While introducing a performance by Feist and the Tragically Hip taped at Toronto’s Massey Hall for the recent Juno Awards broadcast, Gordon Lightfoot let the cat out of the bag about his own upcoming shows there, “where I shall be presenting myself hopefully in the fall.”
Massey Hall, closed since 2018 for extensive renovations of the 127-year-old venue, has now officially announced the Lightfoot concerts and much more.
The Carefree Highway troubadour, the last artist to perform at the concert hall, on July 1, 2018, will open the revitalized space with three shows on Nov. 25, 26 and 27. Lightfoot celebrates his 83rd birthday on Nov. 17. He has performed on what is now known as the Allan Slaight Stage on more than 160 occasions.
Other announced 2021 concerts at the designated national historic site include Buffy Sainte-Marie (Nov. 30), City and Colour (Dec. 9 and 10) and Broken Social Scene (Dec. 16).
In conjunction with the news of Massey Hall’s reopening, Toronto Mayor John Tory proclaimed Monday Massey Hall Day in the city.
The news comes on the heels of last week’s announcement by music promoter Live Nation Canada that it has collaborated on a new venue in Toronto’s east end. With a capacity of 2,500, the History concert space will compete for bookings not only with the 2,700-seat Massey Hall, but the similarly sized waterfront Rebel entertainment complex. The first show at History is scheduled for Oct. 22, with Maryland rock band All Time Low set for a venue-christening visit.
The announcements are another sign of the return of live music in Canada, an industry that, like so many others, was shut down by the pandemic. Music concerts are still not allowed in Ontario, but Quebec is already permitting indoor and outdoor concerts with restrictions on capacity and seating configurations. Indoor concerts in British Columbia are expected just after Labour Day.
“I’m hopeful we’ll have something by the end of summer outdoors,” said Riley O’Connor, the chairman of Live Nation Canada, whose first scheduled concert this season at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage amphitheatre is Blue Rodeo on Aug. 28. “And there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be back indoors by this fall.”
Though the concert industry is reopening with gusto in the United States – Foo Fighters will play a full-capacity Madison Square Garden on June 20, with attendees required to show proof of vaccination – not everyone is optimistic that the sector in Canada is ready to follow suit.
“Other sectors are going to open, but we’re not there yet,” said Erin Benjamin, the president and CEO of Canadian Live Music Association, an advocacy group for the concert industry. “I’d say we’re six months away from getting back to normal.”
Getting back to normal means venues operating at full capacity. Indoor venues will likely face restrictions on crowd sizes for the foreseeable future. “Shows are going on sale now because people are doing their best to plan, and a certain length of runway is required,” Benjamin said. “They’ll just get postponed if operators can’t operate at all or at the kind of capacity they need to make it viable.”
It’s possible a promoter could raise ticket prices to offset the loss of revenue from reduced seating. One artist who won’t be doing that is Lightfoot. “It’s a non-starter with Gordon,” said Bernie Fiedler, Lightfoot’s long-time promoter. “He won’t have anything to do with that. He’s insistent when it comes to reasonable prices for his fans.”
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