Gather round, kiddies, and listen to a little story of success: Years and years ago, a concert benefiting Amnesty International was held at the L.A. Coliseum. Sting played with a full, fine, jazz-influenced group. Peter Gabriel turned in a set highlighted by a number of astounding special effects. And Bruce Springsteen played with the E Street Band for one of the last times before their current reunion. But before all that, in the afternoon, a young woman named Tracy Chapman took the stage. Armed with only an acoustic guitar, her voice and her heavy, heavy songs, Chapman killed a crowd of more than 80,000 people.
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Father Time has not always been kind to Chapman, though she did score a sizable hit in 1996 with the sensuous blues tune "Give Me One Reason," and she has been critically lauded for yet another satisfying album, this year's Telling Stories. These days, instead of playing to stadia full of people, Chapman performs to smaller though no less intensely enraptured groups. The moral: It's not the size of the audience, it's the emotion of the artist.