Sweet Judy Blue Eyes at Books by the Banks in Cincinnati

Judy Collins at Books by the Banks 2011
My friend Cathy was able to navigate to two folded chairs in the front row to the left of the podium. “I think that’s her in the purple,” she said as she looked over by the door that led into the large room. A petite, rather eccentric-looking woman stood by the entrance. Her thin legs were covered with thick black tights that led into ankle boots with stiletto heels. She wore a peplum jacket with a large v-neck ruffle in a rich, satiny purple. Her white hair was stacked loosely in a bun on the top of her head. Her face was disguised by dark sunglasses.I watched her for a moment, then glanced at the portrait of a much younger Judy Collins on the cover of her new book, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music. I recognized the nose and mouth from the portrait on the eccentric small woman. “I think you’re right,” I said.

Author Andrea Cheng
We were at the Books by the Banks Cincinnati USA fifth annual book festival where Judy Collins was billed as a star attraction. The six-hour event provided opportunities for book-lovers of all ages to meet authors like Chris Bohjalian, author of The Night Strangers, or Dennis Lehane, author of Moonlight Mile. Panel discussions were scheduled throughout the day on topics like Re-inventing the Classics and Regional Cooking. Earlier in the day Cathy and I sat in on the panel discussion, “A Guide to Writing and Ilustrating Children’s Books: Tips from Successful Authors and Illustrators.”

Illustrator Christina Wald
Andrea Cheng author of 15 published books for children and young adults including Where Do You Stay? spoke about her personal journey to traditional publication and gave out writers’ tips. Illustrator Christina Wald shared helpful suggestions to aspiring illustrators in the audience. I took good notes in case the earlier conversation with my industrial designer/artist son some day come to fruition in a Children’s Book project.
To be truthful, I wasn’t all that excited about seeing Judy Collins, and planned to forgo her panel discussion if it became too crowded or too much of a hassle. Sure, I loved her songs, and knew all the words when I was an impressionable teenager, but she wasn’t here to sing. She was here to talk about her book, which I felt rather ambivalent about. I guess my enthusiasm was tempered by a negative attitude from a struggling writer with no particular claim to fame. If I were a singer or dancer, or if I were an outspoken politician, then everyone would want to buy my books and I would have agents lined up at the door. Sometimes it seems like you have to be Stephen King or Sarah Palin to make it into a bricks and mortar bookstore.
I am happy to say that I completely underestimated Judy Collins’ power as a storyteller. I was completely captivated for the entire hour. When she stepped up to the podium and said, “Let’s just get this out of the way,” then started singing a cappella on perfect pitch, “Bows and flows of angel hair. . .” She sang the entire first verse of Both Sides Now, and I was completely engaged.Judy Collins told stories about her dad who became blind at the age of 4 and went on to be a musician in his own right.

She talked about her fellow singers, writers and producers at the time her career took off in the 60’s, dropping names like Dylan, and Joan Baez. Carly Simon’s sister was her musical director at one point. She talked about the Vietnam War, and her alcohol addiction. She shared her perspective of how the music of the times influenced the people and events as they were happening. And every now and then she would break into a few lines of a song that she or someone else she was talking about had sung.

She described the first time she met Stephen Stills who she would have an on-again, off-again relationship with for years. Stephen Stills wrote the song, Judy Blue Eyes, from which Collins got the title for her book.

She said that she started writing Sweet Judy Blue Eyes in 2007 as she was approaching the age of 70.

Judy Collins was interesting, and she was funny. For a woman in her 70s, she still packs a lot of punch with her voice.

I was so completely entertained, I felt guilty that I hadn’t paid for this free event.

24 thoughts on “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes at Books by the Banks in Cincinnati”

  1. I Totally enjoyed reading this.. and some people just can hold you in their spell as they begin to talk or sing.. it seems she is one of them..
    Thank you for sharing your day out. 🙂

  2. Wow, I am SO jealous! Not only of Judy Collins — who sounds like a fabulous speaker — but of the entire event! I’ve never been to a book festival. But I’ve been reading so much about them lately that I realize I need to find one to go to! I know Maine has one in the spring; I’ll have to check it out!

  3. Oh my! Judy Collins is still so beautiful! I would’ve loved to hear her sing or read from her book. Too bad she didn’t travel to the Southern Festival of Books two weekends ago. Thank for posting this; I now want to look up that book.

    1. She said she has an audio book where she sings the song lines from the book. It might be worth the extra money. I think it is 11 hours and 10 cds long.

  4. Wow! She’s still a beauty. What fun to get to see her, an hear her sing, too! Love the name dropping. That must have been a blast from the past hearing names like Dylan and Baez, and Stills.

  5. I am jealous of your access to such a great resource/event. Free makes it even more amazing. Thanks for sharing it. I almost feel as though I was there with you.

  6. We saw her at a concert about 15 years ago–it was fantastic. I’ve never heard so much community and love come from an audience before: We were all singing with her! How lucky for you to have seen her up close and personal–I want to buy her book. After all–I “grew up” with her!

    1. I grew up with her too. She ended her concert by having us sing with her a song her grandmother taught her when she was quite young: Amazing Grace. Unfortunately, I was unable to sing along, as this song reminds me of Annie and I used the lyrics in my memoir. Sometimes I can sing it okay, but I was feeling emotional and didn’t want to risk it.

  7. It is so nice that Judy not only ‘did not disappoint’ but engaged you with her presentation. I have had mixed experiences listening to ‘legends’ speak. Makes me appreciate just being ordinary.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: