Looking around Verizon Arena 10 minutes before James Taylor took the stage on Friday night, this writer, 19 himself, noted fans young and old alike — white-haired women in flashing red glasses scooting past a gaggle of teenagers, a wide-eyed boy of about seven clutching his father’s hand in a stairwell, and senior businessmen sipping beer in a booth. When asked Taylor’s age, my own 14-year-old sister answered correctly. He’s 66.
Taylor draws us all together. Maybe it’s just a great sound from a repertoire that rocks both ends of the guitar spectrum, soft on “Copperline” and funky on “Steamroller,” aided in no small part by a truly All-Star Band. Maybe it’s the lighthearted quips at a hazy past — “Wish I could remember those days,” he said. “I’m convinced I had a good time,” in reference to a period spent with The Beatles overseas in 1968 when he recorded his debut album “James Taylor.” Or maybe it’s nothing more and nothing less than the universal accessibility of that gentle humanness flowing like Morgan Creek around every lyric. Lines like “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain” speak to us all, for who hasn’t? And when we’re all in the same room, he makes the young feel old and the old feel young.
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Last week, the Times wrote, “The ‘authenticity’ of a singer-songwriter is always a scam, but if anyone is authentic, James Taylor is.” Authentic and approachable, no doubt. Upon entering and exiting the stage, Taylor took time to shake hands and sign autographs. When from across the arena one fan hollered, “You’re the man, James!” he coolly responded, “No sir, you’re the man.” At various points throughout the show, an unsolicited audience request would ring out over the tops of thousands of heads, in response to which Taylor more than once pulled out his blackboard list of songs and showed the respective fan that, in fact, the song was coming up, scribbled out on the board “so I don’t forget.”
Memories dull with age, and Taylor is getting older, but one repeated reaction overheard on-scene and echoed on social media was, “His voice hasn’t changed at all.” Perhaps, then, it’s his perspective that makes his music so relatable to folks in every walk of life. At least to one song or another, we can each sing along. Well, most of us.
“There’s a song that they sing when they take to the highway,/a song that they sing when they take to the sea,/a song that they sing of their home in the sky,/maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep,/but singing works just fine for me,” the lyrics from a “cowboy lullaby,” Taylor said, written for his namesake nephew, perhaps his youngest fan of all, sweet baby James.