A Sudbury native who’s currently touring Ontario and Quebec with her Gordon Lightfoot concert said she was “just devastated” to hear of the celebrated Canadian musician’s death at the age of 84 earlier this week.
Leisa Way & The Wayward Wind Band just happen to be scheduled to perform their show “Early Morning Rain: The Legend of Gordon Lightfoot” in Lightfoot’s hometown of Orillia on May 6.
“We were in the middle of rehearsals” when Lightfoot passed away May 1, Way said. “I was devastated. Just devastated.”
She said she and her five-piece band have rewritten the show on the fly to reflect the fact that Lightfoot has now passed away.
“Four days from today, we are performing on the stage named after him in his hometown, and of course, the phones have lit up at the theatre today,” she said, speaking to Sudbury.com May 2.
“People are thanking us. I mean, we didn't plan this, but we actually are bringing a concert there that is a celebration of his life. People are just so grateful that they can come and celebrate him at the theatre on Saturday.”
Lightfoot was, “I believe, our finest songwriter ever,” said Way, who has fond memories of her late father playing his music on eight-tracks in the car on the way to their camp north of Massey when she was a kid.
“What a gorgeous poet. You can strip away the music. That’s the true test — and the music is stunning — is that you can also strip away the music, and the lyrics are so beautiful.
“I can't really say enough about his songwriting. I’ve loved him since I was a little girl and I appreciated that he is so good at what he did. He was the best at what he did.”
Lightfoot songs “paint a picture” of Canada, Way said.
“If you've never been to Canada, and you listen to Gordon Lightfoot songs, you will have a pretty good picture in your mind of how beautiful this country is, and how wonderful the people are,” she said.
Way said she created the Lightfoot show four years ago, and it debuted just three weeks before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It had sold out for that three-week run, but then everything shut down, and they weren’t able to continue touring.
Unfortunately, Way said, she’s never had the honour of meeting Lightfoot, naming that as one of her regrets, although she did see him in concert years ago.
Three years ago, Lightfoot’s publicist had actually contacted one of the theatres where the Wayward Wind Band were booked, saying that the musician wanted to see the show, asking about other performance dates, as he was currently touring.
“So we sent him a list,” Way said. “And then, of course, the pandemic hit.”
With Way rebooking some of the Lightfoot shows that were cancelled in 2020, she was in contact with his publicists again, especially because they were due to perform in his hometown, but was told he wasn’t well enough to make it to the Orillia show.
Still, she was hopeful that he would recover enough to see the show this year on one of the other concert dates.
“So it's very disappointing that he didn't get a chance to see this very loving celebration,” Way said.
The Lightfoot show includes hits such as “Early Morning Rain,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Carefree Highway,” “Sundown,” “For Lovin’ Me,” “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” “Ribbon of Darkness,” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” just to name a few.
Other 2023 concert locations for the Lightfoot show include Hudson, Que., as well as the Ontario communities of Stouffville, Port Stanley, Collingwood, Tillsonburg, Haliburton, Shelburne, Tweed, Owen Sound, Grand Bend, Oshawa, Brampton and Morrisburg.
Unfortunately, the Lightfoot show will not be coming to Sudbury this year, although Way is bringing another one of her shows, “Rhinestone Cowgirl: Celebrating Dolly Parton” to Sudbury Oct. 27-29 in conjunction with Sudbury Performance Group.
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.