REVIEW: Both sides now, Stills & Collins together

REVIEW: Both sides now, Stills & Collins together
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By David Coulson. November 9, 2018. BOONE, NC — The biggest question on Thursday night after the stunning concert performance by rock icon Stephen Stills and incredible vocal gymnast Judy Collins at Appalachian State’s Schaefer Center: Why has it taken this duo 50 years to construct a full-fledged tour together?

Stills and Collins have thrilled crowds separately since the 1960s as solo artists as well as in such seminal groups as Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Manassas. They have each penned hundreds of memorable songs, along with numerous albums as two of America’s greatest songwriters. They have also made their marks interpreting the tunes of other great artists.

Unlike so many modern performers, who prefer concerts that emphasize flash over substance, these two still show that it is more satisfying to entertain a crowd with the sheer force of talent.

The two artists showed they are still relevant…

The fact that both of these sterling musicians are deep into their 70s has done little to erode their well-developed skills.

Collins, now 79, retains the same angelic voice that has thrilled fans since her Electra Records days, nearly two generations before the current college students in the crowd were even born.

Stills, at 73, may have lost a little vocal clarity, power, and the crisp edge of those days singing protest songs with Buffalo Springfield, but he retains his ability to reach the glorious harmonies for which he was cherished while with CSNY — and he remains a master at creating consistently choice guitar solos.

The two artists showed they are still relevant by dipping into their deep reservoirs of classic songs, while also performing sparkling covers of such diverse artists as the Traveling Wilburys, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jimmy Webb, Sandy Denny and Joni Mitchell during a well-balanced, 17-song set that also highlighted tunes from their new album together.

It drew a standing ovation from the crowd.

As Collins prepared to delight the near-sellout crowd with her hit rendition of Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, she drew cheers when she noted that it was Mitchell’s birthday. Collins also scored audience plaudits with her delicate version of the Mitchell classic Chelsea Morning.

But one of the highlights of the evening was when Collins went a Capella on one of her latest compositions, the politically poignant Dreamers, which told the story of a family of Mexican immigrants. It drew a standing ovation from the crowd.

Stills garnered his share of applause, too, as he rifled through material like Southern Cross, For What It’s Worth, Petty’s I Won’t Back Down and the brilliant Bluebird. The latest version of Bluebird was extended with some incredible, blues-based jamming between Stills and bassist Kevin McCormick.

A continual source of pleasure during the performance was the storytelling between songs by the personable duo, something that only enhanced the chemistry the two shared for over two hours.

After a thrilling night of craftsmanship, there was one song the crowd awaited to make the concert complete. Stills, Collins and their band (McCormick, drummer Tony Beard and keyboardist Russell Walden) didn’t disappoint when they encored with their rousing version of Suite: Judy Blue Eyes — the quintessential Stills composition and one of the best breakup songs ever, inspired by his 1960s love affair with Collins.

It was the perfect ending to an enchanting endeavor. Better late than never for these two brilliant performers and longtime friends to share a stage.

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