Review by Peter Jabs, Photos by Margaret Evans
On a hot September evening at the Polish Hall on Court Street, the sweat-soaked musicians were arms-over-shoulders taking a final bow during the minute long standing ovation. It was one of those nights. You just had to be there.
Eight veteran musicians from the Toronto area were taking their show, comprised entirely of Gordon Lightfoot tunes, on tour through Northern Ontario. Frontman Jory Nash had been putting together variations of this tribute annually at Hugh’s Room in Toronto for the past 15 years, almost as long as the Sleeping Giant Folk Music Society has been in existence.
Welcoming us to their 17th season was former CBC radio personality and current contributor to The Walleye, Gerald Graham. The night began with Peter Katz doing renditions of “Song for a Winter’s Night” and “Bitter Green.” He had us at “. . . the snow was softly falling.” That and the heat melted the audience into a puttle of budder (sic).
I had seen Lori Cullen at the Free Times Café in T.O. about 20 years ago and her pure voice coming straight from her heart was just the same. She has developed into a fine jazz musician and her versions of “Rainy Day People” and “The Way I Feel” reflected that influence.
Next, Jory Nash himself came onstage and gave us true classics “Summer Side of Life” and “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” Nash is the funniest on-stage raconteur in folk music circles and had us in stitches with his dating-days anecdote.
After the intermission the “House Band” comprised of David Matheson, David Woodhead, and Jason Fowler, all well-known names with folkies, offered up “Black Day in July” (very timely) and “In My Fashion” – which included a Lightfoot rap – among others.
The most refined and restrained performance of the evening was by Kevin Fox on cello doing “Carefree Highway” which garnered him long sustained applause.
Everyone seemed to be waiting for star performer Oh Susanna (Suzie Ungerleider) and she did not disappoint with “Early Morning Rain” and “Steel Rail Blues” – both songs about “losers” as she gently put it. Ms. Ungerleider has toned down her delivery several notches this far into her singing career and that worked well in this context. Her onstage banter is so engaging and warm you end up feeling that she is a really good old friend. She told us her 12-year-old son had quipped, “It’s a double entendre” about the song “Cotton Jenny” which ended the show but for the encore “Rich Man’s Spiritual” wherefore the whole cast came onstage.
After a fabulous show like that it is easy to see the importance of Gordon Lightfoot in the musical hearts and minds of Canadians.
Sleeping Giant Folk Music Society returns to the Polish Hall on November 4 with Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar, look for the preview in our October issue.