When I hear a James Taylor song, perhaps a tune like “Something In The Way She Moves” or “Country Road,” I get the notion that Taylor must be a pretty laid back and pleasant fellow. I grew up listening to Taylor’s music thanks to my father being a fan. One of my favorite Taylor compositions, “Sweet Baby James,” was on an album by the same name that was released the year I was born. Anyone who grew up listening to folk or light rock music probably has a copy of Taylor’s Greatest Hits CD, with its plain white cover listing the songs contained within. I’m pretty sure they issued you a copy back when I was in college—or at least it seemed like it, given the frequency in which it appeared in various dorm-room CD collections. I totally see Taylor kicked back around a fire pit in his backyard, trading stories with friends and perhaps pulling out his guitar to test out a new song on those assembled. It almost felt like that last Friday night at the North Charleston Coliseum, except that instead of a fire pit, there was an expansive stage with synchronized lights and LED video displays, and the assembled included several thousand of his biggest Charleston fans. Although he was born in Massachusetts, Taylor grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which is close enough to Charleston to practically make him a native son.
It wasn’t just the excellent performance turned in by Taylor and his band that helped to perpetuate the nice-guy demeanor most associated with the songwriter. There was a moment during the show, or rather during a break in the show, that truly showed how nice a guy Taylor is. I’ll get to that shortly. There was no opening act Friday night. Shortly after 8:00 p.m., Taylor and his band strolled onto the stage to a cheer from the crowd. Seated on a stool center stage, Taylor picked the first few notes of “Something In The Way She Moves,” which gained an appreciative round of applause. From there, the artist skipped around his catalog, which spans five decades. “Lo and Behold” from 1970’s Sweet Baby James was followed by “Copperline” from 1991’s New Moon Shine. “Country Road” was sandwiched between covers by Buddy Holly (“Everyday”) and Carole King (“You’ve Got a Friend”). Before performing the title track to Sweet Baby James, Taylor talked about the origin of the song, written for the newborn child of a family member. Taylor talked about traveling to see the baby after learning that it had been named after him and how he composed the song on the way as a gift. Before playing another well-received hit, “Shower the People,” Taylor announced that he and the band would be taking a 20-minute break. “I really don’t know why,” lamented Taylor, “because I just stand behind that curtain (mimes looking at a watch) the whole time.” After finishing that song, the band exited the stage, but Taylor lingered to shake some hands and sign a few autographs for some folks in the front row. As the crowd began to grow, Taylor took a seat at the edge of the stage, apparently content to meet and greet his fans. To make a long story short, Taylor spent the entire break seated at the edge of the stage, talking and signing and posing for photos. The band came back on the stage and started playing the first song in the second set, yet Taylor stayed seated, trying to make sure each hand was shaken, each autograph signed. Five minutes into the song, with the band playing the introduction in a loop, Taylor was still at it. Finally, one of his crew stepped over and apparently reminded Taylor that he had a concert to finish. After signing a few more autographs, Taylor finally broke away from the crowd and kicked into “Stretch of the Highway.” That was followed by a few more lesser-known songs, such as “Raised Up Family” and “Handy Man,” the latter of which included some curious videos of muscular men dressed as firemen and construction workers projected on the screen behind Taylor. A rollicking version of “Steamroller” followed, which found Taylor strapping on an electric guitar and transforming from folk legend to blues man. After more crowd favorites, such as “Fire and Rain,” “Mexico,” and “Your Smiling Face,” Taylor bid the crowd good night. I don’t think a soul even considered leaving at that point, mainly because Taylor had yet to sing the one song anyone from the Carolinas was waiting to hear. Sure enough, Taylor and the band returned to perform...“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” A woman behind me could be heard telling her date, “How can he not sing 'Carolina?' " Her question was soon answered, as Taylor ended the encore with “Carolina In My Mind.”
Taylor’s band was top notch and even included a former member of the Blues Brothers Band, “Blue” Lou Marini, on saxophone and penny whistle. The show was about as close as performances come to perfection, and seeing Taylor basically give up his break to mingle with fans was icing on the cake. The guy really is a class act.