Gordon Lightfoot to perform at Elora Festival

The legendary Gordon Lightfoot will lead a contingent of homegrown artists at this year’s Elora Festival to help celebrate the nation’s 150th anniversary.

“Canadian artists are really well represented this year,” said Chris Sharpe, manager of the festival, which will run July 14 to 30.

Atop the list is Lightfoot, perhaps the nation’s most influential songwriter of all time. He will perform at the Gambrel barn on July 22 at 8pm.

“Gordon’s a huge, iconic musician who’s in high demand in Canada and beyond,” Sharpe said.

He added Lightfoot is  “highly respected” throughout the industry, has enjoyed a prolific career and continues to perform regularly at age 78.

“We wanted to be able to offer people a chance to see him while he’s still doing it,” said Sharpe.

Longtime friend and booking agent BC Fiedler said Lightfoot is now in the twilight of his career – “he’s never going to stop playing,” he pauses to add – and is not concerned about venue size.

Fiedler said there was little hesitation from Lightfoot when asked to play the Elora Festival.

“Elora’s been a favourite of mine for years and years and years,” Fiedler added of the village.

“For [the Elora Festival], I think it will be a real feather in their cap to have a legend like Gordon Lightfoot playing there.”

Fiedler acknowledged much of the festival features classical music, but said he thinks Lightfoot is “pretty classical,” considering his impressive resume.

The ‘legend’

Asked what draws fans, and Canadians in particular, to Lightfoot, Fiedler said it comes down to one thing.

“I truly believe it’s because of his songwriting,” he told the Advertiser. “People identify with his lyrics and his stories.”

Fiedler himself was quick to recognize Lightfoot’s talents when he first met the budding superstar in 1966.

“One day someone came to me and said, ‘There’s this guy named Gordon Lightfoot playing at Steele’s Tavern and you should see him,” Fiedler recalled.

The owner of his own iconic venue – the Riverboat coffee house in Yorkville, considered by many to be  the premiere folk venue in the country at the time – Fiedler immediately offered Lightfoot double what Steele’s Tavern was paying.

“He said, ‘Alright,’” Fiedler recalled with a laugh.

Over 50 years later, he and Lightfoot continue to have a strong professional and personal relationship.

“There’s a lot of history there … he’s my best friend,” Fiedler said.

Lightfoot has had many hits over the decades, with The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, If You Could Read My Mind and Sundown among the biggest.

But for those who know him, it’s Lightfoot’s sustained songwriting ability – as evidenced by a catalogue of  200 recorded songs –  that sets him apart.

“Gordon Lightfoot is a legend,” Fiedler said matter-of-factly, placing him alongside the likes of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen.

Sharpe noted it is well documented that Lightfoot is one of Bob Dylan’s favourite songwriters.

“What more can you ask for in terms of an endorsement?” Sharpe said.

Fiedler said much like Dylan, Lightfoot has an innate ability to craft songs that stand the test of time.

“They stay in the hearts of people for a very long time and I don’t think that will ever change,” said Fiedler.

Cohen tribute

In the pantheon of legendary Canadian musicians, few are more celebrated than Lightfoot and the late Cohen.

Prior to Cohen’s death in November, Elora Festival officials were in talks to have the poet and musician perform at the festival, said Sharpe.

“I wanted to present a couple of iconic Canadian artists,” he told the Advertiser.

Though saddened by Cohen’s death, Sharpe was proud to announce the festival will pay tribute to the late legend during a performance by the Elora Singers, featuring fellow Canadian Patricia O’Callaghan, entitled “Folk Songs: Canada and Beyond.”

A classically-trained soprano renowned for opera and cabaret performances, O’Callaghan released her album Matador: The Songs of Leonard Cohen in 2012.

Other festival details

Another Canadian artist set to perform at this year’s Elora Festival is Susan Aglukark, the Inuit folk musician whose performances also incorporate country and pop influences.

Of course, as usual, the festival will offer a formidable lineup of classically-trained artists who have gained national and international acclaim, Sharpe noted.

The festival will also feature “With Glowing Hearts,” billed as a celebration of “Canada’s rich cultural heritage” and featuring The Elora Singers, Richard Margison (tenor soloist) and Martha Henry (narrator).

The complete Elora Festival lineup will be announced on Feb. 1 at 4pm at the Drew House in Elora. Tickets for all festival performances will be on sale next week following the announcement.

For tickets and information visit elorafestival.ca.

For more information about Lightfoot, visit www.lightfoot.ca.