Larry Groce Remembers Gordon Lightfoot
I bought Gordon Lightfoot’s first album in 1966 at my local record shop. I was already familiar with some of his songs from Peter, Paul, and Mary and especially Ian and Sylvia versions. I loved the recording.
He visited Mountain Stage in 1993 and 1998. Both visits thrilled me because I admired his songs and singing so much, but at the first one something very special happened.
In those days, Mountain Stage was live on West Virginia Public Radio. We would record the show and send it, unedited, to NPR for distribution via their satellite the next week. Our format was slightly different then. We would have three or four guests, not five like today, and most guests would do two sets, one during each hour. The guest we considered lead act would open and close the show.
Gordon, his band, and his manager arrived early on show day in a private plane that Gordon himself flew. During a pre-show discussion, his manager told our producer, Andy Ridenour, that Gordon would never do a finale song and he did not stay around to meet and greet or sign autographs after his shows. They would finish their set and immediately proceed to the airport to fly out. That was all fine with us. Our finale is never mandatory for anyone.
As expected, the first set went great and Gordon and his band, dressed in their dark, long-sleeved shirts, headed back to their dressing room. They didn’t mix with us or the other guests. Once again, hanging out with us is not required. Some folks do, others prefer their privacy. It’s their business.
All the other acts performed, including a beautiful set by David Lindley (with Hani Nassar) on his first visit, and then it was time for Gordon to finish the show. When he and his band came out of the dressing room, he had changed into a t-shirt and seemed a bit looser. Once again, the set was a triumph and received an immediate, spontaneous standing ovation. There were many lifelong Lightfoot fans in the full house.
We took a dive into our archives and found this live performance of ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ by Gordon Lightfoot from his May 9, 1993 appearance on Mountain Stage in Charleston, WV.
As I waited in the wings with the other artists to go out for the finale, Gordon came off, saw us and suddenly asked me if he could sing on the finale. I told him of course he could and asked if he wanted to take a verse. He said no, he’d just join the chorus. Then we all headed onto the stage.
I don’t remember what we were singing, but if I had known he was going to join in, I would have asked to do one of his many classic songs.
In any case, the finale was finished to another standing ovation, and everyone left the stage. As the audience filed out, a few folks rushed down to the front of the stage in hopes of getting Gordon’s attention. They succeeded and he sat on the stage and started signing autographs. Many had brought his albums and cassettes in anticipation of this moment.
Our crew proceeded to start taking down the equipment and I began to pack up my things. Andy was on stage watching to make sure everything was OK. In a few minutes, Gordon’s manager came up the stairs and asked where Gordon was. Andy pointed out the signing party down front.
The manager looked puzzled and concerned so Andy walked over to the gathering and told the folks that Mr. Lightfoot needed to get to the airport and the session would have to wrap up. Gordon smiled up at Andy and said that it was OK, it was his airplane.
Andy turned away and looked at the manager who just shrugged and said he’d never seen Gordon do this before. The last time I looked, there was a line of fans up the aisle all the way to the back of the hall. Gordon had gotten down off the stage and was signing albums and shaking hands with every one of them.
I thought to myself, I guess the manager has never been with him in West Virginia before. Our people just wanted to thank him for what he had given them. Gordon must have felt that.