Gordon Lightfoot’s much anticipated 2005 Massey Hall Spring Concert Series in Toronto, Ontario, Canada started on Wed. May 18th, and ran for four successful evenings of music and mirth. This annual event is hosted by Toronto’s ‘Old Lady of Yonge St.’ -- the much revered Massey Hall. Canada’s singer/songwriter/folk music hero, Gordon Lightfoot, is as much respected and appreciated, as ‘the old Hall’ is herself! Lightfoot’s songs capture the spirit of Canada and its identity in a way that’s only comparable in a non-music way, with the writings and pictorial essays of the late, great Pierre Berton and Victorian master artist Cornelius Krieghoff. The pictures Lightfoot paints with his lyrics and melodies are as much a part of Canada as the Canadian Shield itself!
It was this writer's pleasure to attend Lightfoot’s Friday evening concert, May 20, 2005 at Massey Hall in Toronto. There was a feeling in the air of a very special night out, and an equally special concert about to happen. There was an ‘electric spark’ in the atmosphere that was unmistakable!
The crowd appeared overjoyed to be here -- even before the charismatic Gordon Lightfoot and his amazing band set foot onstage. While the house lights were on prior to the beginning of the show, fans were seen mingling with each other, and looking up and down and all around the balconies and orchestra area, enjoying seeing all the other happy Lightfoot fans lucky to be here.
I ran into an old friend (for the past 30 years) this night -- Sandy Bozzo who’s been Gordon Lightfoot’s hairstylist since 1961. Bozzo and his wife were excited to be at this concert, as they’ve been countless times before -- since Lightfoot’s earliest performances in the 1960s in Toronto’s Yorkville coffeehouses; and the 2nd Annual Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario, where Lightfoot made his first Mariposa appearance in 1962.
Renowned concert promoter and booking agent Bernie Fiedler was seen in the Massey Hall audience, happily greeting old friends and Lightfoot fans. This is something Fiedler’s been doing since the early days of Lightfoot’s career, when some of these same fans attended Lightfoot's first appearances at Fieldler’s iconic 1960s folk club, The Riverboat the Mecca of Toronto’s ‘60s Yorkville folk scene. Also present this night was Lightfoot’s longtime business manager Barry Harvey. He was busy making sure the show ran smoothly without a hitch which it certainly did!
The atmosphere at Massey Hall this Friday night was very laid back and relaxed. The delight of the audience was apparent before, during and after Lightfoot’s extremely enjoyable two-hour performance. This show was divided into two 60-minute parts, with a refreshing 15-minute intermission in between. Lightfoot remained standing playing guitar and singing throughout each of his one-hour sets. This might not seem an incredible feat, except for the fact we almost lost him to a near-fatal aneurism that sent him to the hospital and put him in a six-week-long coma in Sept. 2002. Since that time, Lightfoot hasn’t performed another full-length concert until now. Many of his fans held onto their tickets from the show cancelled in 2002 and had these tickets honored for seats in this May 2005 four-concert/four-night Lightfoot folk extravaganza.
Lightfoot made a brief appearance last summer at the 44th Annual Mariposa Folk Festival, where he played one song to the delight of the multitude of ‘folkies’ in the audience. Now that Lightfoot’s health has gotten much better again, he’ll be playing an entire concert celebrating this year’s 45th Annual Mariposa on Sunday, July 10, 2005. He’s been performing at this event since the 2nd Annual Mariposa in Orillia, Ont. in 1962. His concert here July 10, 2005 will be the finale to this illustrious annual 3-day long folk music Mecca.
Two of my favorite Lightfoot songs at Friday’s Massey Hall concert, were the romantic "Beautiful", and the equally deeply moving "If You Could Read My Mind". These two songs were exquisitely arranged and sung from Lightfoot’s heart, as only he can sing them. (As one fan aptly put it, "Nobody can do ‘Lightfoot’ like Lightfoot!" That’s so true!) His and Terry Clements’ familiar guitar leads in these tunes, rekindled many happy memories of the first time this writer heard them performed as hits on Toronto’s CHUM AM radio back in the early 1970s when they first made #1 in the charts.
When Lightfoot sang "Couchiching," images came to mind of his hometown of Orillia, Ontario and the natural beauty of Lake Couchiching on which it borders. Lightfoot brought out his 12-string to sing a beautiful version of "Harmony," from his most recent CD of the same name. He also played "Clouds of Loneliness" -- also from his Harmony CD. This tune had me wondering whether "Clouds" is in some respects a Lightfoot auto-biography.
Some of my favorites at this show, were Lightfoot’s "Sea Songs." Most notable are "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and "Ghosts of Cape Horn." Both were extremely rousing and had the crowd singing and clapping right along. The haunting, melodic lead guitar riffs in "Edmund Fitzgerald" have the ability to touch the soul, explaining why Lightfoot’s audience was completely transfixed!
Gordie’s performance of "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" this night, had this writer recalling the words C.B.C. broadcaster Laurie Brown once said about Lightfoot: "If we ever had a Poet Laureate in Canada, it would be Gordon Lightfoot!" She mentioned this after watching Lightfoot’s inspiring version of "Railroad Trilogy" and three other Lightfoot originals at Toronto’s ACC Farm Aid concert (that brought awareness to the farmers’ plight out west) in January 2000. Mr. Lightfoot’s performance of "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" this night at Massey Hall in May 2005 was equally as inspiring and exhilirating as it was at the ACC in Jan. 2000. (The only other performance that day in Jan. 2000 that had Lightfoot’s impact was Burton Cummings singing "Share the Land", while accompanying himself on piano with Lightfoot, Ronnie Hawkins and others sharing background vocals to a packed house!)
"Early Morning Rain" was the finale at Massey Hall 2005, to this extremely enjoyable Friday evening of Gordon Lightfoot songs, sung by the man himself. This laid back Lightfoot tune left a nagging feeling of wanting more of Lightfoot's highly entertaining and soul-healing music. However, all good things must come to an end, and the finale featuring "Early Morning Rain" couldn’t have been a better choice to finish this beautiful concert with!
Gordon Lightfoot band members:
Gordon Lightfoot: lead/rhythm guitar and lead vocals
Terry Clements: lead/rhythm guitarist (since about 1969)
Rick Haynes: bass (since about 1967)
Barry Keane: drummer (since late/mid-1970s)
Mike Heffernan: keyboards (since 1980)