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Livingston Taylor is flying high into New Bedford
Monday, October 5, 2020
By Steven Froias
NEW BEDFORD — It’s tempting to jump right to the L-word when writing about Livingston Taylor.
After all, he has been a fixture on the American music scene for over half a century. Indeed, in 2019 he released the collection “LIVe - 50 Years of Livingston Taylor,” a boxed set which underscored his role in defining folk music in this country and for the world.
Yet, legend tends to imply a musician and performer who is more content with their legacy than tomorrow. And that is simply not the Livingston Taylor who will be flying his own plane into New Bedford on Friday, Oct. 16 to perform a concert as part of the Zeiterion Drive-in series.
“It’s a 1964 Cessna 205,” he says of the plane, which he’ll be piloting from his home on Martha’s Vineyard for a visit to a city he calls one of his favorite places - and where he is a fan favorite at the annual New Bedford Folk Festival.
“It’s full of life and character,” he says. “We were just over there the other day,” referring to himself and his wife, Gail, during a telephone interview. “We love all the shops.”
While the pandemic has upended a traditional tour schedule, and this year’s Folk Festival had to be cancelled, Taylor has obviously been getting out and about. He is eager to seize any opportunity to perform before a live audience, which the outdoor drive-in format the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center has created in the Whale’s Tooth parking lot allows him and other performers to do while its theater is closed.
“Wherever I get a chance to play, I go,” he explains, “because I love being before an audience. I feel better on stage today than I’ve ever felt.”
Audiences love him back. Part of his iconic stature is due to the intimate space he creates during his concert appearances, which many regard as cherished moments. An evening with Livingston Taylor is about the music, naturally, but also a chance to become part of the larger narrative the gifted entertainer weaves on stage. His talent for story-telling is renowned.
“It’s about creating the space for an audience to enter,” he maintains, “and do in it whatever they need to do.”
He specially feels the necessity of creating this space while Covid-19 is still with us. He wants to let his audiences know that he understands this is a profound and difficult time. More than a concert, he promises, “I will find you, hold you, and hug you so tightly that you won’t worry.”
That capacity for adaptation and change may be what makes Taylor a legend most - his constant thirst for exploration whether it’s in the sky, through music, with the written word, or by teaching.
He’s been a teacher for over 30 years at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He’ll take this semester off, because he doesn’t feel remote learning could capture what he wants and needs to convey to his students.
To fill the gap, he’s launched a weekly online concert series on YouTube and Facebook. It is carefully timed at 4:00 p.m. every Tuesday afternoon in order to allow both West Coast and European fans to watch. He’s also looking forward to holding a second Livingston Taylor Masters Class Retreat for songwriting, singing, and speaking on stage in 2021 when circumstances allow.
In the meantime, he’ll pursue any opportunity to perform - and also continue his own personal pursuit of words and music. He plays music every day, and maintains that only now does he feel he’s attained the maturity and skills necessary to interpret certain songs from the Great American Songbook, some of which have populated his recent albums.
“As a career matures, you start to go after that great writing and creativity that has been distilled over the last hundred years,” he believes. Songs with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II are on his mind; they took a lifetime to write - and a lifetime of attained skills to perform.
Of his own contribution to the Great American Songbook and legacy to folk music, he only concedes that he’s written “four or five” exceptional songs - though his fans would certainly argue that point.
Whether or not he’ll perform any of those tunes during his concert in New Bedford on October 16th is a mystery. Every performance is different and he takes his cue from the audience.
“I’ll look at the crowd and start a conversation,” he sums up. “It’s the space they need to feel free to laugh or cry.”
And become part of the legend that is Livingston Taylor themselves.
Livingston Taylor performs at the Zeiterion Dive-in on Friday, October 16 at 7:00 p.m. The concert will take place at the Seastreak Ferry “Whale’s Tooth” Parking Lot, 532 Acushnet Ave, New Bedford. Tickets must be purchased in advance online at zeiteron.org. There will not be a box office on site. You can either print your ticket or display it on a phone for entry. Each ticket admits one car, regardless of the number of occupants. The cost for this concert is $50 per vehicle.