Dolly Parton’s surprise appearance may have grabbed most of the headlines during this past summer’s Newport Folk Festival, but one of the weekend’s most exciting moments came during the Sunday evening closing set when Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, the Shins’ James Mercer and Eric Johnson (Fruit Bats) offered a note-by-note rendition of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Crosby, Stills & Nash’s 1969 classic.
With an all-star backing band that included Janet Weiss, Jason Isbell, Benmont Tench, John Stirratt and Chris Funk, the trio worked their way through the song’s intricate three-part harmonies and various musical changes before, two-thirds of the way through, Judy Collins, the song’s inspiration, joined them onstage, adding vocals and guitar.
Stephen Stills wrote “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” for Collins as their relationship was falling apart in the late Sixties. “The first time he sang that to me, I said, ‘You know, it’s a beautiful song, but it’s not going to get me back,'” Collins told the crowd after the performance.
Collins was appearing at the festival as part of its 60th anniversary. The performance of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” took place during the evening’s closing set of sing-along folk standards like “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Eyes on the Prize,” and “If I Had a Hammer,” performed by a rotating cast of special guests in tribute to Pete Seeger during the year he would have turned 100.