How do you pre­pare a 100-seat venue for a big name like Judy Collins?

Belleville News-Democrat - - Front Page - BY TERI MAD­DOX tmad­[email protected]

Vol­un­teers are work­ing over­time to pre­pare tiny Espen­schied Chapel in Mas­coutah for a con­cert by folk icon Judy Collins.

They’re rent­ing a Stein­way grand pi­ano, hir­ing pro­fes­sional sound and light tech­ni­cians, plan­ning a healthy meal for Collins and her two-per­son en­tourage, gath­er­ing re­quested items for her dress­ing room and do­ing lots of clean­ing and spruc- ing up.

“We can hardly be­lieve that it’s hap­pen­ing, just be­cause we’re fans, and she’s such a big star,” said Jeanne Bullard, 66, pres­i­dent of Mas­coutah Ceme­tery Chapel, Inc., a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that op­er­ates the 100-seat con­cert and wed­ding venue. “When I was in high school, I prac­ti­cally wore out one of her records. I played it ev­ery day.”

Collins, 79, will take the stage at 7 p.m. Dec. 2. Tick­ets cost $150. About 20 are still avail- able.

The Grammy Award-win­ning singer, song­writer, au­thor and ac­tivist has been per­form­ing for nearly six decades. She re­cently toured the United States with Stephen Stills, formerly of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Their venues ranged from am­phithe­aters to winer­ies and casi­nos.

“It’s all doable,” Collins said Wed­nes­day in a phone in­ter­view from her home in New York “It’s all won­der­ful. Whether it’s 500 peo­ple or 5,000, it doesn’t mat­ter. It’s all about per­form­ing. I love it.”

Espen­schied or­ga­niz­ers found Collins’ re­quests for ac­com­mo­da­tions and equip­ment rea­son­able.

The 1928 chapel al­ready has a square grand pi­ano that’s been

re­fur­bished, but it dates back to the mid-1800s. Collins asked for a Stein­way, which cost nearly $900 to rent from a St. Louis mu­sic store.

“I didn’t know this un­til I read her bio, but she was on track to be a con­cert pi­anist be­fore she fell in love with folk mu­sic,” Bullard said.

The $150 ticket price is the high­est ever charged at the chapel, but or­ga­niz­ers didn’t think it was out of line, con­sid­er­ing Collins’ leg­endary sta­tus, the in­ti­mate set­ting and higher-than-nor­mal pro­duc­tion costs. They charged $100 for Arlo Guthrie in 2007.

The Collins con­cert isn’t ex­pected to be a big money-maker, but that’s not the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s goal.

“We take on these big shows is to do some­thing great for the com­mu­nity and to bring more folks to the chapel, which is all part of our mis­sion to keep it in use,” Bullard said.

WARDROBE AS­SIS­TANT AND HEALTHY MEAL

Espen­schied has hosted about 50 con­certs in the past 13 years, in­clud­ing a few na­tional acts such as Guthrie, Melanie, Ron­nie Cox, Tom Rush and Ge­off Mul­daur. Collins was the first to re­quest a wardrobe as­sis­tant. Cathy Hort vol­un­teered for the job.

Hort, 59, of Mas­coutah, is a chapel sup­porter who works in ac­count­ing for a prop­erty man­age­ment com­pany. She’s also a seam­stress.

“(Collins) seems very down to earth,” she said. “I’ve done quite a bit of re­search on her. I lis­tened to her sing and watched a bunch of old doc­u­men­taries on YouTube. I just wanted to un­der­stand her and get a feel for her as per­son. I wanted to be pre­pared.”

Hort is bring­ing her par­ents, Mau­rice Riely, 82, and Opal Riely, 90, to the con­cert. They are big Collins ad­mir­ers.

Hort isn’t ex­actly sure what her wardrobe du­ties will en­tail, but she’s pre­pared to help the singer in any way she can.

“I’m ex­cited,” she said. “It’s not very of­ten that you get the op­por­tu­nity to work one-on-one with some­one who is fa­mous and so well-re­spected in the arts.”

Espen­schied didn’t have a dress­ing room un­til last year, when the or­ga­ni­za­tion built a $300,000 ad­di­tion that also in­cludes a re­cep­tion area and hand­i­cap-ac­ces­si­ble bath­rooms. For Collins, vol­un­teers equipped the dress­ing room with an iron­ing board, steamer and wooden par­ti­tion with mir­rors.

Collins and her en­tourage will be eat­ing a meal af­ter ar­riv­ing at the chapel. Vol­un­teers and cousins Kay Con­nolly and Nancy Lar­son are in charge of pre­par­ing it.

“(Collins) had some spe­cific re­quests, but to be hon­est, I was sur­prised that she wasn’t more par­tic­u­lar,” said Con­nolly, 66, of Mas­coutah, a re­tired oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist.

Collins asked for a healthy meal with roasted chicken, veg­eta­bles, a mixed salad with choice of bal­samic vi­nai­grette or light ranch dress­ing, a fruit-based dessert and fresh-brewed, unsweet­ened ice tea. She also wants fresh fruit in her dress­ing room.

The con­tract spec­i­fies that the meal be served with real dishes and uten­sils. Con­nolly plans to use her Christ­mas china on a red table­cloth. She’ll get fruit pies at Eck­ert’s Coun­try Store.

“I think it would be nice to in­tro­duce her to some­thing lo­cal, and my fam­ily loves their pies,” Con­nolly said.

KEEP­ING FIT WITH EX­ER­CISE, NO GRAINS

Collins has re­leased or col­lab­o­rated on 50 al­bums. She’s known for her in­ter­pre­ta­tions of tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary folk stan­dards, as well as orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions.

The singer and mu­si­cian first gained in­ter­na­tional ac­claim for her 1967 ren­di­tion of the Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now.” Her ver­sion of Stephen Sond­heim’s bal­lad “Send in the Clowns” won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 1975.

Her books in­clude “San­ity & Grace: A Jour­ney of Sui­cide, Sur­vival and Strength,” “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Mu­sic” and most re­cently “Crav­ings: How I Con­quered Food,” de­scribed as a “no-holds-barred ac­count of her har­row­ing strug­gle with com­pul­sive overeat­ing, and the jour­ney that led her to a so­lu­tion.”

“She is a modern-day Re­nais­sance woman who is also an ac­com­plished painter, film­maker, record-la­bel head, mu­si­cal men­tor and an in-de­mand key­note speaker for men­tal health and sui­cide pre­ven­tion,” ac­cord­ing to her bio. “She con­tin­ues to create mu­sic of hope and heal­ing that lights up the world and speaks to the heart.”

Collins per­forms about 130 con­certs a year. She has ap­peared three times at the Wildey Theatre in Ed­wardsville, which seats about 300 peo­ple.

How does a 79-year-old keep up the pace of show busi­ness?

“I eat well,” she said in Wed­nes­day’s phone in­ter­view. “I work hard, but I sleep well. I ex­er­cise ev­ery day for the most part. I med­i­tate. I don’t drink. I don’t eat any crap.”

Collins al­ways has been a so­cial ac­tivist. At re­cent con­certs, she’s been singing her orig­i­nal song “Dream­ers” about the plight of im­mi­grants and asy­lum seek­ers in Amer­ica.

DE­RIK HOLTMANN dholt­[email protected]

Jeanne Bullard, pres­i­dent of Mas­coutah Ceme­tery Chapel, Inc., and her band of vol­un­teers are pre­par­ing Espen­schied Chapel in Mas­coutah for a Judy Collins con­cert on Dec. 2. The or­ga­ni­za­tion will bring in a Stein­way grand pi­ano and set up about 100 padded fold­ing chairs.

Judy Collins, 79, is a Grammy Award-win­ning singer, song­writer, au­thor and ac­tivist.

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