There was a sacred energy on stage last Saturday at Nectar’s when John Forté took the stage alongside his good friend Ben Taylor, Ben’s sister, Sally Taylor, and their mother, Carly Simon. It was a little like peering into someone’s living room. There was a banter on stage that you didn’t want to interrupt and yet wanted to be part of, hoping someone would clue you in on the inside jokes and sideways glances.

“I’m up there with my family,” Mr. Forté said in an interview before taking the stage that night. “We fight and we love like any other family, but this is my family. So when I’m up there I don’t feel like an anomaly. I don’t feel like a fish out of water.”

Mr. Forté, 35, considers Ms. Simon his adopted godmother, especially after she fought for his release from a 14-year prison sentence for possession of cocaine. “She’s my champion, my crusader, my mentor, my friend, my spiritual guru. She’s an awesome human being,” he said. He affectionately calls her Mama C.

On Saturday night they sang Neil Young’s Ohio, Mr. Forté’s More Beautiful Now, a song he wrote for Ms. Simon’s birthday while he was in prison, and Mr. Taylor’s Another Run Around the Sun. It marked Ms. Simon’s first performance at the nightclub, formerly named the Hot Tin Roof, since she sold it five years ago.

Mr. Forté was originally a hip-hop artist, producer and singer best known for his work with the Grammy-winning Fugees in the 1990s. After the group broke up, he became involved with a drug ring; a drop-off of what he thought was a suitcase full of money was in fact a suitcase filled with $1.4 million worth of liquid cocaine. He was arrested and jailed; with the help of Ms. Simon and Sen. Orin Hatch from Utah, President Bush commuted the sentence and Mr.Forté was released in 2008 after serving seven years.

Now he is scoring fashion shows and film trailers, writing a memoir and about to release his third album, Water Light Sound. It focuses on his time in prison and his return to free society.

“There’s the realization aspect that some prisons are not physical,” he said. “There are many people whom I’ve encountered since returning, some of them feign indifference and others act as if they could have no clue about what it would be like to be in prison, but they’re in an abusive relationship or they’re in a dead-end job or they are suffering with their health. We all have to go through some sort of prison — some are spiritual, some are mental and some are physical.” He continued:

“I happened to go through a very physical prison and I found my freest self while I was away. It was very personal. It’s mine and no one will ever be able to take that away from me.”

Mr. Forté was classically trained on the violin, which earned him a scholarship to Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He met Ben Taylor through one of Mr. Taylor’s cousins, who was a classmate at Exeter. After high school, Mr. Forté was introduced to artists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Lauryn Hill of the Fugees, and the rest is music history.

But he said his classical training did little to prepare him for the hip-hop world of the 1990s. His first album in 1998, Poly-Sci, was made for everyone but himself, he said, and his second album I, John came out shortly after he went to prison, setting the stage for what he called his “next musical incarnation.”

Prison was where he learned to play the guitar, along with more about himself than he thought possible.

“After going away and learning how to play the guitar and being able to accompany myself, that’s where I am right now,” Mr. Forté said on Saturday night. Later on stage he told the crowd that he found enormous freedom in being able to accompany himself. “The album is acoustically inspired without being an acoustic album. It’s very organic, catalytic, very cathartic, it continues in the spirit of I, John without being I, John part two,” he said. “It is my voice and it is the voice that I discovered a little later in life but it is mine. This is me. If I never have a child this will be it.”

Forte Taylor
Peter Simon

Honesty is Mr. Forté’s hallmark; he speaks openly about his experiences in prison and joked about it with the crowd on Saturday night. “I’m from that era of hip-hop where I would show up. I knew how to play the violin and could sell 20 million records without me knowing how to play a C-major chord. And then I met Ben, and Carly and Sally. And then I went to prison,” he told the audience who erupted into laughter, adding, “Not to say that any of those things relate to one another . . . but everything happens for a reason.”

He said his memoir is not a tell-all, but covers “the ups and the downs and the ups again.” In New York city he works with a City College program for youth whose parents have been incarcerated. While he isn’t currently teaching, because he needs to finish his projects, he said he is eager to return to the work.

“It’s a humbling experience to stand in front of young people who are . . . so tough and cynical, and they were hard because they grew up in an environment where one or both of their parents were away. And here I am standing in front of them, trying to impart any wisdom on them that I could,” he said. “I learned so much from them and I think that’s the most important thing a teacher can do, is learn from his or her students.”

When he’s on the Vineyard visiting Mr. Taylor and Ms. Simon — which he has done frequently this summer — Mr. Forté prefers not to work but simply enjoy the company around him.

“The high points of my career aren’t necessarily professional for me,” he said. “It’s recognizing the greatness in the people who surround me, recognizing the beauty in family and being able to be yourself enough to find your voice. That’s a beautiful high point, one that I didn’t know up until rather recently . . . I’m in a great place, I don’t complain about a thing.”

Not even about Hurricane Earl that forced the show to be moved back one day. Instead he wanted to pass on the blessings he has received through the benefit concert that raised money for the Martha’s Vineyard Helping Homeless Animals program and the Rockhouse Foundation in Jamaica.

“I want to give back as much as I can,” Mr. Forté said.