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Mary Lamont with Jim Marchese

Gordon Lightfoot performing in Interlochen, Michigan in 2009. Photo courtesy of Charles Backfish

By Rita J. Egan

WUSB’s Sunday Street Series at The Long Island Museum has a tradition of bringing artists together to celebrate musical legends. On March 24, they will be adding a bit of Canadian flair.

The series will present Long Island Celebrates Lightfoot — a celebration of the songs of Gordon Lightfoot, the renowned Canadian songwriter and singer who passed away on May 1, 2023 at the age of 84.

With a music catalog encompassing 20 studio and three live albums, more than a dozen musicians will perform hits such as “Early Morning Rain,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” “Carefree Highway,” “Ribbon of Darkness,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and some of his lesser-known tracks on March 24.

Producer Charles Backfish said Lightfoot had been recording and touring since the 1960s up until a year or so before he passed away. “I’m really excited about this one, because, first of all, he is a songwriter of major stature, and secondly, he’s someone from up north that I think needs to get a little bit more acknowledgement in the United States,” he said.

Backfish added that while the singer/songwriter is known to some degree in this country, people may not be familiar with the range of Lightfoot’s albums. One song, “Black Day in July,” is about the 1967 Detroit Riot. The single was banned from some U.S. radio stations because many thought it was too political.

Ray Lambiase, who will be performing during the show, said when he was younger, his friends would listen to groups such as The Beatles. He, however, was listening to artists such as country blues singer Missippi John Hurt and folk-blues duo Sunday Terry and Brownie McGhee. He learned how to play guitar listening to folk music, and Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain” was one of the songs he would play early in his career.

“I’ve been playing ‘Early Morning Rain’ since I was 18, and that was over 50 years ago,” he said.

Lambiase will perform the song with other artists on March 24. He will also play “Did She Mention My Name” and “Sundown.” He added the shows allow singers and songwriters of every age an opportunity to collaborate.

“It’s just nice having everybody together, and you don’t often get that kind of a chance where everybody’s in the same room,” Lambiase said. “You get to catch up a little bit, and it generates such a warm feeling. It’s always a wonderful night and hopefully that somehow translates to what the audience is picking up.”

Among those multigenerational artists will be Andrew Fortier and his son and daughter, Cole and Andie. 

Andrew Fortier said it’s been interesting watching his children discover Lightfoot’s work. “They actually bring up stuff that I missed,” he said, adding both have eclectic tastes.

The singer, who has always been a fan of Lightfoot’s work, said digging into an artist’s music catalog for The Sunday Street Series is always a pleasant surprise.

“I’m 60 years old, so I grew up with Gordon Lightfoot in the 70s,” he said. “I’m a total fan, but you become more of a fan when you start backtracking and listening to cuts you’ve never heard before.”

Andrew’s son Cole said this will be the second Sunday Street show he has performed in. The musician said he’s enjoying studying Lightfoot’s music, describing the songs as fluid.

“What I’ve noticed about him particularly is his songs are very strophic, there’s not really any bridges, and they’re played through, which is kind of typical as a more traditional folk sound,” Cole said. “But, what’s interesting is just the long form vibes of these songs that go on and roam for a little while with these amazing lyrical narratives.”

Mary Lamont, who was raised in Canada, will also be among the performers at the Lightfoot event. The lead singer of the Mary Lamont Band said she was familiar with the singer/songwriter when she was younger but grew to appreciate his songwriting and singing more in later years.

The Sunday Street Series shows feature the artists performing two songs each. Lamont, whose husband Jim Marchese and bandmate Rich Lanahan will accompany her on acoustic guitars, said it can be challenging to narrow it down to two tracks when someone has such an extensive catalog. To choose, she listens to the artist’s albums until a song hits her. In this case, she chose two songs, “Cold on the Shoulder” and “Alberta Bound.” In the latter Lightfoot included references to Canada, including Toronto, which is about three hours from where Lamont grew up.

“That was the reason why I picked that song,” she said. “It had so many Canadian references.” She added she feels “every country has its own pride about people.” 

“I feel a certain pride and really a newfound respect for Gordon Lightfoot’s music, too,” Lamont said. “I have to thank Charlie for that.”

Backfish and the performers hope the audience will leave the show with a deeper appreciation of Lightfoot’s music.

“They’re going to hear a lot of songs that they’re not familiar with, and for me, the best thing would be for them to walk away realizing what a career and what a lasting body of work Gordon Lightfoot really left us,” Lambiase said.


Long Island Celebrates Lightfoot will take place in the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room at the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook on Sunday, March 24 at 5 p.m. and will feature local musicians Gene Casey, Caroline Doctorow, Mick Hargreaves, Ray Lambiase, Mary Lamont with Jim Marchese, Rich Lanahan, Russ Seeger, Hank Stone, Bob Westcott, and Andrew, Cole and Andie Fortier. 

Advance sale tickets are available at www.sundaystreet.org for $25 with tickets at the door, if available, for $30 (cash only).