(featuring Judy Collins, Roger McGuinn, Janis Ian and Richie Havens)
August 1, 2001
Chastain Park Amphitheater-Atlanta, GA
Judy Collins kicks the event off:
What a perfect night for a music festival. The weather was perfect for Judy Collins Wildflowers Festival, which was to benefit the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as part of their Classic Chastain concert series. Judy took the stage first. Her white hair glistened in the summer sunset as she led off with Both Sides Now. This song made Judy famous back in the 60s and put young songwriter Joni Mitchell on the map. Accompanied by her own guitar and a pianist, her voice was lilting and friendly. After just a couple more numbers, Judy introduced Janis Ian to the half-capacity, but very appreciative crowd.
Janis set was a dazzling display of what one person can do armed with amazing tunes and a guitar. Calling herself the depressing alternative to the nights other performers, she led into At Seventeen. Even after a quarter of a century this painfully honest song is hard to hear without being touched by it. Throughout her time alone on stage, the huge outdoor arena felt as intimate as a living room. With an amazingly intricate Merle Travis picking style and a few effect pedals, she was the full band on songs that ranged from the hilarious new country of If I Had Boots Like Emmylous to the dark and ominous On The Other Side. The latter actually could be perfectly described as Laurie Anderson in a folky mood.
After this, Janis introduced Richie Havens by announcing, Im not straight, but if I was, hes who Id be straight with to the laughs of the assembled. Richie sat intensely behind his guitar, completely into the moment throughout songs like Paradise Is A Hard Place. Between the tunes, his gentle wit shined. He waxed philosophical on aging, childen and the 60s folk scene. After describing a young man who was enamored with his arrangement of a particular song that he had been performing in New York, he told how he finally relented and showed the kid the song. Later, he heard an amped up version of the tune, All Along The Watchtower, by the kid who happened to be Jimi Hendrix. After that, Richie decided to never play the song again because he didnt feel that his rendition of it could compare. Havens has only recently begun playing All Along The Watchtower again. It was so easy to see the influence that this gentle human had on the young wild man. Closing with his Freedom/Motherless Child medley that was a highlight of the original Woodstock, it was clear that Richies golden voice and percussive thumb-based guitar playing were as sweet as the smell of the incense that filled Chastain.
As the day finally succumbed to night, Roger McGuinn waltzed onto the stage strumming his trademark Rickenbacher 12-string electric guitar. Kicking off with a double dose of Dylan tunes that his band The Byrds made famous (My Back Pages and Mr. Tambourine Man), McGuinn displayed what has made him such a prominent influence on everyone from Tom Petty and R.E.M. to even mid-period Beatles. The full moon glowed down on the open venue making the setting even dreamier for The Ballad Of Easy Rider and John The Revelator, which became a call and response sing-a-long. The surprise of the night was from McGuinn when he strapped on an acoustic to pull out Chestnut Mare. This lost gem from The Byrds catalog was punctuated by McGuinns smiles and head-bopping. After strapping back on his Rick, his closer was So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star. He even recruited the audience to do the crowd screams that are heard on the original record. At the end of it, he strolled right back off the stage, still strumming his guitar. It was really inspiring to see such unadorned and still majestic music coming from such apparently kind souls.
After the first break in the music of the night, Judy Collins came out for her set. City Of New Orleans kicked things off again as she and her accompanist ran through a strange, but intriguing set list that offered Harry Chapins Cats In The Cradle and standards like My Funny Valentine and Danny Boy. Her performance was punctuated by poignant memories of her family and especially her father. It was pure, simple and real.
After Judy's dramatic reading of Steven Sondheims Send In The Clowns, she invited out the other artists for a loose jam. They each took a verse on The Carter Familys Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Then Richie and Roger were out front together for Just Like A Woman. After a crowd sing-a-long on Turn, Turn, Turn the evening ended with a rough but heartfelt Amazing Grace. After the show, Richie Havens sat near the exit talking to whoever wanted to meet him as the crowd left. This kind of event is what makes Chastain such a wonderful place. This was a perfect evening.