Five-time Grammy winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee James Taylor, accompanied by his wife Kim and a sweet-sounding ensemble, entertained hundreds of invited Newtown families, 12/14 survivors, and emergency responders during a private one-hour set May 26 at the Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel.
Downsized from his normal touring group, the combination of Boston Symphony Orchestra cellist Owen Young, Larry Goldings on piano, Andrea Zonn on fiddle and vocals, along with vocalists Kate Markowitz and Arnold McCuller provided a perfect balance to the 13-song set.
Mr Taylor opened with an appropriately spiritual number, “The Water Is Wide,” from his 1991 album New Moon Shine, before taking a few minutes to chat about his humble beginnings. The soft-spoken New Englander reminded the audience that he got his start after being discovered by the Beatles and auditioning “in a small room in front of George Harrison and Paul McCartney.”
He also made reference to the fact that after his tryout, during which he played one of his most well-established early hits, Mr Harrison went home and “wrote it himself.” The tune was “Something In The Way She Moves,” although Mr Harrison’s version is quite a departure from the acoustic melody Mr Taylor penned.
Mr Taylor then turned the tables, paying tribute to Mr Harrison with a uniquely recast take of “Here Comes the Sun,” and followed up with a huge hit written during a bout of homesickness while recording at Apple Studios in London, “Carolina In My Mind.”
Putting down his guitar for a few moments, Mr Taylor spoke to the audience, obviously emotional.
“It was a relief to be asked here to come and play to you, because we’ve pretty much been thinking about you constantly,” Mr Taylor said, referring to Newtowner Jennifer Rogers who first solicited Mr Taylor to consider coming.
“I’m glad she did. I don’t know what to say, really. There’s no way anyone can possibly address your loss or put it into words,” he said. “We’re honored to be here with you — we’d been thinking of you all the time. I know the country is and the world is.”
He then launched into a song he said was still a mystery, the title track of his album Never Die Young. He also wove references about Newtown into Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” and main set closer, “Shower the People.”
Mr Taylor departed from his ballads for a few minutes, bringing up some taped backing tracks and firing up some a bluesy harmonica on Junior Walker’s rousing “Roadrunner.”
As the show drew to a close, he kept the audience applauding warmly with what may have been the best arrangement of the show, “Sweet Baby James,” featuring dissonant but beautiful work from Mr Young and Ms Zonn.
And for his encore, Mr Taylor invited his wife up from the audience, surrounded himself with harmony and sent the appreciative audience home to his 1971 tune, “You Can Close Your Eyes.”
Ms Rogers, who spoke to The Bee following the show, gave kudos to a quick responding crew from Connecticut Light & Power and sound engineer Keith Book, after a falling tree not only severed electrical power to the concert venue, but created a surge that “fried several pieces of sound equipment.”
“It was almost like some evil force had attacked and was thwarted,” Ms Rogers said.
Another enthusiastic volunteer, Sandy Hook resident Gina Wolfman, said after seeing James Taylor in concert dozens of times going back to the mid-1970s, the show he played for Newtown was the most unique and special she had ever witnessed.
“And it was so much more special because James and Kim made time to talk with everyone participating in the meet and greet,” she said. “It was incredible to see how everyone’s faces just lit up when they got a few minutes to talk with them at the reception.”