Rock legend Gordon Lightfoot battles Toronto demolition of iconic concert hall

Written by By Naseem Virani, CNN Despite an uncertain future for some of Toronto’s biggest concert venues, fans of the city’s classic rock hits have reason to celebrate. At 92 years old, Gordon Lightfoot…

Rock legend Gordon Lightfoot battles Toronto demolition of iconic concert hall

Written by By Naseem Virani, CNN

Despite an uncertain future for some of Toronto’s biggest concert venues, fans of the city’s classic rock hits have reason to celebrate. At 92 years old, Gordon Lightfoot , Canada’s best-known and best-loved singer/songwriter, is confident that he can relaunch his classic band, the Gordon Lightfoot Band , in late 2019 after decades of touring without the group’s signature brass section.

Lightfoot, who achieved worldwide fame with his upbeat songs and songs about life in Canada’s legendary ‘hood, will need all the fan goodwill he can muster to save his legendary hometown concert hall, the Massey Hall . In 2013, developers abandoned plans to build a residential and retail complex on the site. Despite the plan’s demise, the building remains mired in a years-long legal wrangle with the city of Toronto, which seeks to reclaim the building’s revenue-generating heritage designation.

Which means the iconic hall is currently waiting to be rededicated as a concert venue, but won’t reopen until it’s safe. The liner notes for Lightfoot’s latest album, “Angels & Alcohol,” include a dedication to the club.

Lightfoot, 82, said in a phone interview that he remembers a fascinating interview with Canadian rock artist Leonard Cohen that took place in Massey Hall, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the episode, Cohen’s then-girlfriend Molly Johnson describes growing up in Toronto in the 1960s to his inner circle of rock stars, folk music and movies, and recalls that a concert at Massey Hall had changed her life.

Gordon Lightfoot’s 2015 “Angels & Alcohol” album is dedicated to Toronto’s famed Massey Hall. Credit: Mat Shaver

With a final performance set for October 31, Lightfoot has grand plans for the club, which opens for a one-night farewell concert this Saturday. After a successful tour of North America last year, Lightfoot said, he’s hoping to bring his group back to Canada next year for two run-of-the-mill gigs at large regional venues.

“If it doesn’t work out,” Lightfoot said, “I’ll bring them to The Shawshank and … I might be able to get them together at (Canadian governor general) David Johnston’s House because of the history between Gordon Lightfoot and Queen Elizabeth II.”

Gordon Lightfoot — stage name of Gordon Lightfoot, 1932-2019 — is known for his upbeat pop songs about love and life. Credit: Chris Tanaka/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The Queen’s Council for the Arts — a body responsible for overseeing cultural affairs in Canada — has suggested that Lightfoot take up the opportunity to reimagine and reopen Massey Hall as a “cultural renaissance” facility.

“I believe it (restoration) is a really good idea,” said Lightfoot, who had participated in a Toronto Ideas event this spring to discuss how the city is promoting its arts scene in the digital age.

“There are so many old buildings in Toronto,” Lightfoot said. “They’re filled with heritage properties and heritage buildings that haven’t been touched for 100 years.”

Gordon Lightfoot — “New York,” 1971 — music video by Robert Puth + Boris

After many years of concerts, Lightfoot never imagined he’d be playing guitar — instead, wearing a tweed costume — to the same room where he was once interviewed by Cohen. Still, he readily admits, such a relic of Canadian music history would be better suited for a museum.

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