With a front-row seat for President Obama's second inauguration before as many as 600,000 spectators on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Monday, Berkshire troubadour James Taylor exchanged a warm hug with the chief executive after performing "America the Beautiful" during the public swearing-in ceremony.
Appearing just before the oath of office by President Obama was administered by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, Taylor strapped on his guitar, rubbed his hands together for warmth and launched into the gently mellow arrangement he has performed in recent years at Tanglewood and on tour.
"It was cold for a guitar player, I was a little nervous, but we made it through," he told The Eagle in a phone interview as the mid-afternoon inaugural parade proceeded. "It was a great relief afterward."
Taylor attributed his pre-performance jitters to "the size of the crowd, the august assemblage and the weight of the moment." He noted that he and his wife, Kim, were seated in the same short row with former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. Nearby were members of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It was amazing, seeing all those faces up close," Taylor said, acknowledging that he was a bit star-struck.
The singer-songwriter voiced hope and optimism that "the sense of celebration, togetherness and union" that suffused the inauguration would continue into Obama's second term.
"It's important to seek consensus and cooperation with those who disagree with us," Taylor said. "I hope Congress can accept that the people have spoken on Election Day.
"We've been thinking about this day and focused on it for a long time," said Taylor, referring to the extensive support he and his wife have offered to Obama by performing frequently at campaign fund-raisers and rallies last year. "It's wonderful to be represented here on such an important day for our country. The inauguration of a president is a remarkable bestowing of power and responsibility."
Taylor also revealed that he spent a week "very seriously considering" whether to seek the Democratic nomination for the seat soon to be vacated by U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is expected to be confirmed as the next secretary of state later this month.
The suggestion was floated by WAMC Northeast Public Radio president and political commentator Alan Chartock in a recent Berkshire Eagle column.
"It was a hugely generous, very gratifying thing that Alan suggested that I might be considered as a candidate," said Taylor. "I did take it seriously for a while and talked to friends about it, but ultimately, I decided that I'm doing what I'm meant to do.
"But there is something to be said for the breath of fresh air to have a citizen serving in the Congress," Taylor added, stressing the need for greater voter participation on election days.
"Our elections should be protected from abuse, we should make it more attractive and accessible for people to do our civic duty," he added. "We need a national holiday on which to vote."
Upon returning to the family homestead in the town of Washington on Tuesday, Taylor said he will embark on his yearlong project of writing songs for a forthcoming album of original material.
The Taylors attended a private White House dinner on Monday evening. Earlier, with their twin 11-year-olds Rufus and Henry, they toured the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.
Before and after his appearance at the midday ceremony in front of the U.S. Capitol, the singer-songwriter was seen in several, high-profile TV interviews.
During an extended conversation with NBC News anchor Brian Williams, he spoke of how this day "means the world to my mom, she's still with us." He recalled that she was on the picket lines during the civil rights movement in Chapel, Hill, N.C., beginning in 1959.
"It is remarkable, from that perspective, to think of this day," said Taylor.
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