Kate Taylor: Tonight!
In the spotlight, Kate Taylor - all bangles and lush fabrics, wispy blonde hair, laser blue eyes, a slender reed of indeterminable age with the same thin-lipped angular face as brothers James, Hugh, and Livingston - is having the time of her life.
Tonight, Thursday, July 23, fans will have the chance to see her doing what she loves in a one-night-only performance at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs. "The sweet spot is when you get to hit the stage," she says, and sounding almost coy, says there will be some "special guests" appearing with her.
But it is she who fashions the experience. Whether in a large hall or small room, Ms. Taylor, a member of a multi-generational clan of gifted musicians, instantly establishes an intimate connection with her audiences - you feel invited, she's glad you came, and she's singing to you.
An up-Island breeze cools the porch of her cottage overlooking Menemsha Pond, where, calm and composed, she talks about performing through the Northeast, places such as Newport, Manhattan, Fall River, Albany. "I love traveling," she says, smiling.
Although she doesn't see herself as a celebrity, Ms. Taylor enjoys meeting the people she entertains. "I love it when people come up to me and say something. It's really gratifying. And fun. I love the process of just the stuff you have to do," she says, noting that the practical necessities - reservations, travel plans, logistics - are shared among her troupe of musicians: Billy Derby, Nicholas Peck, Sam Zucchini, Dave Anderson: "We spread the work among us," she says, "and then it's nice to rehearse, and we become a family."
Not that it's always easy: "Work is not always fun and games," she says. "Sometimes it's just work. I think complaining about the hard stuff just takes too much energy away, energy that you need to get through it."
For Ms. Taylor, the rehearsal process sounds like a creative exercise: "Okay, do I want to hang on to this syllable or that syllable or that vowel? There are things that you can do to craft a song that are much more involved with what you want to accomplish. Rehearsals are a great time to experiment on different things that you might not dare try first on stage. It's definitely part of the energy of the thing."
She wrote or co-wrote all 12 tracks on her new CD, "Fair Time!" - her first since "Beautiful Road" (produced by her late husband, Charlie Witham, and Tony Garnier in 2002). "Fair Time!" she explains, connects to The Vineyard's annual August Ag Fair, but broadens: "The work is winding down, and it's time for some fun, time to celebrate, time to display the year's work."
All the songs, rich, rockabilly, folk with a western twang, are personal statements delivered in Ms. Taylor's warm, bell-clear voice. She smiles. "I find that I enjoy singing songs that are up-tempo and have a groove and rock out," she says. Still, she is so essentially ladylike, even the songs with heavy pulse and punch carry a suggestion of gentility.
"Fair Time!" brings out the Island sensibility. Two of the songs are about friends of Ms. Taylor: "King of the Pond" about the late William Vanderhoop, and "Make It Count," about the late Aquinnah police chief Kenny Belain. She and Arlen Roth wrote "Things I Carry," inspired by an assignment Ms. Taylor had at Nancy Aronie's "Writing from the Heart" workshop. "Red Tail," by Ms. Taylor and Billy Derby - "was written a few months after Charlie died:"
"I've been waiting for your visit
In my dream and it came to be.
Heaven's door would open
And you'd come to visit me."
Ms. Taylor says sometime after she wrote "Red Tail," she was chatting about mundane things with a friend, a medium, who abruptly paused to announce: "Oh, by the way, Charlie really likes that song."
So life is good, busy, and mystical.
It is a time she waited for while her daughters - Aretha, 28, Elizabeth, 33, and step-daughter Aquinnah, 35 - were young and she was focusing on family. "I realized that traveling and performing was out of the picture in the way I had been doing before. But I had another phase of life, and that was being a mom, and raising my family. I was appearing nightly in my kitchen."
And while she admits she can't imagine what the future holds, Ms. Taylor says, "The sky's the limit. I have goals. I like to envision myself singing in beautiful theaters with lots of people who are happy to be there. And I like thinking more and more about performing and about writing. I'd like to be able to reach audiences. I'm so fortunate that I can do what I do, and if it's for five people or five thousand people it's all the same."
Kate Taylor performs tonight, Thursday, July 23, 8:30 pm, at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs. $50 reserved seating; $25 general admission. Tickets available at Alley's, Aboveground Records, Midnight Farm, daRosa's, and at the door katetaylor.com