Coming home

Livingston Taylor and a life well-lived.

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Livingston Taylor keeps up the tradition, playing at the Old Whaling Church July 1. — Courtesy Ralph Jaccodine Managem

Livingston Taylor will take the stage at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown for what has become a decade-long musical tradition on Friday, August 23, at 7 pm. The annual event always draws a crowd, and this year’s performance is sure to be a hot ticket. The blend of summer breezes and the venue’s open windows as the sun goes down sets the table for a night of musical adventure that feels like a familiar conversation with an old friend. The night will open with a performance by Isaac Taylor, whose debut album,Peace in the Valley, was released last year. 

The elder Taylor looks forward to his return to the Old Whaling Church and the Martha’s Vineyard community. “It’s a joy to bask in that familiarity as so often I go and play in places unknown and have to figure it all out on the fly as it were,” Taylor tells The Times, “So it’s just spectacular for me to come back to the Whaling Church and to be held in that familiar embrace.” Taylor’s yearly performance has become a staple of the summer for many Islanders and seasonal residents alike, and his blend of original music and storytelling never disappoints or ceases to entertain and delight.

Taylor is currently in the midst of a nationwide tour and the release of his latest recorded project, The Best of LIVe – 50 Years of Livingston Taylor Live and the accompanying box set LIVe – Livingston Taylor Live. The projects feature previously unreleased recordings of classic live performances from 1969-2016. When asked about the process of curating the collection from an archive of recordings spanning a 50-year career, Taylor tells The Times, “It brought back huge memories of my time making music. It was very gratifying to do.” Both records are available for purchase on the artist’s website. 

Alongside the album releases, PBS recently debuted and began broadcasting Livingston Taylor – Songs & Stories, a live performance special taped at Pennsylvania’s historic Sellersville Theater. Taylor, who is a full professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, is joined by former students Chelsea Berry and Matt Cusson. When asked about his consistent record of lending a platform to emerging artists, he says, “Your life is about service and about making others shine as the result of your skillset — that’s the great life.” Taylor continues, “Their shining only casts light on me. It is really nice to glow in the light of others, it’s a very pleasant way to live.”

In keeping with the theme of the good life, Taylor is the subject of a 2018 documentary, “Livingston Taylor: Life is Good,” directed by Tracey Anarella. When the filmmaker and her partner, Peter Fish, approached him with the initial concept of making a straight biographical documentary, Taylor had another idea. “They wanted to do a documentary on me, and I said ‘Do not do a documentary on me, as a life well-lived is boring,’” Taylor says, “‘Do a documentary on my class and my students, that will be fun—and it is fun. It’s really about what I teach, and that really is interesting. All due respect to the wonderfulness of me, I’m fine, but as I say to my students, ‘If you live the life that people find interesting, you are going to be really unhappy.’” The film’s trailer underscores Taylor’s point about a life well-lived suggesting that life of an artist doesn’t have to follow the archetypal path of darkness and dysfunction. The film, which is now available for streaming online, received the Van Gogh Award for the Feature Documentary category at the Amsterdam International Film Festival.

Taylor has certainly lived an extraordinary life, and his curiosities and skillset reach far beyond his art. When asked about his latest interest, Taylor tells The Times, “I’ve been really fascinated in the last couple of years with the reality of global warming and nuclear proliferation really being at the heart of many of our concerns,” he continues, “I don’t think you can address these very real problems without doing research, otherwise you’re just spouting the platitudes of somebody else’s agenda.” Taylor’s insatiable thirst for knowledge and joyful spirit are palpable. His desire to understand the world extends far beyond his instrument and performance into some of the most challenging questions of our day. “I am curious on many levels about many things,” Taylor says, “and the music is the glue that allows me to go on adventurous thought and find my way home.”

Livingston Taylor performs at the Old Whaling Church, Edgartown, on Friday, August 23, at 8 pm. Isaac Taylor will open the night. Tickets range in price from $50 to $65 and are available through Ticketmaster.