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August 24, 2019

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

After all these summers on Martha’s Vineyard, I finally was granted the chance to see Livingston Taylor’s annual end-of-season show at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. Tickets can be hard to find, and in the past I would always be toiling away on whatever weekend night James’s brother happened to choose. But things are different these days. And my odd luck with events concerning the talented Taylor family - documented in the soon-to-be-available “James Taylor Moments” from my newest collection “These Stories Are True” - has grown in an intriguing way.


I was fated to witness last night’s show.


Let me explain…


This season began with me exploring a possible avenue out of the restaurant business. There was a post in the MV Times advertising the need for a daytime attendant for the exclusive Philbin Beach, which happens to run alongside a stretch of my absolute favorite sand, water and clay cliffs in the world. After a quick exploratory phone call, I was surprisingly invited on a mid-May afternoon to the Aquinnah Town Hall, where the first person to greet me was a long-lost friend from my early Vineyard days. I got the job. I’d be starting in mid-June, Tuesdays through Thursdays, from ten to four. The pay would be nominal. But the lure of earning money in such a carefree manner was enticing, and the free time to read books or stare into the horizon absent-mindedly for hours on end struck me as beneficial as well.


Sensing I might at some point regret such a radical loss of income, my potential employer urged me to try to get a job at the famed “Outermost Inn”, run by another Taylor brother named Hugh. I was instructed to ask for Alex Taylor, the daughter (and James’s niece) actively running the show. By letting her know I‘d been chosen to be this year’s Philbin Beach attendant, I was assured there would be a strong chance of being considered.


I had never been to the inn before, and truthfully began wondering if I wasn’t simply driving onto some well-financed stranger’s private gravel road. But I parked the car and walked past an open screen door. Suddenly I found myself in the midst of an energetic kitchen in the throes of pre-season organization. A few eyes stared at me.


“I was told to look for Alex Taylor,” I announced.


The no-nonsense, athletically-slim brunette in the middle of the threesome spoke up.


“I’m Alex Taylor.”

It was a lucky start. She gave me her personal cell phone number and explained how they had enough staff at the moment but might be in need of extra help come mid-June. The exact start-up time for Philbin Beach. I was given a specific range of dates to get back in touch.


I drove away convinced my summer plans had been instantly realized.


Soon, though, friends and family members more capable of seeing the bigger picture than myself persuaded me to abandon what they regarded as a frivolous escapade as a middle-aged beach attendant. And I called Alex a couple of times and left an email or two, but she never got back in touch. Luckily, other employment options elsewhere on the island were magically to come my way.


So how does this relate to being fated to finally see Livingston Taylor in person?


My best explanation is that my “James Taylor Moments” good fortune had been reactivated in the early days of summer. So, of course, another random example was bound to occur.


The concert was scheduled for Friday, August 23rd, and I ruefully noted the shame of not having secured tickets, because this would be the first late-August weekend night I’d be free since my island career began. Our well-known local radio station - “WMVY” - had been advertising a chance to win two tickets a couple of days before the show.

Wouldn’t that be great, I thought…

I was slightly annoyed when the head chef for one of my catering events unexpectedly texted with a request. He wanted to include extra chocolates with the after-desert tea and asked if I could check out a certain location. I sighed and texted back. I’ll try, I wrote. I’d never been to “The Black Sheep” by the airport before.

So I entered my car a good twenty minutes earlier than planned. And the absolute first words I heard upon turning the ignition were from WMVY.


“Be the sixth caller and get those free tickets to see Livingston Taylor!”


I listened for the phone number and dialed right away. I immediately utilized the “redial” option after each busy signal.


I hadn’t won anything over the radio in years. My driving might have become slightly more erratic than usual, but if felt fun to be once again playing what is normally a young person’s game.


And suddenly the phone was ringing on the other end. “You’re the fourth caller,” the woman announced. “Keep trying!”


But what was the likelihood of getting through a second time? Nevertheless, with only one more “redial”, the WMVY phone was soon ringing again.


It took a bit of time till someone answered.


“Congratulations!! You’re the sixth caller! You’ve won those two free tickets!”


Fate! I was meant to see this guy, after all these years…


Last night’s performance was as great as I could have hoped for. Isaac Taylor, Hugh’s (from the Outermost Inn) son - and James’s and Livingston’s nephew - opened with a short set of his own. The main attraction came out for a lovely duet on the James Taylor ballad “The Water is Wide”. He then commanded the stage by himself for the next two hours. It was wonderful.

I found myself wondering if I might ever be in a position to do the same thing. Both musicians alternated between guitar and piano all night, which is how I’d choose to display an assortment of my own songs. Most of Livingston’s numbers are easily absorbed upon first listen, crucial for an artist not in possession of many well-known hits. Many of my best compositions, I feel, have a similar quality. As the show went on, I could imagine myself capable of hitting the same highs.


In fact, one of Livingston’s featured numbers was a song called “Hope”. I’m not sure many of you know this, but I have a song with the same title. It can be found on the first CD displayed on the michaelaba.com song page. I’d love to have Livingston check it out someday. I wonder if he’d share my conclusion. False modesty aside, I prefer my composition.


By the way, the one song I was truly hoping to hear was an under-appreciated gem he’d recorded years before as a duet with his brother James called “City Lights”. It was performed with his nephew Isaac as the last number of the night.


Magical.


Can pure luck explain everything in life? Should simple coincidences be given more meaningful consideration than we normally muster? Is fate something we unlock by being brave enough to go where the wind seems to be leading us?


I’m not sure…


Perhaps Livingston, James and I will have an opportunity to one day get together and compose a song to further explore these thought-provoking themes.

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