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Gordon Lightfoot took the stage at the Sandy Amphitheater on Wednesday evening. Three of his biggest fans — my wife and friends Chris and Norm — barely recognized him.

Not having been a Lightfoot fan in my youth, I wouldn't have recognized the elderly balladeer had there been a sign hanging around his neck. I had to take other people's word that it was him.

At the rotten age of 77 and thinned out by hard living and medical problems, Gord is no longer on the summer side of life. He shuffled onto the stage looking a bit confused and almost homeless.

The biggest shock was when he began singing. It was immediately obvious that his voice was gone. The dismay was evident in the audience. Mercifully, most of it was hushed.

"Oh, my gosh. He doesn't sound anything like he did."

"I can't even tell which song that is. Can you?"

"He should know when to quit. I can't believe we paid money for this."

I don't know if Gord heard, but I'll bet he saw some of it. Fifteen minutes into the concert, seats started to empty. The couple next to us had enough and left in the middle of a song. A confidence-robbing ribbon of darkness headed for the exits.

Human beings have a hard time forgiving our idols for failing to stay young and inspirational. Once they start to slide, we slough away from them despite what they still might have to offer.

Not raised on Lightfoot, I still recognized his older stuff. "Carefree Highway," "Cold on the Shoulder" and "If You Could Read My Mind" are integral parts of my marriage to an ardent fan.

Gradually, those who stayed — and it was most of us — warmed to the diminished efforts. Age and altitude caught up with Gord several times, and he had to sit down and catch his breath. True fans responded with encouragement.

"You still got it, Gord!"

"We love you, Gord!"

"Can I rub your back or something?"

Granted, the voice wasn't as vibrant as it is on the CD player in our kitchen — and he never got around to my favorite, "Triangle" — but I didn't mind. The best part of the show for me wasn't on the stage.

Sitting next to me, my wife lost 20 years as she sang along with the soundtrack of her youth. I saw the young girl shine in her face again. It was breathtaking.

That's when I realized that as we watched the show, the show also watched us. From the eighth row, I glanced over my shoulder and saw what Gord saw.

Someone had apparently emptied the local rest homes for the concert. A small sea of punched-out, saggy, bald and squatty geezers swayed more or less in time with the music.

Gone were the lithe and carefree teenagers and 20-somethings who stormed Lightfoot concerts nearly half a century ago. The gales of November had indeed come too early for all of us.

But for an hour or so Wednesday night, it didn't matter. The minstrel of the dawn sang about loss, grief and hope of redemption to a crowd now old enough to have experienced plenty of it.

Driving home, Chris, Norm, my wife and I talked about what the music had meant to us on the other side of our lives. It took us back to a time when things were less cluttered and fun seemed inexhaustible.

If we'd listened harder, we might have heard Gord say, "That's what you get for loving me."

Robert Kirby can be reached at or Find his past columns at