The Livingston Town Proper Benefit Concert

Singer John Mayer performs during the Livingston Town Proper benefit concert for firefighters of the Pine Creek Fire at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture in Bozeman, Wednesday, Jan. 16.

All his life, John Mayer has been searching for a true connection.

“I’ve made it here and I’ll never leave,” he told the crowd filling the Emerson Center’s theater for the Livingston Town Proper benefit concert Wednesday night. Between cheers, a woman in the back welcomed him home.

Though he recently bought a house in the area, Mayer wasn’t home when the Pine Creek fire ravaged Paradise Valley over the summer. That didn’t stop him from wanting to help the people who have embraced him as one of their own.

“I just want to help out like a neighbor,” he told the Chronicle on Wednesday.

And on Wednesday he was a really, really good neighbor, raising more than $100,000 with the sold-out show for firefighters who battled the Pine Creek fire.

At the time of the fire, Mayer was in Los Angeles, getting treatment for a granuloma in his throat that has kept him from singing since April 2011. He remembered getting a picture message on Aug. 29, 2012, showing flames nearing one of the “little houses” on his Pine Creek property and said he felt guilty working with people over the phone to remove some of his belongings. He said he would have preferred being like a captain going down with his ship.

“It’s my house,” he said. “I want to help save it. I want to be the guy on the front porch with a bucket of water.”

Then, when news came that his house and the Pine Creek Lodge and Cafe had been spared, that people were safe, Mayer allowed himself a little hope. It was the seed that eventually led to the Livingston Town Proper concert, which included performances by Zach Brown and Clay Cook of the Zac Brown Band as well as David Ryan Harris, Sean Hurley and Aaron Sterling. Livingston locals Little Jane and the Pistol Whips and Ben Bullington opened the show.

“It’s been an honor to be a part of this whole thing,” said Tom Garnsey, organizer and owner of Vootie Productions. “It’s cool when a guy like John becomes a part of a community.”

The money will be funneled through the Park County Community Foundation, according to the foundation’s executive director Ted Madden. “We will make sure the funds go where they should go to in the community.”

That will mean replacing equipment lost in the fast-moving fire and building a system so the half dozen area fire departments can work more efficiently as a unit. It will also help with training and recruitment for volunteers.

“The biggest need is for bodies,” Madden said.

Wednesday marked Mayer’s return to the stage, singing for an audience for the first time in almost two years in a special surprise for an unsuspecting audience.

Mayer canceled his tour in support of his latest album, “Born and Raised,” which was released in May 2012, when a second granuloma was discovered. Now, he is almost ready to pick it back up and flesh out its songs in front of an audience.

“The record still holds up for me as something I want to play through for people,” he said. “I love it. It speaks to who I am and there’s still what I want to experience. I’ve still yet to have some of these three minute and 30 second songs open up on stage.”

He started Wednesday with his first live performance of “If I Ever Get Around to Living,” expanding the guitar solos to the delight of the crowd.

As for his throat, Mayer said the granuloma has completely healed. It is a recovery that only takes six to nine weeks. The treatment, however, involved Botox injections that take six to nine months to dissolve.

“It’s like my cast isn’t off, but my bone is healed,” he explained.

The injections have kept his vocal chords from pressing together, affecting his ability to hit high notes.

“It lets up very slowly,” he said. “Every couple of weeks there’s another note.”

For the Bozeman show, Mayer said he was going to take it easy and do a couple songs without a full band.

“If I play along with my guitar, nothing sounds out of place,” he said.

Though he had a lot of time in silence with his thoughts, Mayer said he doesn’t have new material ready to go. Writing songs without a voice is simply “impossible,” he said. Without a voice, he felt as if even his fantasies and dreams of performing had been cut off.

“All of it evaporated for a while,” he said.

Now, after assurances from doctors that the granuloma is in fact gone, replaced only by scar tissue, Mayer said he will do his best to move on, but will never be quite the same.

He is now in the class of singers who protect his voice at all costs, going so far as calling it his “superpower.” Now he will wear scarves and sleep with a humidifier and limit his alcohol intake.

In the past, he said he would have made fun of people who were so careful. After half a dozen let downs over the state of his voice, Mayer is a changed man.

“I never, ever want to be in this position again,” he said.

The experience of losing his voice will probably never make it into a song, Mayer said; it’s not worth writing about. During his recovery, life continued, and Mayer said other experiences during the hiatus are certainly worth writing about. Some of them may even be in his new Montana home.

To close Wednesday’s show, Mayer crowded the stage with Zac Brown and friends as well as Little Jane and the Pistol Whips, for an old time jam-style cover of The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek.”

“We’re going to pretend this is the Pine Creek Cafe,” Mayer said.

Rachel Hergett may be reached at rhergett@dailychronicle.com or 582-2603.

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