Orillia, ON
Opera House - May 17, 1996

Friday was the first night of a two night stand, with proceeds from the concerts going to the Opera House programming fund.  The Opera House has just turned 100 years old and is an exceptional place to see Lightfoot in concert, even aside from the fact that it is his hometown.  It seats around 650 people and from what I could tell, there isn't a bad seat in the place. 

Just prior to 8 PM, Lightfoot's wife and youngest son (who incidentally looks like a miniature Gord from the cover of If You Could Read My Mind - haircut and all!) come out from a stage door and make their way to their seats.  The air seems alive with excitement and anticipation.  Just seconds later, the house lights dim and the band take their positions to a round of applause.  The applause soon intensifies as Lightfoot casually strolls out to centre stage. 

Very quickly the first chords to THE HOUSE YOU LIVE IN take shape.  Right away I'm impressed by the sound.  Every instrument seems audible, at just the right balance.  I'm settling in - and this is gonna be great!  The song is going beautifully, then ends.  Before the applause can die we hear the opening guitar to CAREFREE HIGHWAY.  Nicely done version.  Quickly once again he launches into SEA OF TRANQUILITY.  I'm ready for this one.  Long one of my favourites, but this is the first time I've heard it live!  Excellent arrangement.  Mike is keeping the song's atmosphere from the recording alive by playing some great "Pee Wee" like sounds.  Terry's lead breaks are perfect!  Barry nails his tom fills and the sound is just jumping off of the stage.  Rick and Barry are in perfect sync, the song really 
kicks! It ends, but still no break. COTTON JENNY comes next.  The crowd loves it!  Still no sign of a break.  Here it comes - the ominous start to SUNDOWN.  Lightfoot closes his eyes and puts some snarl into the lyrics.  Beautiful!  I'm getting a rush from the mid-70's hearing this.  Boy could I have been so young when I first heard this?  Terry delivers on the breaks and the crowd responds.  Whoa!  Huge applause - and finally he lets the audience catch their collective breath. 

He walks back and pulls off the 12-string.  He straps on the six and picks up some requests at the front of the stage.  "Great to be here!"  He tells about his days at Westlake College when people would ask, "Are you "r"eally from O"r"illia?"  Emphasizing the "r" sound.  He repeats it a few times.  He gets a good laugh and a round of applause.  Back to business.  He starts alone.  OK I recognize the opening - 14 KARAT GOLD!  My friend leans over.  He loves this one.  They do it great.  Then I'LL PROVE MY LOVE.  This is the first show for me since Waiting For You came out, so I've never heard any of them live before.  Beautiful job.  You know he's dedicating it to his wife each and every time.  It's finished. He talks about fishing on the North River as a kid.  He goes down the list of fish he caught - no trout though.  It's gotta be RESTLESS next.  Terry adds some beautiful harmonics on acoustic guitar that weren't on the album.  Adds nicely to the arrangement.  Into RING THEM BELLS.  Mike's great keyboard cuts through beautifully.  The pace quickens again.  They start into WAITING FOR YOU.  "Say what you will I will miss you my friend."  Reminds me that the show must end.  But it's way too early to think about that.  I fight the idea off.  Terry is doing the lead parts on acoustic.  Rick and Barry connect perfectly on the between verse breaks.  Lightfoot is twisting the melody line ever so slightly - adjusting the emphasis and phrasing.  Wonderful job!  The lights dim.  He's starting into THE PONY MAN.  I really like the arrangement they have on this one - just like on Gord's Gold II.  Hey, what's Barry doing?  He's reaching down for something.  He leans to the side and takes a drink from a water bottle.  I get it.  His "hoot and holler" part is coming up soon.  The sly devil - he's limbering up his throat.  Right on cue he cuts loose, at  "Mr. Moon's front door!"  Toe-tapper time.  FADING AWAY starts off on its sinewy trip.  I always think of Lightfoot's early days when I hear this one.  The crowd is living "high on the hog right now" and shows it.  Loud applause.  And the applause is cranked up again immediately upon hearing the opening few bars of BEAUTIFUL.  And we get all three verses!  Hey, this a hometown show! 

He's going back for the 12-string again.  Has most of the first half gone by already?  It seems impossible - but it's true.  He announces that a medley is coming.  Oddly enough he says, the two combined songs come out shorter than either of the individual songs.  FOR LOVING ME/DID SHE MENTION MY NAME.  Incredible!  I thought this one had been shelved.  Great to hear it again. 
And then he says, "A ship left Superior, Wisconsin on November 9, 1975..."  Then, one, two, three, four, five, six. THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD!  The crowd roars its approval.  The band is so together!  They always seem pumped for this one.  It's over.  "See ya in twenty minutes!" And they're gone back to re-tune, re-energize. 

Thankfully the intermission goes by quickly.  The lights drop again.  "Let's get silisophical."  WILD STRAWBERRIES.  Very smooth version.  I'm picturing the great imagery - steamboat rides, railroad trains ... stock Lightfoot material.  He finishes and moves over to the stool. "This one helped buy the farm.  It came along at a great time - just when I had to start paying alimony!"  Big laugh!  IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND.  And Lightfoot stands and walks over to Terry at the instrumental, then continues the song standing up.  More enormous applause.  Then he talks about how his mother is a little under the weather and couldn't be at the show tonight.  He talks of coming up to visit her every two or three weeks, well, maybe every three or four.  Then it's time for SHADOWS.  Beautiful marriage of melody and lyrics!  The song just seems so natural and effortless, yet it was all written from scratch by Lightfoot.  Incredible song!  "This next one was written when I turned 40 and was still on the sauce!"  IN MY FASHION gets the toes tapping again.  Continuing on the "sauce" theme, they lauch into BLACKBERRY WINE.  Mike and Terry seem to be exchanging glances during this one - the guys are into it!  Then it's time for the new one.  Lightfoot talks about how people's lives can get lost and drift aimlessly.  He said he was like that til he was 50!  But not anymore.  Here it comes, DRIFTERS.  Outstanding song!  If this is any indication of what we're in for - the new album will be exceptional!  Now it's time for some comic relief.  Lightfoot mentions that this next song was rejected from the soundtrack of Michael Douglas' first movie.  He asks if anyone knows what the movie was. There is a pause, then someone shouts, "Hail Hero!" Lightfoot says, "We have a winner, or as they say in Mexico, 'We have a weiner.'"  The crowd really has a hoot over that one.  It's DON QUIXOTE. But wait.  If that song was considered for Hail Hero, it must have been written in the late 60's - not 1972.  I'll have to investigate that.  Then he talks about being discovered by Albert Grossman at Mariposa.  And it leads into A LESSON IN LOVE.  This song gets a great treatment live and builds ever so gradually.  Nice job. 

Then the band is introduced to enthusiastic applause.  Big grins from the guys!  "This next song reminds me of home," Lightfoot says, and the unmistakable opening guitars to SONG FOR A WINTER'S NIGHT are heard.  Barry's sleigh bells almost send chills down my back as I relive the cold winter nights of the song.  Then Lightfoot unstraps his 6-string for the first time in the second half. The 12-string roll of EARLY MORNING RAIN gets everyone's attention.  A rousing greeting from the audience.  And the performance delivers the goods.  Then back to the 6-string.  He describes a golfing trip to a nearby course with his former brother-in-law that gave him the key line for BABY STEP BACK.  Hey, I drove by that course coming into town last night!  Can you believe it?  Terry really smokes on this one.  He's getting a real "swampy" tone from his Gretsch here.  Then back to the 12-string - and we know whats coming.  It's already tuned to low "D", so it's got to be CANADIAN RAILROAD TRILOGY.  Lightfoot tells us that for some unknown reason, he thinks of his days as a kid, hanging around the Couchiching Golf Course in Orillia, looking out from the veranda, when he sings this song.  I'm amazed!  I'm staying with friends here in town and we're only a block away from that course!  The Trilogy is done beautifully as it has been done countless times in the past.  Terry's tremelo guitar sound is something to behold.  He gets a round of applause in mid-song!  I've never seen that happen with this song before.  But the song is done and they're walking off stage.  Instantly the crowd comes to its feet.  There is an elderly lady across the aisle from me (a relative perhaps?) and 
she has a cane.  I'm amazed to see her struggle to get to her feet to join everyone else.  There is a tremendous look of pride and joy on her face.  She brings home for me just how special it is to see Lightfoot in this setting. 

Then they wander back.  What will it be?  How many will there be?  Lightfoot forms the E drone chord on his 6-string and I realize I'll finally get to hear COLD ON THE SHOULDER for the first time!  And they do a wonderful job.  "All you need is faith."  Yes indeed!  They're leaving again.  The crowd rises once more - but it's not to be.  The house lights come up - the minstrel has gone.  I can only find solace in the fact that I'll be back at the Opera House again tomorrow night. 

by Wayne Francis