Gordon Lightfoot very well might have the best opening line of all time.
After beginning his Saturday night performance at Hershey Theatre with “Now and Then” and “Waiting for You,” Lightfoot took a moment to properly greet the crowd.
“I’m Gordon Lightfoot, and reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” he said.
After hearing a radio announcer falsely announce his death in 2010, Lightfoot called into the station to assure the world he was indeed alive and well.
Now eight years later and days away from turning 80, Lightfoot was in good spirits and full of energy as he performed two hours of his greatest hits and deep cuts on Saturday night. The show marked his first time in Hershey in seven years.
Lightfoot divided the show into two sets with a brief intermission. It was very much like seeing his 1975 compilation album “Gord’s Gold” come to life, with some added bonuses for fans familiar with the furthest corners of his catalog.
To be expected, Lightfoot’s voice sounds quite different than it does on his studio recordings. Time, a history of smoking and a serious medical issue in 2002 all took their toll on Lightfoot’s once deep, rich voice. Breath control was a challenge at times, and it wasn’t always easy to understand what he was saying – a shame for attendees not well-versed in his poetic lyricism.
But sitting at home wouldn’t suit the lively Lightfoot. So, he and his band found ways to adapt.
The overall sound quality had a beautiful softness, creating the perfect balance between Lightfoot’s vocals and the instrumentals and preventing any further vocal strain. Lightfoot’s band was excellent, especially guitarist Carter Lancaster, who embellished Lightfoot’s classic catalog with intricate plucking and tasteful solos. His additions always bolstered the song rather than distracting from it.
Lightfoot shared with the audience that he decided to shorten some songs to allow him to include more of his expansive catalog of 19 studio albums. It proved to be an effective method. His generous sets included classic cuts “Sundown,” “Carefree Highway,” “Beautiful,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Rainy Day People” and “Sweet Guinevere.”
He also took time to share stories in between songs, including how he narrowly missed a chance to meet with Elvis Presley after the star recorded Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain.”
There was a more somber moment before “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” Lightfoot’s 1975 song commemorating the sinking of freight ship S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior. Lightfoot wrote the song after reading an article about the incident, and even decades later, the details still haunt him. In Hershey, he remembered how a young fallen crew member had just bought a new car, a Dodge Charger.
“There’s a responsibility in having written a song like this,” Lightfoot said.
Throughout the show, Lightfoot took delicate swigs from a small white bottle. Some fans would follow the swigs with a cheer, seeming to assume it was alcohol. Near the end of the set, Lightfoot shared what was really in the bottle: Biotene, a mouthwash to help dry mouth.
Lightfoot took a moment to reflect on his impending birthday (Nov. 17) near the end of the show. The two things he’s noticed: he walks a bit slower, and his mouth dries out a bit faster. Not too shabby, all things considered.
Even with 60 years of performing behind him, Lightfoot made it clear that his days of making music aren’t over yet.
“We love to work, and we’re going to keep doing it for a while,” Lightfoot said.