The Ocean City, NJ boardwalk is bustling with people making their way inside the Ocean City Music Pier this Monday, July 18, 2022 evening for a sold-out concert of live music featuring the legendary Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot.
As his fans are well aware, over the years, Lightfoot has experienced many personal challenges in his life. Each time, though, he has managed to overcome adversity and spring back with a vengeance. He is a survivor whose work has influenced many top-flight artists, and his songs are beloved by music aficionados around the world.
Inside the historic Ocean City Music Pier auditorium, tonight’s opening act, Jake Wildhorn, takes the stage. The son of Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn and famed vocalist Linda Eder, the New York City singer/songwriter provides the audience with a 30-minute set of quality material while winning over the crowd with his unassuming and charming personality.
Greeting the audience, Wildhorn deadpans, “Obviously, I’m not Gordon Lightfoot.” Adding, “I’ve had the privilege of opening for him for his past few shows, and it’s been an absolute pleasure,” Wildhorn jokes, “And today, I got the whole Ocean City experience — I had ice cream and pizza on the boardwalk and even got attacked by some Jersey birds.”
Among the highlights of Wildhorn’s set is his original composition, “My, My, My,” a song he wrote about getting back out and seeing people again following the pandemic. On this folksy number, Wildhorn’s expressive and resonant voice cries out with feeling as he sings straight from the heart.
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The crowd applauds and Wildhorn remarks, “I heard there’s no alcohol here in Ocean City,” prior to joking, “That’s a problem ‘cause my body doesn’t produce its own alcohol.” Wildhorn continues with a story song about a girl named “Mercy” on which he effortlessly pops into and out of his floating falsetto voice.
Following a composition about a recent trip he made to London, Wildhorn performs “These Better Days,” an upbeat number which he sings with his eyes closed as he paints a picture for the crowd about his personal musical journey.
Concluding, “I’ve got one more song, and it’s a cover,” Wildhorn invites the audience to “sing, clap, or do anything you want” on his interpretation of The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Audience members sing along as Wildhorn captivates the crowd, impressing the music lovers in the house who respond to his set with whistles and applause.
Following a brief intermission, the audience leaps to its feet cheering as Gordon Lightfoot and his band — guitarist Carter Lancaster, keyboardist Michael Heffernan, bassist Rick Haynes, and drummer Barry Keane — take the stage.
Blue lights and smoke rise as the legendary musician strums his acoustic guitar as he sings “The Watchman’s Gone.”
With his staccato phrasing, he vocalizes “Just like birds of a feather/We too have followed the golden sun/It feels so good/Knowin’ the watchman’s gone” on this folk-rocker which features Carter Lancaster bending the strings of his electric guitar as he picks out a melody.
Following avid applause, Lightfoot greets the crowd announcing, “Here we are in this beautiful part of the USA,” and suggesting, “For tonight, enjoy everything around us and forget about all the ‘BS’ that’s going on in the world.”
White light fans out in rays that paint the ceiling with swirls and shapes that move to “Too Many Clues in the Room,” a story song with a shifting meter, and the crowd intently watches Lightfoot as he performs the country-rocker, “Now and Then,” before colored lights flash to his guitar picking on the up-tempo folk tune, “Ribbon of Darkness Over Me.”
A highlight of tonight’s set is Lightfoot’s performance of his 1974 #1 hit, “Sundown.” Audience members sing along on the nostalgic “Sundown, you better take care/If I find you been creeping ‘round my back stairs” refrain, and audio enthusiasts in the house are impressed with the pristine sound of Lightfoot’s band.
The crowd cheers, and Lightfoot introduces the members of his musical ensemble. After sharing stories about the group’s current tour of the United States, one patron yells out, “Thanks for coming!”
Lightfoot jokes, “One time, Bob Dylan referred to me as the Luciano Pavarotti of the folk singers,” before he and the band launch into “14 Karat Gold.” On this minor-key folk rocker, Rick Haynes’ bass and Barry Keane’s drums accent Michael Heffernan’s ethereal keyboard pad sounds along with Lightfoot’s and Lancaster’s fingerpicked guitar work.
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Audience members cheer when they recognize the intro to Lightfoot’s 1971 classic, “If You Could Read My Mind.” Music lovers in the crowd sing along with Lightfoot as he croons, “If you could read my mind, love/What a tale my thoughts could tell,” his songwriting artistry conjuring up images of “ghosts,” “wishing wells,” “heroes,” and “movie queens,” all in the name of love lost. At the end, audience members stand, cheer, and applaud.
Following the slow groove of “Make Way for the Lady” and the story-song “Home From the Forest,” Lightfoot’s composing skills are again on display on the lovely “Beautiful,” a brilliant composition which features a unique chord progression and a musical arrangement that swirls like a warm embrace.
After acknowledging, “It must be ironic doing a song like this in Ocean City in the summer because it’s a song about winter,” Lightfoot and the band perform “Song for a Winter’s Night” where jingle bells ring out along with acoustic guitars, soft keyboard, and bass on this rhythmic folk-rocker.
On Lightfoot’s 1974 Top Ten hit, “Carefree Highway,” audience members join in singing on the breezy “Carefree highway/Let me slip away on you” refrain before Lancaster plays a tasty electric guitar riff and concludes with a jazzy guitar coda which elicits cheers and applause.
Prior to launching into his 1976 hit, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” Lightfoot recounts the story about a 1975 tragedy on the Great Lakes where 29 people were lost.
Swirls of light on the ceiling add to the music’s mystical mood as Lightfoot sings, “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down/Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee,” and the crowd nods their heads in rhythm to the story song’s compelling 6/8 meter.
Lightfoot acknowledges, “I’ve had a couple of tunes recorded by Elvis,” revealing, “We went to Graceland in Memphis and saw the Jungle Room where they did their recording of this tune of mine.” He strums his 12-string guitar as the band accompanies him on his sweet and gentle folk song, “Early Morning Rain.”
The crowd whistles and applauds, and Lightfoot responds, “Thank you very much,” before he and his band take leave of the stage. The audience stands and cheers until he and the musicians return to perform an encore of Lightfoot’s 1975 radio staple, “Rainy Day People.”
The ensemble’s performance of this easy-listening folk-rock tune leaves music lovers in the crowd standing, cheering, and whistling for Lightfoot and his talented band of musicians.
As audience members make their way out of the auditorium and back onto the Ocean City boardwalk, we chat with several concertgoers who share their opinions of tonight’s performance. Exclaims Michael from Ocean City, “Gordon Lightfoot put on great show!” explaining, “This is my first time seeing him. He sang all of his hits to a packed house, and he really made a good memory for me tonight.” Frank from Brick concurs, adding, “Gordon Lightfoot gave it his all tonight, his band was stellar, and the crystal-clear sound and creative stage lighting made this an exceptional live concert experience.”
Richard from Wyoming, PA, acknowledges, “I’ve known Gordon for over 40 years — I was his road manager from 1970 to 1981,” before noting, “The sound was really clean tonight, and Gordon is such a trooper — I just loved his show.” Richard’s fiancé, Sheryl from Wyoming, PA, concurs, prior to disclosing, “Richard and I are getting married this September, and we were so happy that Gordon played our wedding song, ‘Beautiful,’ tonight.”
We also chat with a group of family members attending tonight’s concert as part of a family reunion in Ocean City. Exclaims Harriett from North Carolina, “This was the highlight of our entire reunion! This is the music of our youth, and Gordon Lightfoot did all of his biggest hits. We’re all so happy we came tonight!”
Sandi from Georgia agrees, exclaiming, “Gordon Lightfoot was fantastic! I loved all his songs and I knew every word,” prior to noting, “It’s wonderful that he’s still performing at his age — it absolutely gives us all hope.” David from Alabama concurs, remarking, “He’s such a trooper, and he captured every song so well.”
Janice from South Carolina confesses, “Gordon Lightfoot’s music makes me feel like I did when I was young,” before acknowledging, “I’m amazed that he remembers every single word of every one of those songs. I just love his music, and I just love that we all got to see him here in Ocean City.” David from South Carolina agrees, before concluding, “If being here at the shore and on the boardwalk wasn’t enough to take me back to my younger days, Gordon Lightfoot’s music sure did!”
To learn more about Gordon Lightfoot, please go to gordonlightfoot.com. To learn more future concert at the Ocean City Music Pier — including The Bacon Brothers on August 2, Graham Nash on August 8, The Voice’s Girl Named Tom on August 15, and The Kenny Wayne Shepard Band on August 22 — please click on ocnj.us/SummerConcertSeries.
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