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Pioneer Entertainment presents
Judy Collins: Wildflower Festival (2003)

"Doesn't Judy sound better than ever?"
- Tim Rush

Review By: debi lee mandel  
Published: September 15, 2003

Stars: Judy Collins
Other Stars: Eric Anderson, Tom Rush, Arlo Guthrie
Director: Jim Yukich

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:17m:20s
Release Date: July 01, 2003
UPC: 013023198890
Genre: folk

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-A-B+ B

DVD Review

I remember discovering the voice of Judy Collins when I was in junior high, and I remember abandoning her sometime during my high school years. It was youthful foolishness of course; when we realized she was covering other people's songs, the classically-trained folksinger seemed to fit more into the category of our parents' music—Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole—than the artists who spoke directly to us. We were recognizing our own ability to interpret songs for ourselves, and began to seek out the "genuine" sources instead: Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell. While Collins did for the former two what they could not do themselves—translate their potent lyrics into melodic poetry—we were far more attracted to the unwashed and under-produced presentations of the "originals": the singer/songwriters.

But god bless Judy Collins, because without her, Americans may never have unearthed the tragic romance of Leonard Cohen (not that we embrace the Canadian icon en masse even today), and the boost she gave to the careers of Dylan, Mitchell, Tom Paxton, and scores of other songwriters throughout the 1960s and '70s alone elevates her to the musical pantheon of the era. And I'll confess here, far from the peer pressure of my high school friends, that I'll take Collins' Just Like Tom Thumbs' Blues over Dylan's, any day of the week.

So here she is, this immutable songbird, over 40 years into her successful and diverse career, still singularly stunning, her celebrated blue eyes perhaps more startling against her mass of now platinum white hair, and her voice as sweet and resonant as it was on her first recording as a teenager in 1961. She's organized the annual Wildflower Festival, named for her pivotal album, Wildflowers (now the moniker of her new record label), and in this 2003 chapter, she's invited three old friends to join her: Tom Rush, Eric Andersen, and Arlo Guthrie, a breathing time-capsule of the Seventies' pot culture.

The concert begins with one of Collins' signature songs, Someday Soon, and one hears immediately that time has yet to exact its toll (something that can not be said of the untrained voices of Dylan, Mitchell, and Cohen). She follows with Home Before Dark and Mountain Girl before offering the stage to Tom Rush.

Rush is a storyteller, one of those perennial troubadours that came up in the folk scene represented in this festival, and he treats the crowded pavilion to the same sort of schtick he likely did back in the Sixties at more intimate club dates. He's a comfortable and funny guy, and the train shanty, Panama Limited, highlights his whimsical set. Eric Andersen, ever the brooding poet, comes on next and seemingly wills himself to entertain the audience before he gets to the business of music. His set consists of Close the Door Lightly, his much-recorded Blue River, and You Can't Relive the Past, the sentiment of which serves as a convenient segue to the introduction of Arlo Guthrie to the spotlight. While the famous son retreads his same old stories, Guthrie's set is an energetic one with St. James Infirmary, the "poem" Mooses Come Walking, and a surprising turn at I Can't Help Falling in Love With You as darkness falls and stars fill the view beyond the stage.

"Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them..."

Collins returns to the stage with a set that acknowledges old friends, featuring Mitchell's Both Sides Now, Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle, and Stephen Sondheim's Send in the Clowns. All four performers come together for an "encore" set that continues to pay tribute to the songsmiths whose work they have thrived on over the years, most notably Steve Goodman's evocative City of New Orleans (a hit for Guthrie in 1972) and a melancholy rendition of Lennon and McCartney's In My Life (which Collins recorded in 1966). They close out the concert by reaching back to their traditional roots with the crowd-pleasing spirituals, Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Amazing Grace.

With Judy, the sound is still o-so-sweet.

Other songs performed include:
Tom Rush: Silly Little Diddle; Remember Song
Arlo Guthrie: Slow Boat
Judy Collins: Kingdom Come (The Fireman's Song); Open the Door; Wings of Angels; Born to the Breed
All: Thirsty Boots

(As a longtime Cohen fan, I am disappointed he goes unrepresented here.)

I have a great deal of admiration for Judy Collins (who had the chutzpah to cover Dress Rehearsal Rag at the top of her game), and this release provides the opportunity for those who, like me, dismissed her recordings as somehow disingenuous in favor of the more organic sense we got from those who created the music she interpreted, to once again appreciate her timeless talent. Those faithful fans who never abandoned her may well be pleased "to the marrow" with this two-hour-plus presentation.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image is transferred to match its original full-screen format, and it is crisp and clear with rich colors that capture the beautiful and changing light over San Diego Bay. The camerawork includes soaring zooms that, while a little overused and at times dizzying, vitalize the visuals and rescue this concert footage from common inertia. Even with all these pans, I saw no digital artifacts, which I find praiseworthy.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Both Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo PCM transfers are included, with the former offering the most imaging. Both tracks boast proper separation, with the 5.1 transporting the home audience into the performance atmosphere.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Judy Collins
Packaging: unknown double keepcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. interviews with the performers
  2. discographies
  3. a gallery of concert photos
Extras Review: As well as the concert feature, Disc One offers a commentary overlay by Collins that is more an opportunity for her to share highlights of her exemplary career and those of her friends, making for a rather more interesting track than usual. The track ends as the encore set begins.

Disc Two features brief interviews with the four performers (Guthrie: 7m:43s; Collins: 10m:19s; Rush: 8m:47s; and Andersen: 4m:40s). While much of Collins' piece repeats information included in her commentary, they are all nonetheless informative, offering a bit of insight into the heyday of their years.

The second disc also houses text biographies, discographies (here Collins truly impresses), and a photo gallery.

All four artists have dedicated websites that are listed on the back cover.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The enduring Judy Collins gathers old friends for a sweet and memorable evening that is certain to be of interest to those who remember the heyday of the folk scene that gave birth to the era of the singer/songwriter in the later mid-twentieth century. Pioneer commemorates this concert event with an excellent two-disc set that folkies of all ages will treasure.


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