showed a sold out audience why he is a troubadour for a generation and more Friday with an evening of mostly song and some conversation.
With songs like “That’s Why I’m Here,” “Cowboy Lullaby,” “Fire and Rain” and “Carolina in My Mind,” Taylor explained and demonstrated why his music strikes a chord for audiences around the world.
Taylor, 64, idolized the Beatles and in 1968 found himself in London face to face with the music legends. He had just signed a contract with the group’s record label. His career was taking off but some feelings were mixed.
“It was an extremely good year for me,” Taylor said. “George (Harrison) and Paul (McCartney) were there (in the room). I was surrounded by my absolute idols but I was wretchedly homesick.” With that he began to strum his guitar and sang “Carolina in My Mind.”
With that song he showed the crowd his human side. As much as he was thrilled with the direction of his career, he longed for home and family. Though always welcome to the ear, the song will make more sense now each time it is heard.
Jonathan Plotkin of Highland Park has been listening to Taylor’s music most of his life. He continues to find meaning and learn something about himself each time the Taylor music plays.
“James Taylor is the soundtrack of our lives,” Plotkin said. “It is so intimate. He is a magician who can show us the type of person we have been, what we can be and what we have yet to see.”
Some of the time Taylor wrote a song that was personal to him but found a way to touch what is common to all. One was a tune written for his newly born nephew as he returned from the London trip where he worked with the Beatles.
While he was away in London with his mind never far from his home in North Carolina, a new family member came into the world and he was touched the boy was named James.
“I had been overseas for a year when I came to know the next generation of my family came into the world and he was named for me,” Taylor said. “I was driving to North Carolina and somewhere in Virginia this song came through the window.”
With that explanation, he again began to strum his guitar and out came “Cowboy Lullaby.” To some in the audience, the guitar is an important part of the act. “He’s a great picker,” Debbie Wiggens of Aurora said of Taylor’s guitar playing.
Wiggens was part of a group of four who have heard Taylor before. The first time was 30 years ago. Though his looks have changed over the years, his music remains unchanged for Wiggens. “His voice is still the same,” she said.
For others, a Ravinia outing is not just about the music but the entire experience. Rick Heinemann of Highland Park enjoyed the concert but the entire Ravinia package added to a special evening.
“What I love about Ravinia is the entire experience; the culture the music, the food,” Heinemann said. “It is such a pleasant experience.”