Gordon Lightfoot has some advice for musicians set to perform at the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics: be ready to go onstage.
The legendary Canadian singer-songwriter says he and fellow folk icon Ian Tyson were lollygagging before their moment in the spotlight at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.
“We, back in the inners of the whole complex, almost missed our cue,” Lightfoot, 71, recalled with a laugh.
“We had to run to get to the stage.”
Lightfoot and Tyson were set to play Alberta Bound and Four Strong Winds together and were supposed to be waiting in the wings.
“We were supposed to be ready to go through the pipes and all the support mechanisms that were holding it up, you know,” Lightfoot said by phone from his Toronto home.
“It was all built by scaffolding piping and all that sort of thing in the backstage area and they had ramps leading up to the stage. I mean, it was huge, and we just almost very nearly missed our cue.
“I said, ’Ian, we’ve got to get going.”’
Lightfoot, however, had to use the washroom and that’s when he heard the signal.
“I knew the song that was on before us because I’d heard it on the tape that Tommy Banks, the arranger, sent to me to let me know … and I recognized it. I was in the men’s room and I heard it over the intercom.
“I ran outside and I said: ’Ian, we’re on, man.”’
The two made it onstage as 300 dancers wrapped up their contemporary two-step, an homage to Calgary’s first settlers.
The mood in the outdoor stadium was so jubilant, said Lightfoot, that “it wouldn’t have made any difference at all” if they hadn’t performed.
“Even if we had not made it to the stage, it wouldn’t have changed things one iota and we were only on for about two minutes and the preparation that went into that, you wouldn’t believe it.”
The air was frigid as they took to the microphones — “Piping cold. It was about 25 below zero,” recalled Lightfoot — and he was more focused on moving his frozen fingers along his cold guitar strings than on the idea that the whole world was watching the show on TV.
“I was more interested in getting the chords right on my guitar, quite frankly, at that point,” he said.
“I don’t even think about the millions of people, I just think about my chord changes.”
The magnitude of the show hits him now as he looks back, though.
“It’s an experience unto itself,” said Lightfoot, who stayed in the Olympic Village for three days with Tyson, and attended a hockey game.
“A lot of Canadian artists have participated in it on a much grander scale than I have but I was very happy to have been a part of that.”
Lightfoot has also performed at fundraising shows for Canada’s Olympic athletes. In 1976, he hosted a benefit at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto to aid the Canadian Olympic team, and in 1980, he did the same thing at the CNE Grandstand in Toronto.
Lightfoot will perform next Thursday in Toronto for the inaugural If You Could Read My Mind concert series put on by the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, of which he’s a longtime member.
Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip will also take part in the show, which will also see the two artists dishing on the songwriting process.