James Taylor at Tanglewood: a 4th of July tradition that's not to be missed


James Taylor performing in front of audience at Tanglewood
Photograph by Hilary Scott

On the off chance you haven't heard of him, James Taylor is a musical icon. A well deserved Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Taylor has sold an astonishing number of records (more than 100 million!). His songs lulled us and our children to sleep and became the sound track for some of the best times in our lives, including unforgettable 4th of Julys.


Photograph by Hilary Scott

For almost 30 years, James Taylor has graced the stage at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA presenting the Berkshires crowds with soulful lyrics and unforgettable melodies. Taylor feels like an old friend so it comes as no surprise that thousands choose to celebrate the 4th of July in his company (and the company of likeminded patrons!) at this summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.


To make the tradition more meaningful, Taylor himself is a Berkshire native, and those with a keen ear may can hear him reference his gorgeous Massachusetts hometown in hits like "Sweet Baby James",


Now the first of December was covered with snow

So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston

The Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting

With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go


One can take in Taylor's musical genius from within the covered pavilion, affectionately referred to as "the Shed", or out on the sprawling 10 acres of lawn. While there are no installed seats and the stages is hardly visible, the lawn is a favorite spot as it becomes a glorified picnic with parties setting up often elaborate arrangements of blankets, chairs, lanterns, and makeshift coffee tables adorned with free flowing wine and impossibly elegant finger food. Although the stage is difficult if not impossible to see amidst the mass of picnickers, Taylor's performance is projected on a massive screens in front of and aside the Shed so there isn't a bad seat to be had.


The crowd and the band interact with a magical familiarity. Taylor performs with ease and comfort, creating the illusion that the 15,000 fans are sitting in his yard while he casually serenades them with his warm voice and humble guitar. Cheers erupt every year when Taylor sings Stockbridge to Boston in "Sweet Baby James", the crowd exuding a pride of place and a shared love of home. The music is indescribably beautiful, the crowd joyful, and Taylor confidently genius. If you are looking for a night to remember free of Independence Day cliches, look to Tanglewood.


Alex MacLean, Overviews created with Apple Maps, satellite imagery courtesy of Digital Globe