Don McLean and Judy Collins at Wolf Trap by Mike Spain

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On paper Don McLean was the headliner and Judy Collins was the opening act last night at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center. In reality the two legends split the time equally and Judy Collins just performed first. The two musicians’ musical styles contrasted each other, and both legends took their turns entertaining the crowd.

Judy Collins and Don McLean. Photo courtesy of David Smith and Don McLean.
Judy Collins and Don McLean. Photo courtesy of David Smith and Don McLean.

Judy Collins came out to a sparse stage, literally just a piano, her guitar, a microphone, two fans, and a vase of roses. Lighting was used at a minimum. Often she proved she only needed her voice – which was in great form. She could hit any note she desired. The 74 year-old singer’s voice showed no signs of age.

Judy Collins. Photo by CAMERA PRESS/James Veysey.
Judy Collins. Photo by CAMERA PRESS/James Veysey.

She opened her set with “Wild Mountain Thyme” accompanied by the skillful Russell Walden on piano. She followed that with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning.” Judy Collins was so happy on the stage and shared a few stories between songs. She sang a great version of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads, and added bits of Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” – especially at the beginning – to add a different wrinkle to the song. Next she performed her song “The Last Thing on My Mind,” followed by “John Riley,” a song she recorded back in 1961. A pair of beautiful a cappella songs followed with “Kerry Dancers” and “Hills of Shiloh.” Less was definitely more as the tunes highlighted Judy’s amazing vocal gifts.

Next came Joni Mitchell’s “That Song about The Midway and then Stephen Still’s “Helplessly Hoping.” Judy’s version of the song was nice, but I think the song works better with the three part harmonies of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. She then returned to her folk roots and performed the traditional song “Golden Apples of the Sun, followed by Billy Ed Wheeler’s “Coal Tattoo.”

Gorgeous rendition of both her classic “Someday Soon” and a touching song called “We Are Not Forgotten (Walls,)” which was a tribute to Korean War veteran followed. She continued with “My Father, and ended her set with “Both Sides Now,” a song written by Joni Mitchell that turned into one of Judy Collins’ biggest hits. After a standing ovation, her encore was a cover of The Beatles’ “In My Life.” The song was a perfect closer for her set as the songs she chose to perform certainly covered her life in music.

Don McLean was came out with a full band featuring David Smith on bass, Jerry Kroon on drums, Vip Vipperman on guitar, and Tony Migliore on keyboards and piano. The four musicians are among the best on the Nashville music scene. They opened up with Buddy Holly medley featuring “Well All Right” and “Peggy Sue.” Then he performed “Jerusalem” and “Have You Seen Me.” He thanked the audience for clapping for songs they didn’t know. The next song was a splendid love song called “And I love You So.” That was a song people knew and it was a song that has been recorded by a lot of artists. McLean told the audience he liked the Elvis version of his song. He performed his songs “Empty Chairs” and “I Was Always Young” next.

Don McLean. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.
Don McLean. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

McLean energized the crowd a bit with a medley of “Tulsa Time” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” He kept the country vibe going with “Thanks a Lot” a song written by Stephan Jenkins and Kevin Cadogan, which has been recorded by a lot of folks including Hank Williams Junior, Neko Case, and Martina McBride. He followed that with a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” which was full of emotion.

Don Mclean performed two original songs called “Headroom” and “Fashion Victim” and followed them with “Star Dust,” which was perfect to precede “Vincent” (Starry, Starry Night). The audience was waiting for him to sing it as well as his best known song “American Pie.” He did not disappoint as he played the song twice. At one point during his first version he asked for the house lights to be turned on so he could watch the sing along. He ended his song with Steely Dan’s “Do It Again.”

Wolf Trap was certainly the place where stars came out to play tonight with two legends, one with one of the greatest voices, and the other being the songwriter to pin one of the greatest songs in popular music – both performing on the same stage. What a night!

Running time: Two hours and fifty minutes, with one intermission.

Don McLean and Judy Collins played on August 9, 2013 for one night only at The Filene Center at Wolf Trap —1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For future performances and information, check their calendar of events.