Concert promoter reflects on Gordon Lightfoot as St. John's shows cancelled

As Gordon Lightfoot fans in St. John's lament the cancelling of the legendary singer's two November shows, one man is reminiscing about the first time he came to town.

The St. John's Arts and Culture Centre announced Tuesday that Lightfoot's shows on Nov. 19 and 20 have been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.

But that wasn't the case in December 1966, when Richard Stoker, then the editor of Memorial University's student newspaper The Muse, helped to bring Lightfoot to St. John's.

"We convinced the student council to give us some money — his fee was $3,000 for two shows," he said.

Gordie Lightfoot — as he was known at the time — was booked for two shows at the Holy Heart Theatre, Stoker said, with tickets costing $2.50 each.

"We lost money, because he wasn't really very well known here in those days, [it was] long before he became the massive star he did become," he said.

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Stoker said he was also involved with the lighting for the concerts.

"That first show at Holy Heart — we didn't know what we were doing in those days. We borrowed a follow spot [light] from the old stadium and had to lug that up the spiral staircase ourselves," he said.

"It was a little better than a set of car head lamps and batteries, but it was pretty primitive in those days."

Lightfoot also debuted his song Canadian Railroad Trilogy during those shows, a song commissioned by the CBC for Canada's centennial. 

"And he managed to forget the lines, which was quite funny, but I think that was the first time he'd sung it in public," Stoker said.

"Judging by the timing — this was December of '66, the next year was the Centennial year, which was what he'd been asked to write the song for." 

'An interesting acquaintanceship'

Lightfoot has been back to St. John's a number of times in the more than 50 years since that first performance, and Stoker said he's kept in touch.

"He's been in and out of my life … I guess the last time I saw him was two years ago when he was here," he said. 

"I usually go and see him and say hello, you get into the 'remember when?' scenario. It's been an interesting acquaintanceship, I guess you could call it, over the years."

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And despite a few health scares, Stoker said Lightfoot has still got lots of vigor.

"He's had to rearrange a lot of his songs for breathing and all that kind of stuff, but he's amazing, he's 80 years old and he has that energy. I'm sure these days he takes more naps than he used to," he said. 

Stoker said the folk music icon still plays about 80 dates a year, but won't be performing in St. John's this time around. 

Lightfoot also cancelled a performance in Summerside, P.E.I., with promoters saying the singer needed more time to recover from a leg injury suffered earlier this year. 

The Arts and Culture Centre said in a Facebook post that it has begun contacting ticket holders to issue refunds, and anyone with questions can contact the box office.

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