Acknowledging Raitt’s absence, at one point of the show the 70 year-old Taylor turned away from the audience asking those in the crowd standing behind him to record their “Get well soon Bonnie” message. With a very calm reassurance, Taylor said in very soft voice that he would send the message to Bonnie somehow, as he thanked the audience for their participation.
Upon the conclusion of a flute- laden ‘First of May’, Taylor commented on the song stating, “It’s a peppy little number, unlike this next one… we went to Montana to borrow a friend’s cabin to see if any songs were available, and this song was available. Montana.”
Taylor was full of dry humor like this throughout the night. Someone yelled out in the distance, “We love you James Taylor,” to which he dryly responded, “thank you… unknown audient.”
In this very relaxed setting, the crowd would laugh. By far this was one of the most laid back performances I’ve ever attended, let alone one that was held inside the 20,000 seat capacity Amway Center. But despite the immense size of the room (and the audience therein), I felt strangely close to James Taylor. Perhaps it was his blatant honesty (for instance about the song ‘Handy Man’ he commented, “Trying to remember what this one’s about – I think it was about a male prostitute), or maybe it was disarming humility (leading into the intermission he said, “After this (song), we’ll take a short intermission. Don’t know why we do that, but we’re by the book. Safety is not an accident. But, I just stand to the side and look at my watch for 20 minutes), but one couldn’t help but stand in disbelief how personable this music legend was in person.
Just as nonchalantly as he began his performance when he just walked out onto the stage at the beginning of the concert, he concluded the first set and casually just strolled to the side of the stage, sat down, and began signing autographs. The confused crowd didn’t know what to do – can we just approach him? Do we need special tickets? What kind of You’ve Got A Friend sorcery is this??. Someone asked the sitting James if they could take a selfie, another just took a photo of him, then all this James Taylor memorabilia was slowly being walked down the aisles with onlookers still approaching with shy enthusiasm. Taylor just sat there and continued with the selfies and autograph signing for more than 30 minutes while accommodating security guards tried their best to facilitate the flow of people.
Welcome to, and inside of, James Taylor’s world. As ‘Sunny Skies’ played, a video of this adorable pug was shown in the backstage. As soon as the song concluded, the pug was brought out onto the stage by James’ wife, Kim.
Probably one of the more endearing moments occurred as he introduced ‘Sweet Baby James’. For this one he commented, “This song was a lullaby. Written for the first child of our generation. I was abroad for a year… I was overseas… while away my brother had a kid. We were amazed… I called to congratulate him and asked if he had a name. He said we were thinking of naming him after you: baby James. As stoned as I was, I was touched. I wanted to present him with a song. Seems like the right song for a little cowboy… go to sleep little buckaroo!
This had to be one of the easiest concerts I’ve ever photographed from the soundboard position. Typically, in that spot, the moment anyone stands up in the audience, the image tends to get ruined. I think Taylor was on stage for maybe 30 seconds before the crowd sat down. As the concert progressed, I slowly began to understand the calmness: these people didn’t come to dance or seek out wild background dancers. They came for a good time… to just simply enjoy themselves. The music was not sophisticated by any means (he did have several accompanying musicians), but the lyrics and the content of each song wasn’t drowned out or carried by some driving bass beat or sampled rhythm. To the credit of ‘(You’ve Got a) Friend’, it was a beautiful night at the Amway Center as time stood still while we all drifted back into our memories of simpler, happier, times.