Gordon Lightfoot at the Capitol Theater

An event review by Larry P. Madden Gordon Lightfoot cover

Referred to as the greatest Canadian songwriter by peers and critics alike, Gordon Lightfoot chose Saturday, September 16, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin to showcase his artistry. His presentation of a collection of his songs and ballads drew quite a crowd — a noticeably older crowd — to the beautiful Capitol Theater venue. It’s part of the remarkable Overture Center for the Arts, which occupies a full city block. The space is large enough to hold more than one exhibition or performance at any one time. The Capitol Theater retains its art deco opulence from its glory years in the ’20s as the Capitol Theater on State Street. It’s now incorporated into the Overture Center, and it’s worth the trip to view the architecture, but I digress.

Mr. Lightfoot hit the stage ready to please and his audience was ready to reciprocate. Opening the show Lightfoot stated, “The stories of my death have been much exaggerated.” Funny as it may sound, the 78-year-old has had some health concerns in the past. Narrowly escaping the grim reaper’s clutches, he had many obstacles to overcome in his return to touring.

“The classic folk music era from ’61 to ’63,” joked Lightfoot, “is when I got my start.” He reminisced on the losses of Don Williams and Glen Campbell, both friends and colleagues. Baby Boomers were the order of the day and grey hair was definitely the color of choice amongst those in attendance. His tunes took all in attendance to a more sublime place as his voice warmed up and transported us with hits like “Sundown.” The pleasant array of hits wafted from stage causing a sensation similar to walking past a BBQ — when the senses take over and you swear you can taste the BBQ even though you just walked by the grill. In Lightfoot’s case, his music carries you to memories and events in your past.

The quintet led by Lightfoot showed the cohesion of a practiced unit. People cheered, clapped, and thanked Lightfoot in outbursts throughout the performance. He took it all in stride with a dry sense of humor and a series of humble responses. He opened with a fifty-minute performance of his songs in an almost medley-like format, took a brief intermission followed by an equal second-half performance. He demonstrated the skills that have many referring to him as the greatest Canadian songwriter of all time. The ballad The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, always dear to this old shipyard worker who has strolled the decks in dry dock, was a monster hit for Lightfoot both in his heyday and with the Madison crowd.

As the evening wound down, the visual circus called State Street Saturday Night was in full swing. Street vendors, panhandlers, bistros, and bars filled the senses and added to the evening. Lightfoot was worth the travel, and the Overture Center is a must for an intimate theater experience. I certainly would return to see, hear, and taste Madison’s theater district again in the future. I suggest you do the same.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.