Judy Collins returns to Honokaa People’s Theatre

  • Photo by Bryan Ledgard Folk songstress Judy Collins will appear at 7 p.m. Saturday at Honokaa People's Theatre.

More than a half-century into one of America’s most storied music careers, Judy Collins is busy as ever — in the studio, on the road, in front of the camera and on the page.

What keeps her going when many of her contemporaries have retired or expired?

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“Making a living,” the legendary songstress quipped, laughed and then turned serious. “I love what I do and I’m trying to do it better and better, writing songs, finding new ideas for collaborations, writing books. It all works,” she said. “I’m about revolution and evolution. From being a singer of traditional songs to being a person who was instrumental in singing the songs of many artists and helping them achieve their goals, writing my own songs, writing books, creating all kinds of performances, for PBS, live and records, I’m still going strong.”

Collins will be in concert at 7 p.m. Saturday night at Honokaa People’s Theatre. Doors open at 6 p.m. It’s her third time playing the Hamakua venue since 2015.

One of Collins’ frequent collaborators is Ari Hest, a singer-songwriter more than three decades her junior. Their 2016 album “Silver Skies Blue” received a Grammy nomination — Hest’s first. Collins lost count of her own nominations long ago.

“We’re still writing songs together,” Collins said. “We’re gonna continue to do that because we have a good time. He’s a major artist who has been neglected. He was on Columbia for a couple of years, and then they dropped him, idiots that they are.

“That’s the way all major labels are now. I was lucky when I signed with Electra in 1961, because Jac Holzman was smart and he let me develop over the coming 25 years. That’s not how the music business was when Ari joined Columbia.”

Collins has proven to be an excellent judge of talent. She put poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen on the map in 1966 when she recorded three of his songs, including “Suzanne.” Music lovers worldwide mourned when Cohen died in November.

“I found Leonard, or actually, he found me,” Collins said. “And he encouraged me to write songs and I encouraged him, pushing him out on the stage to sing. He wasn’t going to sing his own songs. He figured he’d be a writer and let the rest of us sing ’em. But I’ve been performing Leonard’s songs for 50 years and I’ve always had a very close friendship with him. It’s a pretty long history with the guy. Wonderful writer, wonderful person, generous person.

“He turns out to be the smartest person I know because he dies the morning of the elections. So, that goes to show you.”

More than just a singer-songwriter and interpreter of others’ works, Collins also inspired one of the greatest songs in the canon of rock ’n’ roll, Crosby, Stills &Nash’s 1969 classic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”

The folk-rock magnum opus was penned by Stephen Stills, with whom she had a relationship.

“Last year, we did 50 shows together, Stephen Stills and I,” Collins said. “That’s been something that’s been on its way for a long time, but it took us 50 years to do it.

“We’ve remained friends, so it’s something that we’ve talked about over the years. ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be fun, if?’ And finally we’re doing it. And we get to sing ‘Suite: Judy’ at the end of the show together.”

Admission is $45 general admission, $65 gold circle.

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Tickets are available at CD Wizard, Hilo Ukulele &Guitar and Hilo Music Exchange in Hilo; Sound Wave Music, Kona Music Exchange and Kiernan Music in Kona; Waimea General Store in Parker Square; Top Stitch in Honokaa; by calling 896-4845; and online at bluesbearhawaii.com.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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