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James Taylor’s One Man Band DVD concert Pittsfield, MA, July 19, 2007

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What’s in a name? Hints, contradictions, teases… James Taylor’s “One Man Band” Show is but a handy approximation, while Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre is so opulent “Imperial” would be a more-fitting moniker. Now, the two will forever be linked because Taylor rented the Colonial and brought in Sydney Pollack and Don Mischer to produce a DVD around two nights of sold-out concerts July 19 and 20, 2007.

We’ll surmise that Taylor aims with his current tour name to convey the image of a street musician wielding an ungainly musical contraption, such as he could’ve seen during his “magical” year in London while recording his first album for Apple Records there in 1968.

He told the audience at the Colonial how he came to the attention of producer Peter Asher and then became the first artist signed by Paul McCartney and George Harrison to record on the Beatles new record label – and of having plenty of time on the street while the Beatles were involved in “marathon recording sessions” for their White Album.

After opening the show with “Something in The Way She Moves,” Taylor said it was “not the first, but the first presentable” song that he wrote (while a teenager, going steady with neighbor Phoebe Sheldon). “Songwriting is what I do,” was one of the straightest things he said all night.

James Taylor One Man Band at Colonial Theatre, soundboard, Pittsfield, Mass.But this show is evidence of another vocation, monologist. He has a real gift for that as he interspersed a full concert set of 20 songs with a narrative that spanned the half-dozen decades of his life. Some of the narrative has a more serious feel to it, although couched with humor, as when he talks about his father and mother; more is sweet, poignant – like how he came to write “Sweet Baby James.” Then there are the stories of the songs that aren’t family-related, which are out and out stand-up comedy material.

“Line ‘Em Up” for example, a song born of President Nixon’s resignation and the mass Moonie marriage in Madison Square Garden, which he introduces to hilarious effect, the narrative illustrated by a slideshow projected onto a large wood-framed screen.

And this is where his declared vocation is manifest, in the ability to transform public events and characters into songs that not only satisfy his own need for expression but also entertain and stimulate an audience.

James Taylor One Man Band at Colonial Theatre Pittsfield, Mass.Today, of course, the wiley street musician is a cat with an Apple laptop from which can emanate not just the sounds of the busker, but the blues of the Hammond organ, or even the soaring harmonies of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus!

All of which were present in this show: Taylor is accompanied by Larry Goldings on piano, keyboards, and harmonium and, from his laptop computer, Taylor projects onto the screen recordings of sixteen members of the T.F.C. (including his wife Kim) accompanying him on “My Traveling Star” and “Shower the People.”

Then there’s the musical contraption, rolled out from the wings for two numbers tonight, a big, boxy Rube Goldberg-like drum machine. Taylor said that the idea to put together a “stripped-down version” of his show came to him about a year and a half ago, but we had an inkling something like it was coming after his 2002 Tanglewood performance with the Boston Pops, where he debuted songs from “October Road” accompanied by Goldings and guitarist John Pizzarelli.

The boldest number tonight was the rap song Taylor sang through a bullhorn to the irresistible rhythm of the drum machine; sure, it was funny, but it was good and affecting too, and we’d like more. Just as a whole ‘nuther side of James Taylor emerges when he straps on the electric guitar to wail and strut on “Steamroller,” the drum machine (and bullhorn) seem to give access to yet another aspect of this marvelously gifted and generous performer.

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Arlo Guthrie interviewed Nov. 1998 at The Guthrie Center

November 16, 1998 interview by

Arlo Guthrie first came to the Berkshires in the late ’50s to attend the former Indian Hill camp in Strockbridge, where his mother was the dance teacher. His Berkshire roots were further established while he was a student at The Stockbridge School and he became involved with the Berkshire Folk Music Society, then headed by the late Hank Grover, David’s father.

Guthrie recently bought the Kresge Building on North St. in Pittsfield. Besides moving Rising Son Records there, he is looking into the possibility of developing an entertainment center. We visited with Arlo on November 16, 1998 at The Guthrie Center, in the former Episcopal church that his friend Alice Brock used to live in, and where much of Alice’s Restaurant was filmed.

Arlo Guthrie interview with Dave Conlin Read at the Guthrie Center, Nov. 1998.
Arlo Guthrie interview with Dave Conlin Read at the Guthrie Center, Nov. 1998.

“I’ve been trying to get something going in downtown Pittsfield for 25 years. I was interested in the old Palace Theater, or even the Capitol before they turned it into the Senior Center. None of that ever panned out because nobody had a clue as to the value of live entertainment.”

Relating the results of a recent study, commissioned by the city of Pittsfield, that stresses how important providing live entertainment is to the revitalization of downtown, Guthrie continued,

“We want to see if we can be a part of that process. We bought the building and we’re hoping that we can make a go of it. I want to develop a nightclub facility, maybe with a little food, but not a big-time restaurant. What I really know is not the restaurant business, it’s the nightclub/theater business.”

After talking about the various “cultural centers” and “tourist destinations” of Berkshires, Arlo continued,

“I see no reason why Pittsfield can’t become a part of all that, even add something to it and tie together all the different crowds. This is a beautiful part of the world, every part of it. We’ve been let down by the major industries. The only big industry that keeps growing is our cultural industry, so I’m anxious to see if we can all benefit from that.”

The legacy of The Music Inn figures prominently in Guthrie’s motivation to extend his commitment to the Berkshires. His father Woody played the very first show there and Arlo played the last, exactly 25 years to the day later.

“The thing we do in Pittsfield will be the closest that we can get to re-doing the kind of music that we had at The Music Inn. It’ll be a big enough club to bring in some of the same kinds of people – maybe the same people. With the help of the City of Pittsfield, I think we can make that happen. We also want a place for young people to go; we’re thinking of establishing a kind of folklore center there.”

Arlo Guthrie photo proofs

“It’s not something I have to do business-wise; I’ve got enough going on to keep me busy for a long time. However, one of the things I’d like to do is spend less time on the road. I’m on the road ten months a year, and I miss the Berkshires. I love it here and I think that we have an obligation to try and retain the best part of who we are for future generations.”

Where did the name “Arlo” come from?

“When my mom was growing up, there was a series of children’s books, called “Arlo Books”, about a little Swiss kid named ‘Arlo’. They were in all the primary schools on the East coast, and she drew a picture for a class project of this kid. And my mom was one of these packrats who saved everything – every ticket stub of every place she had ever been to. She was incredibly organized.

“While she was pregnant with me, walking down the beach one day with my dad, she suddenly realized that the picture she had drawn of this kid ‘Arlo’, in the fifth or sixth grade, looked exactly like my father. He was wearing the same clothes, the same kind of striped shirt, walking on the same kind of beach. And so she went back and found this old picture, and sure enough, she had drawn my dad.

“So they decided that that was an auspicious sign, and that they were going to name me after the kid. But they didn’t know if I would go for a name as awkward as that, so they gave me the middle name ‘Davy’. So I was named after Davy Crockett. She figured he was a popular figure, sort of a rugged, mountain guy, and if I didn’t like the name ‘Arlo’ – which, she wasn’t sure what that was gonna do to me – that I could always call myself ‘Davy’. So I was named ‘Arlo Davy Guthrie.’

Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge

“I had been going to the Dream Away for years, I knew Mama Frasca real well – she was a terriffic, wonderful, crazy, wild woman. I really loved her and used to bring the kids up to her place every weekend. I actually did some recording with her at the old Shaggy Dog studio in Stockbridge. We did a great record there – all these great songs with this old gal. She made a single, and one song was called something like, “God and Mama”.

“So after we did the Rolling Thunder Revue in Springfield (November 6, 1975), I tought it would be fun to take everybody up there. We came up with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Bobby Neuwirth and Ramblin Jack Elliott. They just loved it there; we were fooling around with Mama Frasca, and it became a part of the film, “Renaldo And Clara”. (For details of the party: Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue party at Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge