For an artist who has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, and for me--my college Armory Fieldhouse, Cincinnati's Music Hall, and an outdoor amphitheater in Texas, last night's concert by Gordon Lightfoot at Mesa, Arizona's Valle del Oro RV Park Ballroom seemed an unusual venue. Now 75 years of age, he plays nearly 100 dates a year. At the last minute, I managed to snag a bargain ticket that was listed online in the proverbial "nose bleed seats", when in fact, I was escorted to the 11th row from the stage. I've blogged a lot about Gordon Lightfoot of late, and feel no need to apologize. If inspiration takes me longer between posts, then perhaps a justifiable defense can be made that 50 years is incomprehensible to me for one to be writing and performing memorable songs. To this end, Lightfoot is a gift our Canadian neighbors share with us, just as we share our American musical artists who tour throughout Canada.
Last night's 90-minute set list of nearly 30 songs "changes constantly, it's constantly changing", according to Lightfoot, from city to city. I like that. It allows the artist and the band to stay fresh, and for the audience, access to deeper cuts from Lightfoot's repertoire. These songs were blended in among his Top 40 hits that once dominated radio. Alternating with 6 and 12 string guitars, some gems for me included "Restless" (covered in a recent post) along with "Let It Ride". Regarding the latter, I only saw a film clip of Lightfoot performing the song solo before a quarter of a million people at an outdoor benefit concert. Last night, by contrast, he was accompanied by his full band to great effect. Both songs have unusual key changes, with finger style picking that has remained as perfect today as it was decades ago. The banter in between songs was relaxed and amusing, as Lightfoot explained that he just "loves the work" more than ever in his life, and that for him, "there's the music, and there's family". He mentioned that he stopped drinking in 1982, and today, his health regimen includes working out five days a week. Of "Song for a Winter's Night" (written in Cleveland, Ohio during a thunderstorm) he allowed that he changed the song's setting to a "snow storm", before reminding the audience how many in the northeast last night were without electric power. One young girl ran to the stage and shouted "Mr. Lightfoot, this is a gift for you!", and dropped off a loud pink colored gift bag. Not missing a beat, Lightfoot smiled and bent down to pick up the gift bag before joking that this was the work of his "public relations department".
His first appearance at Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada at age 13, has translated into a revered annual two-day stay every November--with ticket's already selling for late 2014. Appearing to be on a whim, he announced that he was going to include one of his first hits, made famous in 1965 by the late Marty Robbins--"Ribbon of Darkness". The audience was caught off guard when Lightfoot stopped the song to have the last line sung en masse--"Thought I could catch you", he laughed. On this night, "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" was noticeably absent from the show. But much of his 2012 "All Live" CD set list from Massey Hall (intended for a posthumous release) were included such as: "14 Karat Gold", "Baby Step Back", "A Painter Passing Through", "Old Dan's Record's", and "Christian Island". Most ignited applause within the first opening notes as with "Rainy Day People", "Shadows", and "Race Among the Ruins". The hits were tastefully included without being top-heavy: "If You Could Read My Mind", "Beautiful", "Sundown", "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and "Carefree Highway". Of course, what songs were not included--for this author--had been performed in previous years' concerts. For that fact, I consider myself fortunate. Still, as ageless as Lightfoot's songs are, there were a few reminders that times have changed in 2014.
A number of adults waited with vinyl albums and magic markers after the show, only to be told that VIP passes had already been handed out, and that the rest of us had to leave the facility. I actually held out hope for having a photo taken with Lightfoot. How long ago, I remembered, meeting Gordon Lightfoot with other college students, and hanging out for 20 minutes of excited conversation. Now, that too has become a wonderful memory, and I remind myself today how few have enjoyed this luxury! Just the same, our culture has changed, and security measures understandably have followed suit. So, regrettably we stalwarts filed outside.
-Thankfully, music by Gordon Lightfoot (in my opinion) holds up better than any new artist in the folk or country genre' today. I believe that the reason for this is because there are fewer old fashioned balladeers anymore; nobody writes a song the way Lightfoot does. It's amazing, when you stop and consider that both folk and country music blossomed around the same time period in the 1960's. Even better yet, the Lightfoot tour continues across America!
-I enjoyed the evening immensely, and hope all Lightfoot fans--both old and new--will have the same opportunity I enjoyed in towns listed on his "50 Years On the Carefree Highway Tour". A Gordon Lightfoot song is infused with sensitivity, emotion, and that unmistakable voice that is far too easy to take for granted. In truth, it is a musical gift that was shared last night with 800 people and me. I hope to hear from those of you who attend a concert on this tour!
A Post Script: Lightfoot has won 15 Juno Awards and been nominated for 5 Grammy Awards. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986, and the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2001. In May 2003, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada and is also a member of the Order of Ontario. In 2004, was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and, in 2012, the U.S. Songwriters Hall of Fame. Click HERE for U.S. and Canada Tour Dates. Enjoy!
(Photo: Michael Manning)