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Singer/songwriter Judy Collins is currently
celebrating over 40 years on the road after initially
rising to fame on the Greenwich Village underground in
the 1960s alongside the likes of Bob Dylan, Woody
Guthrie and Pete Seeger. From then until now the
Grammy Award winner is best known for her gripping
rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," though
she continues pushing the artistic envelope through a
mixture of covers and originals. Collins' lengthy
career has also been peppered with political and
social activism, such as her performance at President
Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration and the newer single
"Saints and Angels in New Orleans," which paid tribute
to Hurricane Katrina victims and relief workers. The
troubadour caught up with Livewire's Andy Argyrakis
from a tour date in North Carolina to preview her
upcoming performance with the Chicagoland Pops
Orchestra (which includes segments from Paul
McCartney's new classical oratorio "Ecce Cor Meum"),
touch on her humble beginnings in one of New York's
most celebrated communities, plus much more recent
political, musical and literary musings.
Livewire: How do your orchestra dates differ from a regular show?
Collins: Well I love my symphony dates and I do a slightly different set when I'm backed by an orchestra. Of course I'll play "Both Sides Now" and "Send In the Clowns," but also "Bridge Over Troubled Water." We're also looking at the song "Kingdom Come- The Fireman's Song," which is about 9/11, plus "Amazing Grace" and "Cats in the Cradle." I do a lot of things I might not do in normal pop concerts where we play it by ear a bit more. It's all very exciting and I feel privileged to do what I do.
Livewire: What are your memories of the 1960s Greenwich Village scene?
Collins: I've actually done a lot of writing about my memories from that time, which was a wonderful time of course. There was so much happening that was interesting, but also a lot that was difficult. There were so many wonderful songwriters from that era, not that they're not around today, but truly so many amazing talents.
Livewire: How have you chosen the songs you've recorded over the years?
Collins: I would say that I'm lucky because a lot of songs are brought to me by other artists and sometimes I discover them on my own. I get invited to events and get inspired from time to time. I'm always attune to music and I love when I hear a song that I'll remember.
Livewire: Let's flashback to your days performing at President Clinton's inauguration party. What was it like to perform for America's most prominent leader?
Collins: Yes, it was very exciting playing for Bill Clinton! I forget the name of that choir, but I performed with a big choir from Little Rock that was wonderful. It was a big concert with Michael Jackson and Barbra Streisand, which made for a beautiful show overall.
Livewire: What is your take on the current political climate?
Collins: I'd say we need to get out of Iraq and get as many indictments as we can. We need the [government] to start using its checks and balances and we need to vote Democratic in the next election.
Livewire: Aside from activism, you're resume also includes being an author turned speaker, which I saw firsthand at SxSW last year. What inspired those expressions?
Collins: I've been writing books for a long time and have done a lot of public speaking around the books. I speak through a variety of recovery, health and college programs and cover issues such as suicide, which comes from my  book "Sanity and Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival and Strength." (Collins lost her 33-year-old son to suicide in 1992).
Why is it so important for you to make a personal connection with people?
Collins: The talks are the results of a lot of things, but having had that type of experience, I can share what I went through to hopefully benefit someone else. It depends what group I am speaking to and what they are interested in hearing, but hearing someone speak about what they went through can certainly be helpful to others regardless of the topic.
Livewire: On a musical note, what tricks do you have up your sleeve in the near future?
Collins: I think the next event for me is to hunt for new songs. I want to do a folk album and I want to do an album of Irish music. I also have my own label now [Wildflower] and have several artists that we're currently cultivating. I plan to continue going to events like SxSW and The Folk Alliance to start being much more aware of the younger ones. I'm also coming out with a Lennon/McCartney album very soon that will probably be out in June on the label and they'll be all my favorites, plus some surprises.
Livewire: How have you been able to balance the business and artistic side of the industry?
Collins: I've always had my hands in the business side of the [music industry]. I think the illusion we like to throw up as artists is that we're not really sure, but if you don't know about marketing what you do, there's something wrong with your picture. Any artist worth their salt has to know what's going on. You have to pay attention and I'm no exception.
Judy Collins appears with the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra at the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, IL on Friday, May 11. For additional information, log onto www.ticketmaster.com.