The Sundown singer is set to turn the lights out at Massey Hall. Gordon Lightfoot, who’s played with the historical Toronto venue more than anybody, is going to be the last artist to do there before the construction is temporarily shuttered as part of an intense renovation that’s already under way.

Lightfoot, 79, will give concerts on June 29 and 30, 2018. After which, Massey’s giant red doors will be locked tight until autumn, 2020.

Since opening on June 14, 1894, the downtown building’s program of concerts and other events was interrupted on just one other event. In the summer of 1948, Massey was shut to be able to replace the original wooden stage and main floor with concrete constructions.

Prices of the mid-century reconstruction were estimated at $400,000, paid for by the Massey Foundation. The bill for the recent Massey Hall Revitalization Project is pegged at $139-million, with assistance from all three levels of government and a $42-million private-sector capitol campaign.

The history of this venue is a storied one. The recently formed (Toronto) Mendelssohn Choir performed its first concert at Massey in 1895. In 1919, world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey set his dukes up in an exhibition game on the hallway’s broad stage. From the 1930s, Torontonians were billed a high price of $1 to listen to the nephew of Adolph Hitler inform them, based on an ad, “what the German folks are thinking.” And in 1965, Bob Dylan (backed by the group that would later become The Band) was booed by folk music purists.

The completed first phase of the seven-year overhaul (which started in 2013) involved the excavation, shoring and structure of a basement shell and foundation to an addition on the south side of the 123-year-old construction. The temporary closure of Massey next summer allows for the building of the addition, which will house another 500-seat venue.

Upon conclusion of the Heritage building’s exterior and interior renovation, patrons will appreciate retractable seats, more restrooms and the restoration of the building’s stained glass windows.

Technical updates include a new audio, video and lighting system. All the better to hear and watch the beloved Lightfoot, the composer of these brooding soft-rock strikes as If You Could Read My Mind and Carefree Highway and the writer of folkier Canadiana classics The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the CBC-commissioned Canadian Railroad Trilogy.

His health willing, Lightfoot would seem the natural choice to return in 2020 to christen a refurbished place he’s played over 165 times, starting with an appearance for a preteen in a Kiwanis Music Festival.

In a media statement, Lightfoot was described as being “synonymous” with the 2,752-seat venue. “There wouldn’t be any artist more suitable than Gordon Lightfoot to play Massey Hall as we shut the building to start the revitalization of our cherished hallway,” said Deane Cameron, president and CEO of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall. “His incredible voice and songs have stuffed this hallway for decades and there’s absolutely not any doubt that he will continue to inspire crowds once we reopen.”

Tickets for the Lightfoot concerts go on sale Dec. 8. The back-to-back performances will undoubtedly be considered Massey Hall milestones, added into the history of a place which has introduced such notables as Winston Churchill, Maria Callas, Enrico Caruso, George Gershwin, Dalai Lama and Lenny Kravitz.

Artists that have recorded live albums at Massey include Neil Young, Burton Cummings, Rush, an illustrious jazz quintet (of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach) and, obviously, the troubadour Lightfoot.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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