TANGLEWOOD REVIEW: On a medal-grabbing night for James Taylor, the performance was nothing short of gold (2024)

LENOX — When James Taylor plays at Tanglewood, it feels as much like a family reunion as it does a concert.

Besides the picnic tables lined with eager celebrants, the faithful legion who never miss a year and the warm greetings between strangers recalling each other from Independence Days past, the real source of this sense of kinship is what happens on stage.

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Taylor's performances in Lenox provide an atmosphere that's simultaneously mellow and intimate, mesmerizing and accessible. There's an unshakable familiarity to Taylor's work that simply warms the stage. The tracks are smooth and soothing; the play is gripping and fine-tuned.

Taylor's warmth toward the crowd is also self-evident. He regularly bantered back and forth with fans, responding to someone who yelled, “I love you, James!” with “I love you too,” before cheekily adding “but I think we should see other people.” When the crowd began hooting and hollering as he took off his blazer after a performance of “Copperline,” he joked, “Later, I might take off my teeth.” He spent most of the night’s 20-minute intermission signing autographs from the stage.

The singer-songwriter was repeatedly thankful for the opportunity to grace the stage, and for the crowd strong as ever. The end of the month will mark the 50th anniversary of the first time he played here. Since he began playing every Fourth of July in 2001, he’s been as regular a fixture as the Lenox venue itself.

The fact that Tanglewood is Taylor's home was made a little more clear and undeniable on Wednesday night, though the crowd didn’t seem to have many doubts.

But now he's got a medal to prove it.

Shortly after the intermission, Taylor received the Tanglewood Medal from Chad Smith, president and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Barbara Hostetter, chair of the Board of Trustees. It’s an honor that’s only been given out three times before — to the beloved conductor Seiji Ozawa in 2012, to Tanglewood Chorus Festival founder John Oliver in 2015 and to the iconic film score composer and conductor John Williams in 2022.

TANGLEWOOD REVIEW: On a medal-grabbing night for James Taylor, the performance was nothing short of gold (3)

Before giving Taylor the medal, Smith reviewed a few of his accolades: a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Kennedy Center Honor and an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame among them.

“Tonight, we humbly present you with something much more local,” Smith said.

TANGLEWOOD REVIEW: On a medal-grabbing night for James Taylor, the performance was nothing short of gold (4)

But the honor wasn’t lost on Taylor. After Hostetter bestowed him with the award, he embraced her. Standing on stage with his wife Kim and his son Henry beside him, Taylor was effusive about the opportunity to be part of the Tanglewood community and to build a life in the Berkshires with his family.

"It’s my tribe, and I’m really proud of it,” Taylor said. “Thank you so much.”

In a fashion consistent with the rest of the evening’s demeanor, he also cracked jokes about it before tucking it into his shirt and launching into a jubilant rendition of “Mexico.”

“On the back, there’s a line of Porta Potties,” Taylor grinned, playfully describing it for the crowd. “On the front, there’s the shield of the highway authority of Massachusetts.”

As for the show itself, it was nothing short of sublime.

Taylor’s backing band was an embarrassment of riches. One of the night’s most spectacular contributors was Latin percussionist Luis Conte, who provided the backbone to several swinging tracks, including inventive turns on “Sun on the Moon” and “October Road.”

Guitarist Michael Landau was magnificent, too, providing an enchanting pedal steel tone on his guitar for tracks like “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” — saxophonist “Blue Lou" Marini also pealed off a mystifying outburst while cloaked in green smoke. Later on, Landau erupted into a brilliant solo on “Steamroller,” the only song that saw Taylor pick up an electric guitar throughout the night.

Taylor himself was the main draw, of course, and he delivered especially on the night’s softer hits: “Sweet Baby James” and “Fire and Rain” stand out as particularly rich performances, but the truth is, he was spot-on from start to finish.

The set concluded with a triumphant “How Sweet It Is,” during which the crowd sang every word and couples took to the aisles, swaying and embracing in each other’s arms.

After a three-song encore, Taylor took a bow and fared the crowd well — at least until the next family reunion.

“Good night, Tanglewood,” he said. “I’ll see you next time.”

Taylor plays the second of his two Tanglewood performances on Fourth of July night.

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TANGLEWOOD REVIEW: On a medal-grabbing night for James Taylor, the performance was nothing short of gold (2024)

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