Judy Collins to play Bama Theatre

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Francie Johnson

From the coffeehouses of the age-defining 1960s folk revival to sold-out arenas, and everything in between, folk icon Judy Collins has seen it all – almost. This Saturday, she’ll see the Bama Theatre for the first time when she performs in celebration of the historic theatre’s 75th anniversary.

Collins grew up singing and playing classical piano until a song on the radio sparked her interest in folk music and inspired her to trade in her keys for a guitar.

“When I was about 14-and-a-half I heard a song on the radio called ‘The Gypsy Rover’ [by Leo Maguire],” Collins said. “I heard it and I was just totally entranced. I called up my girlfriends and I asked them to get the words for it. So my girlfriends, who were dancers, learned the song and I got a guitar and I sang it and they danced.”

Not long after, Collins ended up in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, N.Y., home of the legendary folk scene that produced renowned names like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, John Denver and more.

“It was a lot of hard work, but the music was fantastic,” Collins said.

Collins released her first album in 1961, a collection of traditional folk songs titled Maid of Constant Sorrow. Since then, she’s released over 40 studio and live albums, pulling from both her classical music background and the folk and pop music genres. She’s also written nine books, her most recent a memoir titled “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes.”

With her world-famous angelic soprano, Collins spent her early career exclusively recording and releasing cover songs. She’s covered Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and more. Her covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now” are what originally brought the two formerly unknown artists into the public eye.

Collins first met Cohen after he sought her out to critique his songwriting. Collins said she immediately recognized Cohen’s gift as a songwriter. In fact, he would be the one to inspire her to eventually start writing her own songs, simply by asking her why she hadn’t yet.

“He’s an absolutely brilliant songwriter,” Collins said. “He’s unusual. I don’t know [that] other people would have picked up on him.”

David Allgood, 10-year manager of the Bama Theatre, said Collins’ rich and diverse musical career made her a perfect candidate to ring in the Bama Theatre’s 75th year.

“We were looking for an iconic artist with a history as storied as the Bama Theatre,” Allgood said. “Judy Collins’ six decades as an artist and performer fit the bill precisely.”

The Bama Theatre has hosted artists such as Aimee Mann, Bela Fleck, David Lindley and fellow folk icon Joan Baez, but Allgood said it isn’t every day that the theatre can book artists like these.

“We don’t do a lot of in-house booking at the Bama,” Allgood said. “These days, most of the concerts booked here come from outside promoters; however, I keep an eye on tour dates and sometimes am able to book artists heading this way. The stars and planets have to be aligned, so to speak.”

Collins has a virtually unrivaled musical career spanning over 60 years, and said she has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. Her next destination is the Dromoland Castle in Ireland where she’ll record her next project: “Judy Collins Sings the Songs of Ireland.”

“I keep working,” Collins said. “I keep writing songs; I keep recording; I keep writing books; I keep doing concerts. I do about 120 shows a year around the world. I have had the most marvelous experience, I suppose.”

Collins said she has something special up her sleeve for the Bama Theatre’s 75th birthday, but she wouldn’t say specifically because then “it wouldn’t be a surprise.”

The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets range from $35-$55. All proceeds go to the Bama Theatre’s Restoration and Renovation fund toward a new digital movie projector. To purchase tickets, go to bamatheatre.org/ buytickets.