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Living with James Taylor

By Leslie Kandell
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
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Attending his Tanglewood concerts is not a requirement for feeling the James Taylor Effect.

Neighbors of the Lenox estate adjust schedules to the ripples of his sold-out performances: 4 (June 30 and July 1 in Ozawa Hall, July 3 and 4 in the Koussevitzky Music Shed), expanded from last year's 3.

He donates the proceeds to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which so far add up to $4 million, I read. It may not be the Beethoven et al. for which the orchestra is renowned, but because the classical music industry is struggling, this handout is obviously an offer the BSO can't refuse. (This year Taylor even did shows at Carnegie Hall.)

He's storm-proof; rain that would typically vitiate a lawn crowd has no impact on the lines of cars that stream in. For a 7 p.m. concert, people camp outside the gate before 2. The cafeteria is open for students and staff, so whoever is grabbing a chili dog lunch hears a rehearsal of "Sweet Baby James." (Not needed for Taylor, but for the backup.) Whereas the Tanglewood crew wears camp-green t-shirts, Taylor's guys are in snazzy black ones -- with slightly detectable attitude.

Crowds come less for his latest songs as much as for the iconic few they can't get enough of: "Fire and Rain," "You've Got a Friend." Look at this, from Wikipedia: "Sweet Baby James: Invariably, the second verse mentions of the Massachusetts Turnpike, Stockbridge and The Berkshires, and Boston brings cheers from people in the audience who lived in Massachusetts, once lived there, once went to college there, etc. If the concert is in Tanglewood or Great Woods, the commotion is enough to pause the song."

The reward for neighbors who must adjust shopping, swimming or visiting schedules to avoid Taylor traffic is that during these concerts, Lenox and Stockbridge are deserted, and a quiet dinner can be had in restaurants that at other times can barely be bothered to take time to refuse you.

Sometimes Taylor, like many famous performers, comes to hear Boston Symphony concerts. Wearing a suit and no hat, he slips into the Koussevitzky Music Shed after the lights go down. You have to know where to look.

Taylor is going to sell out the house wherever he chooses to play. His concerts are well managed, and as in the slogan, "Come Hungry, Leave Happy," people leave not only satisfied, but deeply comforted.

 
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