“The first time I played at Town Hall was in 1965,” Gordon Lightfoot told fans at his 80 Years Strong show on Wednesday night, May 15th. “We opened for someone very famous,” he said. “I wish I could remember who it was.”
In addition to touching all the bases of his six-decade career, Lightfoot proved to be a charming and witty host. “I was part of the folk revival that began in 1960 and ended around 1963,” he said. He was indeed early on the scene, initially achieving greater success in his native Canada. He released his first album in 1965 to modest acclaim, with songs like “Early Mornin’ Rain” and “For Lovin’ Me” since becoming among his most popular. Some of his early tunes charted on the American country scene and were covered by legends such as Johnny Cash, but it wasn’t until 1970 that Lightfoot broke through to mainstream American audiences with the FM radio staple “If You Could Read My Mind”. His rich baritone and introspective lyrics helped define the decade’s new folk sound, and subsequent hits like “Sundown” and ‘Carefree Highway” solidified his reputation.
Taking the stage for the first set in a splendid wine-colored jacket, Lightfoot still conveyed the presence of a star. His backing band from Toronto was a tight and talented bunch that has played with him for years. Guitarist Carter Lancaster’s electric licks complemented Lightfoot’s six- and twelve-string acoustic guitars. At 80 years of age, the signature voice fans came to hear was not as strong as it once was—how could it be?—but Lightfoot used it effectively, and the songs still resonated. A fan who seemed a bit young to have grown up listening to Gordon Lightfoot on the radio said the music actually brought them to tears.
Returning for the second set after a change of wardrobe, Lightfoot continued his storytelling and career retrospective. The sea-chanty-inspired “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” wound up being one of his most popular songs, which, he said, surprised him at the time. He leaned on the familiar “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated” trope to add some levity to a history of substance abuse and health issues. Despite it all, he’s been incredibly prolific, even in his later years.
Gordon Lightfoot’s current tour will continue with multiple dates across the country, culminating in two appearances at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in early August. For more details, visit the artist’s website.