At age 74, folk icon Judy Collins is traveling the country, singing songs both old and new and loving it.
She does about 120 shows a year all over the country, and this winter she’s performing in Olympia and Tacoma.
“There’s no retirement for an artist — ever,” she said in a phone interview this week. “There can’t be. The only thing that stops any of us is being brought to our knees by illness.
“Artists don’t stop doing what they love. People who retire want to find something they love because they didn’t do that all their lives. I don’t have to do that because I love what I do and have always done.”
Fifty-three years after she released her first album, “A Maid of Constant Sorrow,” Collins just keeps right on singing, on her voicemail greeting (“I’ll Be Seeing You”) and in a recent concert filmed for PBS at Dromoland Castle in Ireland.
She wrote a new song, “New Moon Over the Hudson,” for the Irish concert, which also features such favorites as “Cat’s in the Cradle,” “Bird on a Wire” and “Chelsea Morning,” which inspired Bill and Hillary Clinton to name their daughter Chelsea.
“It was very important to me to have something new,” she said of the concert lineup. “I’m always working on new songs.”
Among the songs audiences are clamoring to hear at her shows is the recent “In the Twilight,” written after her mother’s death, along with such perennial favorites as “Both Sides Now,” “Look Where the Time Goes,” “Since You Asked,” “Houses” and “My Father.”
Of course, Collins can’t promise she’ll play your personal favorite next week. “I only put in a handful of the classics,” she said. “You can’t hear everything at a concert, but if you come to all the concerts, you might.”
Collins’ influence on music history extends well beyond her own writing. She helped launched Leonard Cohen into songwriting success with her recordings of his songs, including “Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire.”
Cohen encouraged her, too, she said. “When Leonard Cohen and I met, he said, ‘Why aren’t you writing your own songs?’ and so I took the lead and decided to start doing that.”
Collins feels blessed by her continuing success. “I love what I’m doing,” she said. “I make a good living. My audience is growing rather than diminishing. It’s very exciting.”
Critical acclaim would suggest that’s no coincidence.
“Her voice actually seems to have gotten better in the last four decades, stronger and richer in timbre,” Joseph Finder wrote in 2011 for the The Daily Beast.
And in 2010, Stephen Holder of The New York Times gave Collins an even more glowing review. “Her slightly unworldly voice is still an instrument that evokes angelic visions in an imaginary cathedral or a shaft of moonlight settling on a lake whose waters are barely quivering,” he wrote.
Beyond singing and songwriting, Collins has also written seven books, most recently 2011’s “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music,” a frank look at her life, including her battle with alcoholism, her son’s suicide and plenty of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
“I write books, I write songs, I sing, I perform, and it’s all satisfying,” she said. “I love it all.
“It fits together like a Chinese puzzle.”
No wonder she wouldn’t dream of retiring.
“An artist,” she said, “continues to do what she does till she falls over.”
What: Singer-songwriter, author and activist Judy Collins performs, accompanied by Seattle’s Passenger String Quartet.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia
Tickets: $34-$62 for adults; $31-$56 for students, seniors and military; $17-$31 for youths
More information: 360-753-8586 or washingtoncenter.org