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Livingston Taylor LIVE! at SOPAC

originally published: 06/26/2024

Livingston Taylor LIVE at SOPAC

A surprise pop-up thunderstorm this Friday, June 14, 2024 evening hasn't dampened the spirits of music lovers making their way to SOPAC in South Orange, NJ for a performance by singer/songwriter Livingston Taylor and his special guest, Lucy Kaplansky.

Inside the SOPAC auditorium, the lights dim, and Livingston Taylor welcomes the crowd declaring, “I love New Jersey!” before noting, “If it was good enough for Albert Einstein, that says a lot!”

He follows up by announcing, “Please welcome a wonderful writer and artist, Ms. Lucy Kaplansky.” Kaplansky takes the stage strumming her guitar performing “The Beauty Way.”

Crooning in her country-tinged alto voice, “My father made a pretty damn good living/Playing music on the beauty way,” Kaplansky connects with the crowd on this gentle folk-rocker.

Segueing into the poignant ballad, “Last Days of Summer,” Kaplansky tells a parent’s tale about a child leaving home. At the conclusion, Kaplansky explains that she wrote the song three years ago when her daughter left for college deadpanning, “She only moved four blocks away.”

Kaplansky’s hybrid style of guitar picking supports her lilting lead vocal on the moving story song, “Ten Year Night,” where she croons, “And later on on your kitchen floor/Two flights above the grocery store/I felt things I never felt before.” She follows up with a cover version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” where her rhythmic guitar accompaniment punctuates her heartfelt vocal.

Concertgoers cheer, and Kaplansky responds, “It’s so wonderful to be back at SOPAC. I love this venue!” prior to joking, “It’s only 35 miles from my apartment — I can be home before midnight!” After revealing that her “kitchen floor song” was about meeting her husband, she announces, “This next song is about my friendship with Shawn Colvin.” On “Old Friends,” Kaplansky sings, “Sharing a history/That’s what old friends do,” on this touching folk song.

Moving over to the piano, Kaplansky recalls, “This was inspired by a subway ride over the Brooklyn Bridge on September 13, 2001.” Launching into “Brooklyn Train,” Kaplansky’s poetry impresses as she sings, “Down below on iron veins/Rolling waves of subway trains/Rails of mercy/Cross the lives of men/Safe in the body of New York again,” on this compelling folk rocker.

After wishing her audience a happy Father’s Day, Kaplansky explains that she wrote her next song about a family trip from Chicago to Toronto to visit her dad’s family in 1971. Strumming her mandolin, she sings “Reunion,” a poignant country song where “40 years on” her father is now gone and she and her siblings share their own second-generation reunion.

Revealing that her next song was written by her math professor father about pi, she explains how he used “3.1415926535897 to create the melody, matching the numbers to pitches.” Kaplansky snaps her fingers as she sings the catchy swing ditty, “The Pi Song,” to large applause.

After Kaplansky announces that she’ll do “one more song,” fans call out requests and she happily agrees to do two. First up is Nancy Griffith’s “I Wish It Would Rain,” where Kaplansky’s country vocal rings out as she accompanies herself on mandolin. Then, switching back to acoustic guitar, Kaplansky performs Richard Shindell’s “The Ballad of Mary Magdalene.”

Kaplansky’s earnest vocal and strong guitar accompaniment elicit cheers and applause on this gentle ballad before she exclaims, “Thank you very much!” and takes a bow and exits.

Following a short intermission, Livingston Taylor enters the stage announcing, “I’m here! I’m just glad you’re here!”

Deftly accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Taylor captivates the audience with his warm easy banter, setting the stage for his first song which is set in Chapel Hill, NC in 1961. Launching into “Louie is Blowing the World Away,” Taylor takes the audience on a journey back in time to when, as a youngster, he was inspired to become a performer after seeing Louis Armstrong perform. With his mellow voice, Taylor expertly bends notes to accentuate the lyric as he weaves his tale, all the while blowing the audience away.

Music lovers cheer, and Taylor follows up with the folksy, “I Belong.” His voice filled with wonder, he croons, “Let’s go fly/I’ve learned how/We’ll stick out our arms/And run real fast,” as he expertly accompanies himself on guitar.

The audience whistles and applauds, and Taylor exclaims, “This is a good sounding room!” After joking, “I haven’t thought of a song to do — oh, wait, it just came back!” he sails into “If I Only Had a Brain.” Reinventing Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s classic from The Wizard of Oz, he announces mid-song, “To all you songwriters out there — I want you to study the good ones and steal like crazy!”

Segueing into his own composition, “I Must Be Doing Something Right,” Taylor has fun as he sings and plays this easy flowing swing tune while adding bluesy flourishes to the melody.

Taylor’s rendition of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Getting to Know You” from The King and I has music lovers tapping their toes as they drink in his bright and breezy vocal that floats gently out over the audience. During an interlude, he talks about how there was a childrens’ chorus in the show and invites the audience to recreate that part which they happily do before breaking out into avid cheers and applause.

A fan yells, “One more time!” and Taylor smiles as he responds, “We’ll find something else — a great song makes the audience’s singing along sound good!”

After talking about how his dad loved to sing “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady, Taylor performs the song, crooning softly as he expertly fingerpicks his guitar. He follows up with Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’ “Pick Yourself Up,” where he gives a master class in musical performance both vocally and theatrically.

He follows up with his rhythmic composition, “There I’ll Be.” Singing, “Love writes the sweetest song/Love heals the deepest wounds/Love will fill the empty rooms,” his voice dances along with his guitar on this appealing country rocker.

After talking about his love for “sunshine pop music,” Taylor performs Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s hit for Bobby Vee, “Take Good Care of My Baby.” Asking, “Do you remember Laura Nyro?” he explains, “You gotta go deep with Laura ‘cause she has a thread of pathos in her songs.” Here, he performs Nyro’s composition for The 5th Dimension, “Sweet Blindness,” where he interprets the song with the feeling of a soulful troubadour.

Acknowledging, “Silence is the canvas on which to paint,” Taylor moves to the piano and reveals, “I had this phrase in my brain — ‘When I Get Too Old to Dream’ — and last week I turned it into this song.” After serenading concertgoers with this beautiful and poignant new number, he follows up with his bluesy swing tune, “Yes,” where he scats and sings with a growl in his voice as he deftly accompanies himself on piano.

Announcing, “Here’s one more sunshine pop song!” he performs Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s hit for Dolly Parton, “Here You Come Again,” where the push and pull of his voice and accompaniment draws the audience into his slow and measured performance.

Switching back to guitar, Taylor talks about the importance of multi-track recording, which, as he explains, “allowed for the singer/songwriter to emerge.” After telling a story about how Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart worked together for 25 years before Rogers started writing songs with Oscar Hammerstein, he launches into the Rogers and Hammerstein classic, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” where Taylor sings the verses and the audience joins him each time the refrain comes around.

Finishing up his set with his own song, “Carolina Day,” Taylor’s rhythmic vocal and precision fingerpicking elicit whistles, cheers, and applause from the crowd.

Taylor invites Lucy Kaplansky back to the stage. Acknowledging that his next number is one that he originally did as a duet with his brother, James, Livingston admits, “He’s not here tonight, but don’t worry — we’ve got a good substitute!” Here, he and Kaplansky perform the folk rocker, “City Lights,” where they trade lines and sing in two-part harmony, their voices blending to enthusiastic cheers and applause.

Kaplansky exclaims, “That was fun!” and Taylor and Kaplansky conclude tonight’s show with a sweet and gentle rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which inspires a standing ovation before the pair takes a well-deserved bow together.

As concertgoers exit the SOPAC auditorium, several share their thoughts on tonight’s performance by Livingson Taylor and Lucy Kaplansky. Exclaims Doreen from Oakland, “I thought this show was great — the voices sounded fantastic, the storytelling was amusing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!”

Claire from River Edge confesses, “I’ve loved Livingston Taylor ever since second grade. The first album I have of his is Liv — it came out in 1972, and I have never stopped listening to it — but I have other albums of his and have seen him in concert before, too, and he’s always wonderful,” prior to concluding, “ He’s just adorable!”

Adam from Montclair remarks, “This was a great show. I really loved Lucy Kaplansky’s performance tonight. I’m a guitarist and her guitar playing was excellent. Plus, you could really hear the ‘country’ in her music, and she has very personal stories which I really enjoyed — her storytelling and lyrics are very personal where each tune tells its own story.”

Shirley from River Edge insists, “I loved Livingston Taylor tonight with all his stories and songs, and I enjoyed Lucy’s stories and songs, as well.” Patty from Union Beach agrees, maintaining, “The show was wonderful! I’ve loved Lucy for years,” recalling, “Tonight, she sang a song about her daughter going to college but I remember seeing Lucy when her daughter was born! Plus, I love Livingston Taylor, too — I love his storytelling, his teaching, and his knowledge; I enjoyed everything about his performance!”

Lastly, Donna from Cranford calls tonight’s Livingston Taylor and Lucy Kaplansky concert, “Excellent!” Recalling, “I’ve seen Lucy before and I love her — her voice is fantastic and her storytelling is engaging,” Donna contends, “Livingston Taylor was great, too — he’s such a fabulous performer.” Her husband, Tom, agrees, noting, “The whole show was great! I’ve been following Lucy for over 20 years and she’s so talented, and I enjoyed all the tunes Livingston Taylor played — plus he gave us such a wonderful music history lesson,” before Donna concludes by asserting, “It was one great night!”