A Heartfelt Tribute to a Canadian Legend
Reviewed by Sookie Mei
Leisa Way and her Wayward Wind Band were rehearsing Early Morning Rain: The Legend of Gordon Lightfoot in Orillia, Lightfoot’s hometown, when they heard that the Canadian singer-songwriter had died. A sad day for all Canadians, it must have hit the band especially hard, and I imagine it gave the band even more reason to celebrate the work of this legendary artist.
And celebrate they do in this touring concert of Lightfoot’s music. Many well-known favourites are performed, including “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, “Carefree Highway”, “Sundown”, “If You Could Read My Mind”, and, of course, “Early Morning Rain”, as well as some lesser-known songs, such as Lightfoot’s first foray into song writing – an ode to the hula hoop!
Way refers to the performance as a concert, not a show or tribute, as it is simply Lightfoot’s music, front and centre. The band members sprinkle some biographical and personal tidbits throughout the concert, adding background to the songs and defining their individual connections to the music. The banter is fun and lively, and if a couple of the jokes come off a little forced, the audience eats it up anyway.
Way is a bright and energetic leader, wearing colourful dresses and dancing gleefully throughout the performance. Her smile is big and contagious, and you can feel the genuine love for the material emanating from her. The band, including Brant Garratt (guitar), Bruce Ley (piano, guitar), Bobby Prochaska (bass), Don Reid (drums), and Fred Smith (lead guitar, banjo, mandolin), is engaging, accomplished, and so, so talented. The differences in their styles add some nice complexity to the concert, and a few tempo and key changes ensure the songs can be ideally presented in different ranges. The concert moves along nicely, and stays dynamic as various band members step up to sing centre stage, sometimes bringing a different instrument (banjo, mandolin, small drum) with them. All six of the performers harmonize beautifully, and they have an obvious love and respect for Lightfoot’s music.
The set is simple, with the band nicely arranged on stage so that the audience can see each of them clearly. Three vertical banners form a backdrop, showing mountains, clear blue water, trees, and a superimposed guitar, all of which evoke the Canadian wilderness that Lightfoot loved so much. There is a great flow to the well-choreographed performance, and good use of the stage.
Early Morning Rain: The Legend of Gordon Lightfoot comes to Port Stanley with perfect timing, as Canada mourns one of its own. The concert does a fabulous job of reinforcing what we already know…that Gordon Lightfoot, one of this country’s most prolific and well-loved songwriters, was a true Canadian legend, and his music lives on.
Early Morning Rain: The Legend of Gordon Lightfoot continues at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre (PSFT) until June 3. Tickets are available at the PSFT box office at 519-782-4353 or 1-855-782-4353, or visit https://psft.ca.
Photo: (l to r) Brant Garratt, Fred Smith, Leisa Way, Bruce Ley, Don Reid, and Bobby Prochaska
Early Morning Rain: The Legend of Gordon Lightfoot
Created by and starring Leisa Way and the Wayward Wind Band
Musical Direction and Arranging by Bruce Ley
Performed by Leisa Way, Brant Garratt, Bruce Ley, Bobby Prochaska, Don Reid, and Fred Smith
Port Stanley Festival Theatre, Bridge Street, Port Stanley
May 23 to June 3, 2023
Reviewed by Sookie Mei