February 2006

Gordon Lightfoot Tribute
February 23, 2006Hugh's RoomToronto
Fine As Fine Can Be
by Andy Frank with photos by José Romelo Lagman
The Gordon Lightfoot Tribute was created partly as a reaction to a period in September of 2002 when Mr. Lightfoot’s life appeared to be in jeopardy as a result of a rare and serious condition. Fortunately, Gord survived his health crisis, and one of the many blessings that resulted is the now-annual concert at Hugh’s Room.

Hosted by the charismatic and witty musician David Newland, the tribute featured fourteen acts and twenty-six Lightfoot songs, including many obscure numbers and some rather unique interpretations.

As eager as I was to hear Gordon Lightfoot’s music and poetry again, I was equally enthused about finally enjoying a number of local stars like Kurt Swinghammer, Lori Cullen, and one of the evening’s organizers, Jory Nash. Another of the movers behind the scenes, the folically blessed Aengus Finnan, opened up the set with faithful renditions of "The Way I Feel" and "Early Morning Rain". Eastern Ontario folk-legend Melwood Cutlery followed with a pair of songs, including "Did She Mention My Name" and "That Same Old Obsession".
Jory Nash & Aengus Finnan
Lori Cullen’s gorgeous and hopelessly jazz-flavoured voice followed with "Pussywillows Cattails" and "I’ll Tag Along". This was one singer I didn’t want to see march off the stage so quickly, but you take what blessings you’re offered on nights like these.

Another Ottawa-area performer, Terry Tufts, sang two really wonderful, relatively obscure Lightfoot songs: "The Face of 1,000 People" and "No Hotel", a song based on Gord’s 1989 visit to Manaus, a resort set deep in Brazil's Amazon jungle, where some letters were blacked out on the Novotel Hotel's lighted sign and it spelled No Hotel. The multi-talented Kurt Swinghammer took the mike and dazzled us with "Affair On Eighth Avenue" and "Talking in Your Sleep".

A highlight of the show was the combination of David Matheson and Michael Ford (Moxy Fruvous). Matheson was a particularly integral part of the evening as he played in a great house band with Jason Fowler and David Woodhead, and I counted eight distinctly different instruments which he played at various times during the evening, including a Melodica wind piano! Matheson and Ford energetically performed "Black Day in July" and "Minstrel of the Dawn".

Jory Nash closed the set with his delightfully unique vocal style, singing "Old Dan's Records" and "Summer Side of Life". Mercifully, the break was relatively short this time, and the Lightheads settled in for another round of inspired interpretations.

Jason Fowler
David Newland opened the second set with a single obscure Lightfoot song, "Stone Cold Sober", and set the stage for another of the evening’s highlights, Jason Fowler’s versions of "Baby Step Back" and "Fine As Fine Can Be".

What made Fowler’s set so sweet was his heart-warming tale of how he once had the audacity to hand Gord a Jason Fowler CD while he served Lightfoot at a local music shop. Gord accepted it, and upon his return to the shop, informed Fowler that he would have listened to the CD — had he had a CD player. Fowler then dubbed a cassette version of his CD, and Gord returned to the shop a little while later with constructive feedback for the young artist.

Adding some welcome spice to the second set were Digging Roots, a beautiful pair of young Indigenous artists, vocalist ShoShona Kish and singer/guitarist Raven Kanatakta. Raven’s resonator guitar accompanied the duo on "Don’t Beat Me Down" and "Bend in The Water", much to the delight of Hugh’s Room’s full house.

Michael Johnston, once described as the illegitimate son of Randy Newman and Burt Bacharach, performed the "End of All Time" in relatively straight fashion, but then all hell broke loose. Joined by Kurt Swinghammer, David Matheson & David Woodhead, he performed "Rainy Day People" in the middle of the crowd, a song which featured a toy piano with bunnies on it, a resonator ukulele, a melodica and another miniature stringed contraption. It was, uh, impressive.

Sanity resurfaced in the hands of Washington State-born kindergarten teacher/singer/songwriter Caitlin Hanford, who sang "10 degrees & Getting Colder" and "The Pony Man", a song she rehearsed at school leading up to the show.

Michael Johnston
The concert was brought to a truly classy climax by the powerful Garnet Rogers, and his covers of "Song For a Winter's Night" and "Canadian Railway Trilogy". Whoever cast the final line-up for this gig nailed his appearance as the closer right on the head. It was an awesome performance, and it would have been a crime to have someone follow him — unless of course someone could play "Carefree Highway" with a nose flute.

The Group Finale was "Rich Man Spiritual", a scene that surely tested the Hugh’s Room stage for weight capacity. Fortunately, the generous, warm energies of the seventeen folksingers gathered for "Rich Man Spiritual" easily prevented any Wreck on this night.

This was indeed a memorable evening of fabulous music, and my only constructive feedback for next year’s event is to include one or two more mega-hit crowd-pleasers. Prior to the concert, the table of ten at which I was seated exchanged wish lists of songs they’d hoped to hear, and not many of them were played. Not all of us know Gord’s catalogue very well, and the exposure to it through these artists is indeed laudable, but a "Sundown" is welcome too.

Melwood Cutlery | David Matheson | Michael Ford
Jason Fowler | Lori Cullen | Aengus Finnan
Terry Tufts | Michael Johnston | Garnet Rogers
Digging Roots | Kurt Swinghammer | Caitlin Hanford
David Newland | Jory Nash

David Matheson | David Woodhead | Jason Fowler

We welcome your comments and feedback
Andy Frank
• • • • • •
José Romelo Lagman
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The Live Music Report

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