A few weeks ago, on the day of his concert at the Old Whaling Church with Ben Taylor and friends, Julian (just Julian) stopped by St. Andrew’s Church located around the corner from the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. Julian had always liked the look of the church, “something out of Robin Hood,” and wanted to say a small prayer before the show.
As is his custom, the prayer was not for him or the show itself. Rather, it was for the audience members, specifically while they waited in line to get into the show. The sky was quite gray that day and Julian was worried about it raining and everyone getting soaked.
Julian entered what seemed to be an empty church and said a prayer for the sun to come out. He also looked up at the beautiful stained glass windows and, overcome with emotion, exclaimed, “God, you are so cool.”
Susan Kelly, one of the parishioners of church, stepped out from behind a curtain. “Are you here for the prayer meeting?” she asked.
“Well, I guess I must be because I just said one,” Julian answered with a laugh.
After explaining what he was doing at the church, Julian opened up his guitar case and played a solo concert of Here Comes the Sun for Ms. Kelly. Almost immediately, the church booked Julian to come back to the Island and play a show at St. Andrew’s. That show takes place this Sunday at 7 p.m.
When Father Chip Seadale was booking the show, the conversation eventually turned to money. Father Chip asked how much it would cost. Julian replied, “Nothing.”
The concert is to raise awareness, not funds. There will be special guests playing at the concert, but perhaps the most special guest will be a guitar. For two years now Julian has been carrying this guitar around acquiring signatures of the famous, and even some not so famous, people he comes across while on tour. Eventually, the guitar will be given to an organization called Best Buddies, which was founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver to help those with intellectual and developmental disabilities by fostering one-to-one friendships, leadership development and employment opportunities. Best Buddies will hold an auction for the guitar to raise money for their programs.
Julian began this altruistic signature-gathering by chance. In 2004 he was invited to perform with the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary at a fundraiser for Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Whoopi Goldberg hosted the event, which included Crosby, Stills and Nash, Carly Simon and President Bill Clinton.
Sharing one dressing room were Carly, Whoopi, Peter, Paul, Mary, and Julian.
“All of us were in the dressing room, and there’s only one chair,” said Julian. “Now who gets the chair? It’s a nice chair, it’s like a La-Z-Boy chair, but there is only one.
“So Peter, being a diplomat, takes my guitar and he puts it across the arm of the chair, opens the case, and says, ‘You got your pen?’ And he signs it and he hands the pen to Paul, Paul signs it and he hands the pen to Mary, Mary signs it and she hands the pen to Carly, Carly signs it and she hands the pen to Whoopi, and then one-by-one I brought in David Crosby, I brought in Graham Nash, then I brought in Stephen Stills I brought in the President of the United States [Bill Clinton]. Before the end of the night, everybody signed this guitar. It had like 50 signatures on it.”
Julian took the signed guitar to Sotheby’s, whose experts appraised it at $50,000 to $100,000. He now uses it to raise awareness for the Eternity Foundation, which he helped found and which has several goals, he said. One is to produce signed guitars for charity causes (a previous guitar has benefitted the North Shore Music Theater’s education and outreach program). Another is to produce an evening where people all around the world stand on their rooftops and sing a chant of love at the same time.
Other celebrities who have autographed Julian’s guitars include Donovan, Willie Nelson, Judy Collins, Jethro Tull, Richie Havens, James Taylor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Tony Orlando, Taj Mahal, Ted Kennedy Jr., B.B. King and Jerry Lee Lewis.
For about 25 years, before Mary Travers died in 2009, Julian traveled around the country with Peter, Paul and Mary, playing with them and learning all he could. He proudly calls himself a student of Noel Paul Stookey, who over the years taught Julian musical structure and how to write songs, he said.
He calls the Taylor family another great influence in his life. His connection to the Taylors, like his guitar project, was serendipitous. It began in the early 1980’s when a younger Julian, just jilted by a girlfriend, was making his first trip to Martha’s Vineyard in hopes of hearing his musical inspiration, James Taylor, play music.
On the ferry he met a priest with a guitar, talking about faith. Faith, the priest said, was like the period of time after a child has asked for a shiny new bike from Santa Claus and totally believes that he is going to get it. With God’s response to prayers, it may take a long time or come in unexpected ways, but, the priest told him, your job is to keep the faith.
“And I heard that and I said, ‘Wow that’s pretty heavy, okay,’” said Julian. “I went to the side of the boat, the Steamship Authority boat, and the sun was setting and I had that broken heart and I said, ‘Okay, God, you know the desire of my heart. I’ve never been to this Island, I don’t have a car, I don’t know where I’m going but I would love to meet the Taylors because I love their sound. And if you allow me to meet them and do music with them I will forever tell this story.’”
After disembarking, Julian started hitchhiking. Within three minutes a truck pulled over. It was Paul Adler, a friend of the Taylors and the promoter for a show that Sunday. Julian got in the truck with his Martin guitar and Mr. Adler asked Julian who he was playing for.
“And I looked at him in the face, because I said the prayer, and I said ‘the Taylors.’”
“And he goes, ‘No way, dude! I’m headed to that party right now,’” said Julian.
And that’s how he ended up meeting the Taylors, playing music with them, and becoming friends with the whole family. The next day he was introduced to James Taylor as “a wonderful guitar player,” and his heart melted, he said. That evening James played on Julian’s guitar for a party of people who had come over to the beach house, and Julian sang with him.
“I was so blown away that I had to walk to the end of the beach and sit by myself on a rock, where I wrote a song called Style and Grace and then realized that God had answered my prayer,” said Julian. “That blew my mind, I get chills telling you. And I’ve told this story ever since because it just lifts up what faith is and it shows how sweet the Taylor family was to accept this perfect stranger, brought by a friend, but still they didn’t know me. And all they loved was singing the songs.”
Julian has been playing at the Old Whaling Church each summer with various members of the Taylor family for the past 12 years. This Sunday night is his first solo show here. Odds are it won’t be a solo show, though. Julian’s energy is infectious, both his guitar playing and his huge heart. Count on some best buddies joining him on stage.
Julian and friends perform on Sunday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Church, 34 North Summer street, Edgartown. The event is billed as a Love Offering, meaning there is no charge for the show, but audience members can contribute if they are able. The church capacity is one hundred.