Please play again

For four years now, a bunch of talented Canadian performers have gotten together every winter to tell the world “The Way We Feel” about the songs of Gordon Lightfoot. I’ve had the great honour of hosting the show, which means getting the best seat in the house to hear a stellar cast do what they do best. Lightfoot’s tunes defy genre in their capable hands – blues, country, folk, rock, pop, protest, poetry, even elements of jazz, punk, spoken word, and comedy have all been teased out by a list of artists now too long to name.

As always when we take the Carefree Highway, it’s an emotional adventure. The first year, we stood on stage at Hugh’s Room with lumps in our throats, knowing Mr. Lightfoot lay in a hospital bed nearby and might never sing again. The second year, we honoured his recovery with overwhelming gratitude. The third year, he hopped up on stage with us and the show became a joyous celebration. This year, with shades of whimsy and wonder, it became a true tradition, and I hope it never stops.

The kind of energy that Lightfoot gathered from far and wide across this land, wrested into works of beauty and depth, and shared with a people desperate to hear their own stories sung, is magnified in the fervent admiration of today’s artists, who have the great fortune of having grown up in a Canadian musical tradition. It’s tough sometimes to live in the shadows of giants… but boy, is the soil ever fertile in their cool shadows.

That said, as wonderful as it is for me, the amazing high of The Way We Feel is usually followed by a quick dive into depression. Frankly when it’s all over and I’ve come down from wherever it is we go, I usually find myself crying, for reasons I can’t even explain fully. I know it has something to do with music’s ability to touch people; something to do with nostalgia; something to do with being surrounded by immense talent, and something very much to do with Canada.

Sunday night, after all was said and done, I sat and watched the Olympic closing ceremonies alone, exhausted and exhilirated all at once. Okay, I’m a sap: I started to get choked up watching the whole audience dance to “YMCA,” of all things… then (to my embarassment!) watching highlight reel of Frank and Gordon, the animated beavers from the Bell commercials… you can imagine what a mess I was by the time the Native leaders of lower mainland BC had extended their sacred invitation for 2010, and the quadrapalegic mayor of Vancouver had accepted the Olympic flag and done a couple of doughnuts in his wheelchair?

And our Olympians, the ones who’d worked their whole lives for this and weren’t going to miss a moment- did you see them dance over there in Torino, cheerfully waving to the world? It’s because they’ve got Lightfeet, I think. Lightfeet and light hearts. Me too.

Monday morning, in the bright late winter sun, I rolled up the rim for the first time this year. It said “Please Play Again.” Funny, in Vancouver, they’re using the slogan “Come play with us.” Coincidence? All I know is The Way We Felt in 2003, when we gathered on stage the first time to sing “Please Play Again, Gord” – and he did.

And we do…

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