A few nights ago, I found my seat in row L at the Melbourne King Center for Performing Arts. Ray Michaels from WSBH 98.5 engaged the crowd and announced upcoming events. Minutes later, the lights dimmed. My sense of heightened anticipation plateaued. The wait was over. The concert I’d been looking forward to was about to begin.
A cadre of talented musicians appeared, followed by the man himself: the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter /folk-rock crooner, Gordon Lightfoot. Or rather, the ghost of Gordon Lightfoot – a pasty, almost frail looking man in a white dress shirt, black vest, and jeans who took his place on center stage – his unearthly appearance in stark contrast to his flashbulb-era publicity photos.
Equipped with a twelve-string acoustic guitar and a microphone stand, Gordon started the show with a string of b-side tunes that catered to his diminished vocal range. The songs were foreign to me. The vocals a little flat on the higher notes and parched in the lower range.
At first, I felt duped. This wasn’t the Gordon Lightfoot I remembered from the old album covers or my favorite radio station playlist. But after awhile, the music sank in, comfortably, like my weary head resting on a down pillow.
The sharp, consistent percussion sounds from Barry Keane filled the theater. Mike Heffernan’s keyboards and the bass from Rick Haynes blended perfectly with Carter Lancaster – a masterful lead guitarist who played numerous and often intricate arrangements on a Breedlove six-string acoustic and a Gretsch Country Gentleman.
Halfway through the concert, I rediscovered my appreciation for Gordon Lightfoot’s music and found myself lured away from the stress of a crazier-than-normal week. Gordon’s age notwithstanding, (he was born before WW II), I started thoroughly enjoying the performance from someone who could teach today’s young “talent” a thing or two about consistency, endurance, and what it means to write, record, and perform great music. Unlike so many singer/songwriters whose tabloid careers boom and fizzle like a flash bang grenade, Gordon Lightfoot persists.
After a brief intermission, the concert continued with one of the greatest songs ever written – IMO – “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” That tune kicked off the second half set that included “Carefree Highway,” “Rainy Day People,” and another personal favorite, “If You Could Read My Mind.”
And if I could have read Gordon Lightfoot’s mind that night, it would have been filled with the same love and admiration that his legions of loyal fans feel for him. Average, ordinary people who inspire Gordon Lightfoot to do what he does best – strap on a guitar and belt out his time-honored songs.
The reality of life is that it ends. But in Gordon’s case, his music – with its passionate lyrics and heart-felt melodies – will live on forever, drawing new fans and inspiring future singer-songwriters who dream of achieving the kind of immortal success measured not by fame and fortune, but by the positive influence they have on people’s lives. The kind of success achieved by Canada’s very own, Gordon Lightfoot.