I know that, like the hick I am, I’m late to the party on this one, but how beautiful is Santa Barbara? You hear so much in LA about how gorgeous and chill Orange County and San Diego are, but I had yet to hear about our lovely neighbor to the north before Thursday evening when I made the trek to the Santa Barbara Bowl to see James Taylor and his All-Star Band.
I’m probably still biased by afterglow, but a more perfect summer evening may never have been had by anyone, anywhere, ever. You know how I fawn over the Greek Theatre every time I attend an event there? Imagine the Greek, only placed in an even prettier setting (yes, prettier than Griffith Park), nestled within a postcard-perfect California beach town. The Santa Barbara Bowl also has the distinction of employing the only staff I’ve met that’s more friendly and helpful than the Greek’s — it must be something about the beauty of these venues that brings out the best in people. Check out this sweet view from the very top of the amphitheatre at sunset:
What’s that? How was James Taylor? Besides difficult for me to shoot due to my own bumbling incompetence (hence the scarcity of photos — my bad, y’all), he was sublime. After having seen such classic rock greats as The Eagles, Styx, and Chicago crank out near-flawless three-hour sets, I had high expectations for Mr. Taylor, and he didn’t disappoint. With no opening act or preamble of any sort, James and his merry band of talented singers and accompanists performed two hour-and-a-half sets divided by a brief intermission and spanning his entire singing and songwriting career.
It’s not enough to say that his voice has held up well, or even that he sounds the same as he did in the ’70s, like so many in his league do. James Taylor is one of the even rarer few whose voice has improved with age, like Rod Stewart and Elton John. It’s as clear and effortless as his speaking voice and has even more character. His on-stage presence is exactly as you’d imagine it — easygoing and full of gentle humor. He could be a guy sitting next to you at a bar, except that he just happens to be a brilliant songwriter who helped define a generation. Whether your favorite song is “Fire and Rain,” “Mexico,” “Carolina in My Mind,” “You’ve Got A Friend,” or any of his other iconic hits, rest assured that James Taylor played it at the Santa Barbara Bowl.
James Taylor and his All-Star Band continue their summer tour through August before doing a transatlantic stint on the Queen Mary II (ooh la la!) to kick off a European tour that will take them through Spring 2015. Meanwhile, the Santa Barbara Bowl’s season has just begun, and their schedule looks awesome, featuring such acts as Arcade Fire, Foreigner & Styx, Jack Johnson, and Lorde. I highly recommend checking the place out, if only to see this lovely tribute to Jerry Garcia that’s displayed among the promenade: