income, she like many other artists has to make up the difference on the road.
“When people are stealing your music off the Internet, what does that do for the artist?” Collins said recently from her home in New York City. “I mean, I’ve always worked hard, but I’m probably working four times as hard because of the Internet — which is fine, I’m not complaining. But it’s made a huge, huge difference.”
But performing live has always been Collins’ favorite part of what she does. And she’s found that audiences are just as receptive as they’ve always been.
with Jimmy Webb
• 8 tonight, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 Second St., Troy
How Much: $42, $35, $20
More Info: 273-0038, www.troymusichall.org
• 7:30 p.m. Monday, Charles R. Wood Theater, 207 Glen St., Glens Falls
How Much: $68.50
More Info: 798-9663, www.woodtheater.org
“There are, however, ancillary changes that have been very, very positive — people have access to music in a way they never have before,” she continued. “Also I notice that it has not changed the essential desire for people to hear music live, thank God. That’s where I make my living as a live performer, because I love it — I’ve always done it; I’ve done it since I was a young child.”
A quick glance at her touring schedule for the rest of the year bears this out — Collins is booked through Dec. 22 with a U.S. tour with Jimmy Webb. She’ll make her annual stop in the Capital Region, this time at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall tonight, before heading to Glens Falls Monday for a show at the Charles R. Wood Theater.
These won’t specifically be holiday shows, although Collins will certainly perform Christmas songs alongside her hits and new songs from her latest studio album, 2011’s “Bohemian.”
She’ll also focus on material from her recent PBS special, “Judy Collins Live at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Celebrating Fifty Years of Timeless Music” — which, as the title suggests, covers material from her entire career, in celebration of her 50th year of performing. Fans can expect some duets with Webb, who appeared on the special along with Ani DiFranco and Shawn Colvin.
“We’ve been working on it for years, and we finally got the green light from PBS,” Collins said. “We recorded that in June this year, and it was fabulous. . . . This is kind of a win-win-win situation — Big Bird wins and we win; it raises a lot of money for PBS.”
Along with the expected hits, including “Send in the Clowns”; Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”; and her first original composition from 1967, “Since You’ve Asked,” the new album also features some of her personal favorites. “In the Twilight,” a newer original song from “Bohemian” that deals with her mother’s death in 2010, was one she insisted on doing.
“[It] seems to be hitting a generational resonance around my audience, because so many of us — well, no matter how old you are when you lose your parents, it can be very difficult,” Collins said. “When they die when they’re older, and you’ve had them for 92 years — or 95 years in the case of my mother — that doesn’t mean that you don’t grieve. It’s maybe worse, since you’ve had them all that time.”
Over the years, she has come to be known for her own songs almost as much as her cover versions — songs such as “Song For Judith (Open the Door)” and “Born to the Breed” have become staples of her sets. But songwriting came late for Collins, who was born in Seattle and kick-started her performing career in Denver, before linking up with the Greenwich Village folk revival scene in New York City in the 1960s.
Her first song came at the urging of her friend Leonard Cohen, whose songs she helped to popularize early on.
“After I recorded many of Leonard Cohen’s songs — and nobody else had recorded them because nobody had heard them but me; I recorded them and gave his career a start — he asked me in 1967 why I wasn’t writing my own songs,” Collins said. “And I said, ‘I have no clue.’ I really had never thought of it.”
The songwriting process hasn’t changed much for her over the years. A piano prodigy before she ever picked up a guitar, she still writes most of her songs on the piano, which is the instrument she’s the most comfortable with.
“It’s always the same — I keep notes and keep notebooks, and sit down when I’m ready to gather things together,” she said. “It’s really very simple.”
Her cover song selections over the years have been just as easy for her. Usually, timing is key when it comes to recording a song, although the songs usually find her.
“When push comes to shove, I don’t know that the decision seems to be made for me, somehow,” Collins said.
“The ones that I’m supposed to sing, I do, It’s an interesting process, but it’s not one that I can tell you the why of it. Sometimes there’s songs I wanted to do — I’d always wanted to do [Joni Mitchell’s] ‘Cactus Tree’; I’d always wanted to do [Woody Guthrie’s] ‘Pastures of Plenty’ [both of which appear on ‘Bohemian’], but I never did. And then all of a sudden, it was the right time, the right situation, the right format.”
One song that’s always seemed right for Collins is “Send in the Clowns,” the only Top 10 hit Sondheim has ever had. She is now working on an album of Sondheim songs to coincide with another PBS special she’s doing next year — another project she’s been wanting to do over the years.
“It wasn’t the right time before, it just wasn’t the right time, partly because everybody was doing it,” Collins said. “People would say to me, ‘Oh, you’ve done some classic Broadway songs; isn’t it time to do a Broadway album? Because everybody’s doing classic albums of Broadway songs.’ And that made me say, ‘Then I won’t.’ Part of it is just being stubborn — I mean, I’m certainly not going to do what everybody else is doing.”