One of the most affecting moments during Judy Collins’ recent concerts — on her own or with collaborators Stephen Stills and Ari Hest — has been “Dreamers,” an a cappella paean about the plight of immigrants and asylum seekers in America. Now Collins has turned it into an equally moving and provocative video, premiering exclusively below.
“I think people are yearning to hear something that gives the reality to a situation that is so frightening,” Collins tells Billboard about the clip, which is comprised of still photographs of immigrant children and their parents. “It puts a face on the story which, because of the headlines and the news cycles, becomes kind of lost in this 24-hour stream that we get all the time. We don’t see the individual people, and I think this does paint a portrait and makes it more accessible.”
Collins — a veteran of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movement who’s been singing protest songs since the early ’60s — began working on “Dreamers” during New Year’s Eve 2016 and continued to “practice” it throughout 2017 and into this year before she began performing it during the spring. “I didn’t understand what I had with it,” Collins explains, “and then I was in Seattle in February and my husband said to me, ‘You know, you should really sing that song.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s not ready. I’m playing it on the piano and I’m trying.’ He said, ‘Just sing it a cappella. Just sing it. You need it. We all need it.’ So that’s what I did, and the results speak for themselves.”
The song is sung from the perspective of an immigrant mother, Maria, fearing for her daughter’s deportation, declaring in the chorus that, “This land was made by dreamers, and children of those dreamers/We came here for democracy and hope/Now all we have is hope.” Collins says that with one exception, a concert in Atlantic City, it’s played to rapt silence from audiences, followed by massive ovations. With Stills is also fits into the context of shows that feature other protest anthems, including Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and renditions of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”
“And, by the way, it’s not just here. It’s a worldwide problem,” Collins notes. “Look at these 200,000, 300,000, 400,000 refugees that are coming out of the Syrian war and conflicts and being turned away from the borders (in Europe). It’s a horrible problem. But here we have the Statue of Liberty — give me your poor, give me your huddled masses yearning to be free. We have an even more distinct responsibility.”
Collins will have plenty of opportunities to keep singing “Dreamers” for audiences in the near future. Along with her own shows she and Stills are gearing up for a fall leg together, and Collins predicts they’ll tour during 2019 as well. They’ve recorded a live album from this year’s shows, and there’s talk about going back into the studio for a follow-up to last year’s joint project Everybody Knows. “I’m having an awfully good time,” Collins says. “The band we have with us is so wonderful, and our crew. There’s no reason to stop now.” And it seems Collins doesn’t have to worry about Stills being called back into the fold with David Crosby, Graham Nash and/or Neil Young any time soon.
“I know (Stills) is happier out of it, and so are all of them,” Collins notes. “We’re having a fabulous time, and he says that it’s the happiest he’s been in a partnership, so all I can think is they had a fabulous run, and who knows what will happen. When you’re in a group like that for four, five decades, there comes a point where you just need a break, and Stephen and I were lucky to be able to provide that break for him — and for me, because it’s something different for me, too, and we’re both so happy doing it.”