As any concertgoer who has watched James Taylor perform at Tanglewood over the course of his four-decade relationship with the venue may know all too well, it isn’t truly summer in the Berkshires until “JT” comes to town.
The renowned singer, songwriter and arguably the Berkshires’ most vocal fan returned to Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Music Shed on Monday and Tuesday night for what has developed into an annual tradition, with a pair of Fouth of July shows offering up his biggest hits alongside new surprises.
Appearing onstage with his customary newsboy cap, Taylor would lead concertgoers on a two-hour journey across a half century-long discography while wearing many different hats at once – both figuratively and literally.
Taylor would kick off his July 4 show with the cap tipped slightly forward, sitting on a stool at the front and center of the stage for a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner before easing his way into some of his biggest hits, including “Carolina In My Mind” and “Country Road.”
With his longtime “All Star” band in tow – featuring a list of A-list session musicians such as drummer Steve Gadd and guitarist Michael Landau alongside longtime fan-favorites Lou Marini on saxophone and Arnold McCuller on backing vocals – Taylor would gradually evolve from guitarist to bandleader over the course of his first hour-long set, a role the visibly grateful singer welcomed with open arms.
Songs such as “First of May” and “October Road” would find Taylor’s typically gentle acoustic guitar taking a back seat to deliciously dynamic rhythmic interplay between Gadd and percussionist Luis Conte while solos courtesy of Landau and others would find Taylor taking his hat off entirely to “cool off” his bandmates, each of whom Taylor gave ample amounts of spotlight during the show.
LENOX — At some point during his Tanglewood shows on Monday and Tuesday night, James Taylor will bring on a surprise guest to share the spotlight before a capacity crowd of about 18,000 ardent fans.
Singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt, an old friend of Taylor’s since they first performed together in Cambridge in 1970 when she was a Harvard junior and a newly minted blues singer, is a natural for a joint appearance, since they are about to launch a six-week national tour of 17 cities, including several baseball stadiums. They’ll be returning to Fenway Park for Taylor’s third annual appearance there — Raitt joined him in 2015.
At Tanglewood, “we’ll do a tune or two of hers, a tune or two of mine, it’s a simple guest spot,” said Taylor in a wide-ranging interview this week.
A limited number of tickets were available for the 8 p.m. shows on Monday and Tuesday, as of Saturday morning. The Independence Day performance, with proceeds donated back to Tanglewood by James and Kim Taylor, is followed by the annual fireworks show over Stockbridge Bowl.
Recalling her first gig with Taylor 47 years ago, Raitt said in an Associated Press interview, “I was nervous to play because I hadn’t really broken my chops in for concerts that much. But I was so excited. It was an honor to be both at my school and opening for him. He couldn’t have been warmer and more friendly. It was intimidating to meet one of my heroes, but he was just so down to earth.”
About to make his 25th set of appearances at the Boston Symphony’s summer home since his debut there in 1974 with Linda Ronstadt as the opening act, Taylor emphasized that “Tanglewood has been this incredible part of my professional life.”
Since the turn of the century, he has returned annually, with rare exceptions, and he credits his wife, Kim — a former BSO executive and current trustee — “for opening my eyes to Tanglewood and bringing me back here. It’s a great connection, one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”
With keen anticipation, he discussed the upcoming tour, which begins Thursday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
“I’ve been aware of Bonnie and her music since she started,” he said. “She was an early musical friend since we performed together on Martha’s Vineyard in those great days when it was a destination for artists and intellectuals who wanted a cheap vacation. I’ve been eager to play with her some more since that first show at Fenway.”
This week, Taylor and Raitt have been rehearsing at the 17,000-seat Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., which can accommodate the elaborate staging needed for the large arenas and stadiums where they’ll be performing, including Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., Wrigley Field in Chicago and AT&T Park in San Francisco. The tour ends at Fenway on Aug. 11.
Tanglewood audiences will get a sample of their vocal collaboration because, as Taylor pointed out, “it doesn’t have room for the staging we’ll be taking around the country, since it’s primarily an acoustic musical house.”
Bandana Blues is and will always be a labor of love. Please help Spinner deal with the costs of hosting & bandwidth. Visit www.bandanablues.com and hit the tipjar. Any amount is much appreciated, no matter how small. Thank you.
Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine, Vol. 2, the anticipated new John Prine tribute record from Oh Boy Records, is out today. Stream/purchase HERE.
Created as a celebration of Prine’s life and career, the album features new renditions of some of Prine’s most beloved songs performed by Brandi Carlile (“I Remember Everything”), Tyler Childers (“Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You”), Iris DeMent (“One Red Rose”), Emmylou Harris (“Hello In There”), Jason Isbell (“Souvenirs”), Valerie June (“Summer’s End”), Margo Price (“Sweet Revenge”), Bonnie Raitt (“Angel From Montgomery”), Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (“Pretty Good”), Amanda Shires (“Saddle in the Rain”), Sturgill Simpson(“Paradise”) and John Paul White (“Sam Stone”). Proceeds from the album will benefit twelve different non-profit organizations, one selected by each of the featured artists.
Eric Clapton, one of the world’s pre-eminent blues/rock guitarists, once again summoned an all-star team of six-string heroes for his fifth Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2019. Held at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, the two-day concert event raised funds for the Crossroads Centre in Antigua, the chemical dependency treatment and education facility that Clapton founded in 1998.
Raitt contributed to a new album, If You're Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison, which celebrates the late singer and pianist, who famously blended the rough-edged blues of the Mississippi Delta with the 1950s jazz of New York City.
NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Bonnie Raitt about her friendship with the Mose Allison. They're also joined by Amy Allison — his daughter, who executive produced the album — about selecting an unexpected list of artists to contribute songs to the album.
Recorded on tour June 3, 2017 - Centennial Hall, London - Ontario Canada