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Leisa Way and her Wayward Wind Band celebrate Gordon Lightfoot and more

April 13, 2023   ·   2 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

“We’re doing 122 shows in 26 theatres,” said Leisa Way, speaking recently to the Citizen about the 2023 schedule with her Wayward Wind Band. “That’s so far and there will likely be other bookings. Primarily, we are playing Early Morning Rain: the Legend of Gordon Lightfoot.”

This is the concert Ms. Way wrote about the life and music of Gordon Lightfoot. She had the chance three years ago to only debut it for a three-week sold-out run at Theatre Orangeville before the pandemic shut everything down. It is the show they are focussing on this 2023 tour. Of the 12 shows she has written, produced, booked and performed, she and the band are playing six other programs, plus a long run of her newest Christmas show, “Home For the Holidays.” 

“Even if it means doing a one-night show of one of the other six, it keeps that show clear in our minds,” she commented. “Use it or loose it,” she said.

Yet, Ms. Way spoke mainly of Mr. Lightfoot during this interview. A legend in his own time is how Ms. Way sees him, and she honours the depth of his songs. Telling us that Gordon Lightfoot is an “avid canoeist, he paints pictures with words. His love of the wilderness and nature is evident in his songs. He is our musical version of the Group of Seven.”

Ms. Way and her family have a cabin in northern Ontario at the end of a long logger’s road, set in the wilderness. There, in the beauty of that wild scenery, Lightfoot’s songs resonate so well. When, as a child, she travelled there with her family in their father’s truck, he would put the 8-track on featuring the Lightfoot songs, and a young Leisa would sing along with them all the way.

She related, “Gord goes canoeing to clear his mind. This show about Gordon Lightfoot is the most personal for me, this and the Dolly Parton (Rhinestone Cowgirl).”

As much as his songs are about “his own ups and downs,” which make them so relatable, the very versatile Gordon Lightfoot’s writing produced Black Day in July, a protest song during the riots in Detroit in July 1967. During that time, 43 people died, including children.

As Ms. Way pointed out, “It was a Canadian as a new father, saw a child being killed in the riots, and wrote the song telling the story about it.”

Nearly 50 years later, a sculpture by Canadian artist, Timothy Schmaltz, inspired by Black Day in July, will be installed in the park in Orillia, Gordon Lightfoot’s hometown. A bronze statue of Mr. Lightfoot by Schmaltz was unveiled in the park last October.]

A tall, quiet man, Gordon Lightfoot writes deeply meaningful lyrics. The Last Time I Saw Her Face is performed differently by every singer, including women and is part of Ms. Way’s repertoire.

“I was 12 years old when I saw a woman sing that song,” Ms. Way said. And she added Gord says, “When I die, I want to leave a clean campsite.”

Among the other shows included in this year’s tour are the Rhinestone Cowgirl – celebrating Dolly Parton, Across the Pond – the British Invasion, Rock’ n’ Roll is Here to Stay, Opry Gold (for a total of 29 performances between Lighthouse and Showboat Festival Theatres and Burlington Performing Arts Centre), and Sweet Dreams – the Music of Patsy Cline.

Coming to Theatre Orangeville for four shows from Jun. 26 to 29, the lady and her band are bringing songs from the Great American Songbook.

Who are the members of this terrific band, travelling far and wide with Leisa Way and playing her many brilliant shows for quite a number of years?

Bruce Ley is her long-time associate and colleague. He is the mastermind behind all the arrangements for the shows. He plays piano, guitar and sings.

Fred Smith is lead guitars and lead vocals. A fine musician, when Fred Smith plays his solos, he raises the roof!

Bobby Prochaska, too, has been playing and having a great time travelling and performing with her and the band. Mr. Prochaska plays bass, piano and lead vocals. He sings – so sweetly.

Don Reid is the Ringo of the gang, keeping them in line from his seat at the drums. He is lead vocals as well.

There are a few new members for some of the shows, and Ms. Way’s discovery of one is a fun story. She found Brant Garratt by accident, so she says, on YouTube, of a CD release featuring a musician someone had suggested. In the background was another player, a young man playing guitar, but he caught her attention when he sang a solo. She did a little more digging, found him and hired him. Although only in his 20’s, Brant is a huge fan of Gordon Lightfoot, so, a perfect fit for the band. 

“Never under estimate the power of YouTube,” is her advice.

For the 29 performances of Opry Gold, her regular fiddler Nathan Smith was not available. Instead, she has hired “a talented young fiddler, Alex George,” who is graduating this month from Humber College. She has likewise engaged Yvon Petit, who “sings like an angel” and is a virtuoso guitarist. Mr. Petit has been a member of the Johnny Reid Band for the last 22 years and subbed for Ms. Way last year during Covid.

In answer to the biggest challenge for producing so many shows at so many venues, Leisa Way told us: “The most important part of our concerts is the sound. My band and I now wear in-ear monitors, which depend on finding the proper ‘frequencies’ to match up to our wireless mic frequencies.”

She invested in top-notch gear to ensure that their sound checks and concerts “can sound as great as possible.” Leisa Way’s constant determination is to only deliver the best show for her audiences.

She and the Wayward Wind Band are appearing here in Orangeville late in June. For tickets and more information, call the Box Office at 519-942-3423 or 1-800-424-1295.

For information about her other shows:

Readers Comments (2)

  1. Ruth Claessens says:

    Where can I find your tour schedule? You should perform in Stratford at the Festival stage during their off season. I’d love to see your Gordon Lightfoot show. He was to perform here before COVID, but he got sick and the show was canceled.

  2. DAPHNE Thomson says:

    I would like to know when you will be
    performing Patsy Cline – have seen it
    5 times but need to see it again.
    enjoyed your performance yesterday in
    Port Dover.


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