Orillia's best known sailor, songwriter and singer came home with a few friends last night. In front of a standing room only crowd at the Opera House, Gordon Lightfoot kicked off a weekend of three shows to benefit Soldiers' Memorial Hospital and the Opera House Programming fund.
"There's something real special when we say we're going back to the hometown. There's been a few rough roads and a few detours, but it's sure good to be back," said Lightfoot in the middle of a 14-song first half. As he admitted himself early in the second half, his voice is a little hoarse but, especially for fans who are used to his distinctive tenor, the slight rasp added a different and pleasant maturity to old favorites like "The Pony Man", "Alberta Bound", and "Christian Island."
Lightfoot who turned 55 earlier this week, wore black denim trousers, brown western boots, and a cream colored patterned shirt for a relaxed and confident first set. Those who have tickets for this afternoon's and this evening's performances will see a spry and slightly shy showman delivering songs like "Carefree Highway", "Sundown", and the song, as he said, "that bought the ranch - If You Could Read My Mind."
He seemed to be as delighted as the audience was at times that these famous chords were coming from his polished acoustic guitar. With a quizzical rise of the eyebrow or cunning grin to the four piece band behind him, Lightfoot conveys the impression he's strumming his way through "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" as if it was an old friend he hadn't seen for many years.
With his mother and family seated right down front, Lightfoot dotted the show with reminisces about growing up in Orillia. "The beautiful thing about Orillia is you get on your bicycle and after two or three miles, it's all the streams and hills a boy could want." He remembered Ray Williams, the man he said gave him his first training as a boy in the choir of St. Paul's United Church. And he jokingly blamed his mother for getting him in to the music business. "I remember when she heard Bing Crosby sing, she said, you know Gordon, you can make a living at that."