James Taylor's shows help raise more than $550K

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GREAT BARRINGTON -- Well over half a million dollars for the suffering people of Haiti.

Friday night's sold-out benefit headlined by James Taylor at the 681-seat Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center -- to be repeated tonight, also sold out -- showcased the iconic troubadour in a relief concert to aid Partners in Health, the Boston-based medical outreach group that has 4,000 personnel on the ground treating earthquake victims, along with a dozen surgical teams flown in from leading Northeastern medical centers.

Ticket sales for the two nights raised more than $480,000, including a match of last night's proceeds by James and Kim Taylor. In addition, $78,521 was raised from a seven-state live broadcast originated by WAMC Northeast Public Radio and relayed by public and community stations in Boston, Amherst and Great Barrington.

Following an introduction by WAMC's President and CEO Alan Chartock and a brief appearance by Gov. Deval L. Patrick, Taylor appeared on stage, thanking the audience for its support and confessing that he was in something of a bind -- "have fun tonight, but not too much; that seems appropriate."

Taylor, with long-time backup singers Kate Markowitz and Arnold McCuller, his wife Kim, and Boston Symphony cellist Owen Young, performed a kaleidoscopic selection of 16 favorites from his vast songbook ranging from "The Water is Wide" at the opening to "You Can Close Your Eyes," typically his final encore. Several songs, "Roadrunner," "Traveling Star" and "Shower the People," featured pre-recorded material; Taylor referred the combination of live performance and pre-recorded tracks as "karaoke."

Appearing especially relaxed while regaling the audience with quips and anecdotes tracing his 40-year career, Taylor was vocally robust; the presentation, enhanced by the warm acoustics of the Mahaiwe, showcased him and his collaborators in top form.

More than 20 volunteers organized by Kate Maguire, the artistic director and CEO of the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, staffed the phone bank at WAMC's Albany studios, along with key station personnel.

All the money raised from ticket sales and the broadcast went directly to Partners in Health; the Mahaiwe's production expenses, as well as the performers' and speakers' travel and production costs are being covered by private donations from people associated with the Mahaiwe and the Taylors.

In his opening remarks, Gov. Patrick noted that the Massachusetts Haitian community is among the largest in the United States and cited "extraordinary stories of hope and perseverance" from survivors of the quake. He called for a continued outpouring of donations and support for Haiti -- "make it personal," he declared.

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During a brief mid-concert break, Pulitizer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder of Northampton discussed the work of Partners in Health (PIH), co-founded by Dr. Paul Farmer, a North Adams native. Kidder detailed the extensive rescue and treatment achievements of PIH, which has 12 hospitals in the Haitian countryside undamaged by the earthquake.

Expressing "guarded optimism" about the massive relief efforts, Kidder asserted: "I wouldn't despair for the Haitian people. They are tough and resilient."

The audience included residents of Berkshire County and the surrounding region, but several ticket-holders traveled from North Carolina, Quebec and even Shanghai, China's largest city.

Among the early arrivals were Sarah and Eric Aasheim, of Belchertown, with their daughter Sabrina, 7. "Sabrina is a huge JT fan," her mother explained.

"She has been attending his Tanglewood concerts her whole life. We felt so desperate to help, so the fact that we can see someone we love and also make a difference feels wonderful."

Jane Hudson, a Great Barrington native who now lives in West Hartford, Conn., recalled attending her first Taylor concert at Princeton University in 1969, when as an unknown singer he was hired for a $250 fee to replace an ailing Eric Anderson. "It was the musical equivalent of love at first sight," said Hudson.

Just 18 months later, having issued a hit album after he was signed by Paul McCartney to the Beatles' Apple Records label, Taylor returned as a solo star to a sellout crowd at Princeton. "I've been going to his concerts for 41 years," Hudson added. "I just appreciate his music so much, it has formed the soundtrack of my life."

Above the stage was a multi-hued replica of Haiti's flag, including the national motto: "In togetherness, there is strength."

The same could be said for the Mahaiwe audience and the generous performers on stage.


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