Canada’s Troubadour dies at 84: Gordon Lightfoot’s impact on the Mariposa Folk Festival won’t be forgotten

Canada’s Troubadour dies at 84: Gordon Lightfoot’s impact on the Mariposa Folk Festival won’t be forgotten

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Photo credit: Mike Bailey

Gordon Lightfoot, an Orillia treasure and pillar of the Mariposa Folk Festival, passed away from natural causes in a Toronto hospital on Monday night (May 1), at age 84. His death was confirmed by his longtime publicist Victoria Lord.

A singer/songwriter all his life, Lightfoot was so much more than his Top 40 hits and Platinum albums. His work has become deeply woven into Canada’s cultural fabric, and his songs have been covered by a wide range of artists around the globe. The deep and rich catalogue of Gordon Lightfoot songs have deservedly seen him placed alongside Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen in the top rank of our songsmiths.

A native of Orillia, he auditioned for the first Mariposa festival in 1961 and was rejected from performing because he sounded, “too much like the Everly Brothers.” Lightfoot’s sound fit the traditional folk genre of the early 1960s but as he progressed as an artist his songwriting became personal and showcased his poetic lyrics. 

Despite his original rejection from the festival, he performed at the 1964 event at Maple Leaf Stadium in Toronto and immediately became an annual staple of the event. 

Lightfoot was part of the reason the 1972 Mariposa festival on Toronto Island was one of the most memorable in the event’s history. He wasn’t on the bill, but showed up as a spectator with Bob Dylan in tow. Dylan’s request to perform there was turned down, but he and Lightfoot reportedly had a fun time, creating a real stir amongst the crowd too.

In the history of Mariposa written by Mike Hill, former Artistic Director of the festival, Lightfoot is quoted as remembering that fest this way: “Bob and I were acquaintances really, being part of Albert Grossman’s management stable. We saw Neil Young there. And Bob and I would get together [both that year and at other times] at my place. It was kind of party central, as I was carefree and kind of footloose at the time.”

When Mariposa was struggling financially in the late 1990s, Gordon Lightfoot headlined the festival free of charge upon its return to Orillia in 2000. Thousands of tickets were sold and the festival made enough money to survive, and eventually thrive. Mariposa Folk Foundation President Pam Carter remarks, “without his support we would never have successfully returned home to Orillia.” Lightfoot’s gracious manner and deep ties to the festival and to the town of Orillia were unbreakable. Gordon Lightfoot truly was a hometown hero. 

Year after year Lightfoot would return to either headline, put in a surprise performance, or simply be part of the audience and experience the festival. He could be seen sitting on park benches and singing with other artists or festival goers in between acts and striking up a conversation with whomever approached him. Carter remembers, “watching Lightfoot interact with the fans and people of Orillia is so humbling and heartwarming. You don’t meet a lot of artists like that nowadays.”

Evidence of the profound impact Lightfoot had on Mariposa was provided at the 1995 edition of the festival. A clear highlight of that fest was a tribute to Lightfoot, a weekend-long salute focused on the legendary songwriter’s contribution to folk music and to Mariposa specifically. Several of the workshops during the day on Olympic Island were Lightfoot-themed, and artists as varied in style as The Travellers, Murray McLauchlan, Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen, and Eugene Ripper gave their takes on the great man’s music.

Lightfoot went on to headline Mariposa in 2000, 2005, 2007, and 2010. 

In 2004, he made a headline-grabbing unscheduled appearance at Mariposa, two years after a life-threatening aneurysm. As a result of that medical event, Lightfoot had to re-teach himself how to sing, play guitar, and perform. The festival that year had a mainstage tribute to its favourite troubadour scheduled, and Lightfoot delighted the audience with his surprise onstage appearance for a single song, “I’ll Tag Along.”

“For so many in the crowd, this was spine-tingling. It was enough that he was there, and the fact that he’d chosen Mariposa as the first step on his musical road to recovery was special to the festival crowd,” said Hill.

In better health, Lightfoot returned to headline Mariposa again the following year, and once more in 2007. His headlining appearance during the latter edition couldn’t be more characteristic of his dedication to the festival. Lightfoot set foot on stage as the Orillia clouds opened and poured down rain. Without skipping a beat, he played on, and not an audience member budged from their spot as they watched Lightfoot light up the stage and bring warmth to the cold evening. As he left the stage he turned his guitar upside down, pouring out a gallon of water, and the crowd went wild.

In 2012, Lightfoot came as a spectator to the festival. He asked if he could play a couple of songs but not before making sure it was alright with headliner, Jann Arden, as he didn’t want to upstage her. “Hey it’s Gordon Lightfoot. He can do whatever he wants!” was Arden’s reply.

Lightfoot’s annual ‘surprise’ visits have been thrilling to audiences and a constant reminder of his greatness and the survival of folk festivals and folk music.

In 2016, Gordon Lightfoot attended Mariposa once more, and was honoured by the unveiling of a leaf for “Black Day in July.” This initiative’s plan is for a series of decorative maple leaves to be planted in Lightfoot’s honour along the section of the Trans-Canada Trail – known locally as the Lightfoot Trail – that winds along Orillia’s waterfront.

That year, Lightfoot stayed to catch a number of the performances, and in a post-Mariposa interview, he spoke enthusiastically about what he saw. “There was magic this past year. There were so many good moments. I always get an emotional lift at Mariposa. It has a life of its own and will go on for a long time. It’s one of the best-known festivals on the planet – internationally recognized.”

In 2022, Lightfoot was inducted in the Mariposa Hall of Fame. A who’s who of Canadian Folk performers gathered mainstage at the Festival to honour the legend. “The artists who paid tribute were so gracious and grateful. When they came together with Gord on the mainstage and played Alberta Bound, goosebumps don’t sufficiently capture it. I felt we could be witnessing a moment in Canadian music history,” said Mariposa Foundation President, Pam Carter.

Canadian musician, artist, and storyteller Tom Wilson curated the Hall of Fame performance and had this to say on Lightfoot’s passing: “Gordon Lightfoot has left us but he lives in our blood. His voice will always raise up our ghosts and reunite us with a tremendous joy we all hold in our hearts but may have forgotten about. Thank you, Gordon.”

Bruce Good, of the Good Brothers, paid this tribute to the music legend: “My brothers and I were honoured to be part of Gord’s induction ceremony into the Mariposa Hall of Fame last summer as we sang a rousing tribute of his Canadian classic Alberta Bound with Gord and several great Canadian artists. We will miss sharing our stage with him. We will miss his music and laughter, but most of all we will miss our good friend and mentor. Gord’s songs were the heartbeat of our nation and his voice was our breath. Rest in peace dear friend.”

Gordon Lightfoot’s passing is a day of national mourning for it means a symbol of grace, humility, and the power of folk music has left us. Lightfoot’s presence will always grace Mariposa as his bronze statue, encircled with a halo of leaves and portraying him sitting and playing his guitar, stands on forever as part of the festival. 

While there have been many performers who have played Mariposa, it is undeniable that Gordon Lightfoot will always be a staple of the festival. Lightfoot and the Mariposa Folk Festival will always hold one another close to their hearts, and his crucial role will never be forgotten. 

Mike Hill, Author of The Mariposa Folk Festival: A History – Mariposa Talks Interview

Mike Hill, Author of The Mariposa Folk Festival: A History – Mariposa Talks Interview

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In this Mariposa Talks Interview, Mike Hill, author of The Mariposa Folk Festival: A History, published by Dundurn Press, regales viewers with interesting anecdotes from what is the definitive book about Mariposa’s storied past. The ‘tell all’ relies on a rich treasure trove of incidents, surprises, ups and downs, and personal recollections of Mariposa Folk Festival. Some interesting nuggets are served-up in this edition of Mariposa Talks.

James Hill – Mariposa Talks Interview

James Hill – Mariposa Talks Interview

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In this interview for the Mariposa Talks series, ukulele maestro James Hill tells us why he chose the ukulele over the violin (it was more fun), talks about some exciting new directions he’s taken in his latest album, and addresses the question of whether the name of his instrument should be pronounced “yuke-a-laylee” or “ook-oo-laylee.”


Here’s some live performance videos of James Hill for your enjoyment:

Voodoo Child (Hendrix Ukulele Cover)
Billie Jean (Michael Jackson Cover)

Saturday Evening Headliner: The Good Family

Saturday Evening Headliner: The Good Family

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The idea of forming The Good Family band took root when a pair of musician brothers invited their parents to join them on a musical romp throughout Scotland, England and Wales. At some venues they were described as Canada’s answer to the legendary Carter Family. Since then, the band has blossomed to include even more of this talented lineage.

No strangers to the stage and studio, some members of The Good family hail from two of Canada’s premier acts. Bruce and Larry Good are two-thirds of Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame inductees and multiple Juno Award recipients The Good Brothers. Travis and Dallas Good are members of Juno and Indie award winning band The Sadies.

The Good Family 3Rounding out the family is Margaret Good, wife of Bruce and mother of Travis and Dallas. Margaret is also a veteran performer who appears on several recordings by both The Sadies and The Good Brothers. She also sang on Ronnie Prophets’ “Grand Old Country” which aired on CTV for two seasons, backing such artists as Charlie Pride, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Mel Tillis and Dolly Parton to name just a few.

The Good Family talent pool does not end there, with niece and cousin D’Arcy Good adding yet another dimension with her amazing fiddle and outstanding vocals.

And just when you think it can’t get any better, Sean Dean and Mike Belitsky of The Sadies provide a killer rhythm section.

The Good Family’s debut album consists of country ballads, bluegrass, and folk rock all written and performed by the family. Two of the songs are co-writes with Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo. A guest musician who makes an appearance on the album is their close friend, the late great guitarist Terry Clements of Gordon Lightfoot fame, who recorded his part way back in 1978. How this was achieved is an interesting story in itself. The album was mixed by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies.

It is said that sibling and family harmonies are unique, and The Good Family drives that point home. They play an eclectic mix of music featuring acoustic and electric guitars along with banjo, autoharp, dobro, fiddle, mandolin and rhythms that will keep you grooving and shouting for more.

Thoughts on Setting Artistic Direction

Thoughts on Setting Artistic Direction

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artisticDirectionEvery fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs would like to take a crack at managing the team – selecting the players, making the trades and determining what kind of team hits the ice. The same holds true for a lot of people who attend folk festivals. If you’re a music fan, wouldn’t you like to select the artists and program them on the different stages? Well, in some ways it is as easy as it looks. Usually not, though. In reality, it can be a very complex process.

I became the Artistic Director of the Mariposa Folk Festival in 2006. It was certainly not my first encounter with Mariposa. As a (very) young boy in 1963, I remember the infamous festival which saw Orillia over-run by festival-goers. Because of the ‘scandalous’ behaviour of some of the people who descended upon the town, the festival was unceremoniously booted out by Town Council with court injunction in hand.

I was at the 1972 festival on Toronto Island and got to see Bruce Cockburn give up his hour-long concert so that Neil Young could take the stage. I recall the festival moving to Barrie’s Molson Park and on to Bracebridge and other locales in the 80s and 90s. Then, when it returned to Orillia in 2000, I decided it was time to volunteer so that I’d get a ’free’ ticket. It turned out that I signed on for more than the standard 12 hours. Over those past 14 years, I’ve given more time to Mariposa than I probably gave to my full time job!

So what does it take to be an artistic director and put together a festival such as Mariposa?

ArtisticDirectionLightfootI would begin with the truism that you have to love this kind of music. I have always been attached to folk, having grown up on a diet of Peter, Paul & Mary, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot. (I will admit to loving the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who, The Police and I can appreciate why people like bands like Ramstein). But it is acoustic, ‘rootsy’ music that has always appealed to me both as a listener and a guitar player. I suspect there are a lot of people like me out there, of all ages, who would say the same thing.

I came to the job with a lot of preconceived ideas and biases. I also knew that I had to follow certain unspoken rules in putting together the festival’s lineup each year. Folk is a difficult genre to pin down since there are so many sub-genres. Blues, bluegrass, folk rock, alt country, spoken word, world, traditional, Celtic… I feel that all of these categories need to be addressed and present in a modern folk festival. Singer/songwriter is probably the most common and easily found of these genres, and I admit to having a fondness for this kind of performer. But even in that particular genre, there is a wide variance in what gets to the stage. Ken Whiteley is so much different from Susan Aglukark; Old Man Leudecke is miles apart from Serena Ryder. Yet these performers could easily be labeled as singer songwriters.

ArtisticDirectionBeneteauEach year, I have a list of personal favourites I’d like to hire for the festival. My first year, it was Don (American Pie) McLean. Another year, Peter Yarrow. In 2013, I hired two of my all-time favourites, Arlo Guthrie and Murray McLauchlan. Those choices are relatively easy to make and, being big stars, at least in folk circles, it was easy to convince others that these were good choices for Mariposa. Gordon Lightfoot has played the festival twice as a headliner since I became the artistic director. That’s a no-brainer. Gordon is a Canadian folk icon but also Orillia’s much loved favourite son.

A lot of lesser known entertainers I have come to know from live appearances, CDs and other sources are also on my radar each year. Jory Nash, Richard Knechtel, Connie Kaldor, James Keelaghan, and Cheryl Wheeler are not necessarily household names, but they are superb musicians. I often tell people, “I’d have ’em at the festival every year if I could.”

ArtisticDirectionArloThere are conferences and live performances where I see acts that I’ve heard about before, and acts that are completely new to me. Each October, Folk Music Ontario (formerly the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals) holds a four-day conference where, in addition to networking with other festival organizers, live music is a focus. I have seen an astonishing array of talent at these conferences over the years. Matt Andersen, The Good Lovelies, Del Barber and New Country Rehab are all acts that I discovered at this conference.

Folk Alliance International, an annual conference that brings together musicians and presenters, was a gold mine for me in February of 2013. This is where I first saw the Kruger Brothers, and immediately knew they would be a hit at Mariposa. I also saw several other acts that I hope to sign for the 2014 festival!

The Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2011 were my chance to see Rose Cousins perform live. I liked her a lot, and finally got the chance to hire her for 2013. Sometimes it takes a while to get a performer signed and on the Mariposa stage!

Going to house concerts and seeing people in restaurants or bars is also a source of talent discovery where I’ve been impressed by the likes of Rob Lutes, Ron Nigrini, Eileen McGann and Dave Gunning.


A wonderful perk of being the artistic director is being invited to places like Halifax or Sydney, Nova Scotia, for the East Coast Music Awards and to Charlottetown for Music PEI. At all of these events, artistic directors and presenters are treated royally by their hosts, and they get to experience outstanding musical talent. Amelia Curran, the Grass Mountain Hobos, Meghan Blanchard, Coco Love Alcorn and David Myles all came to my attention thanks to these excursions to the musically rich Maritimes.

Each year agents call to suggest artists from their rosters. Some I’m familiar with; others are new to me; (almost) all of them are good in some way or other. Artists like Mo Kenney, Yukon Blonde, Elliot Brood, Oh My Darling and The John Henrys were all suggestions who, although I’d never heard them live before, turned out to be popular choices with the Mariposa audience.

Having done this job now for several years now, I have established solid working relationships with a number of agents. I trust their judgment and they know that I’ll treat their musicians well. Most of the suggestions from the agents take into account the sort of music we have traditionally presented at Mariposa, and they know not to suggest the latest hot rock group or bands that would not be a good fit. At least a third of the roster each year is made up of acts who have representation with Canada’s biggest agencies: Paquin Entertainment, The Agency Group, Feldman, Jensen Music International, LiveTour and so on. Agents look out for their clients of course, but they usually have a good read of what festivals can or cannot afford.



There is always a reason why Mariposa doesn’t hire certain acts that our audience would love to see. 99.9% of the time the reason is financial. Acts such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Mumford and Sons might fit the musical bill and be ideal for a folk music audience but their fees are simply too huge for the relatively limited budget of Mariposa and most of the other festivals in Canada. Think about it this way: those acts can fill the 20,000 seat Air Canada Centre with ticket prices averaging well over $100 per seat. If you do the math, you will soon realize that the fee for a big name act is often well into the six figures and even the seven figures in some cases!


Every day between September and June, I am inundated with submissions or suggestions from singers, bands, agents, managers, friends, associates, and friends of friends – you get the picture! The website email address sees over a thousand electronic press kits submitted each year. I also receive myriad CDs – often with press kits attached – from those same hopeful sources. After the Folk Music Ontario conference, I bring home a large box with well over a hundred CDs or jump-drives filled with music. It is a daunting and time consuming task to sort through the entries and to separate the wheat from the chaff.

ArtisticDirectionDylanTo be honest, very few unsolicited submissions are successful. It’s really important to remember that anyone can sound good on a recording with the technology that exists today. Seeing and hearing that act live can be a different story sometimes. Since Mariposa is a live event, I need to know how that act will look and sound in front of an audience.

Once the acts have been selected – a process that takes place between October and April – the next step is to slate the acts into workable, entertaining sessions. I come up with a list of workshop ideas then send a query to the acts that I’ve hired asking which sessions they’d like to be in and which other performers they’d love to play with. I take the responses from the artists then try to fit the pieces together in a sort of giant puzzle.

ArtisticDirectionmariposa-logoFor themed workshops such as The Lightfoot Songbook, I need to coordinate what songs the musicians will perform. For a workshop such as Blues in the Afternoon, there’s no need to worry about specific songs and it’s a given that the musicians will actually play the blues! Sessions with titles like Going Down the Road often need some explanation to the musicians and to the audience. It is an arduous process scheduling performers for their festival concert as well as slotting them into four or five workshops where they play with others.

The festival itself is quite enjoyable and sometimes exciting for me. It is when I get to meet the musicians I have hired and, while I am no longer star struck, it is still a thrill to meet people I’ve admired for so long. Randy Bachman, Emmylou Harris, Don McLean, Arlo Guthrie. These people have been my musical heroes and to actually press the flesh with them is memorable to say the least. To have Gordon Lightfoot phone me at my home? Priceless, as they say! Additionally, a number of musicians over the years have become personal friends. That’s one of the great perks of being an artistic director. You meet wonderful people – and, admittedly, a few divas – who are lucky enough to play music for a living.

ArtisticDirectionEmmylouIronically, at the festival itself I hear a lot less music than I would if I were a paying customer. I tend to catch music as I walk from one stage to the next. A lot of time is spent dealing with technical details and dealing with the issues of the festival, not that I need to worry about the running of the festival itself. Our Festival Organizing Group, the sound company, technical director and stage managers all do an unbelievably competent job. Of course, none of this could take place without the hundreds of volunteers, many of whom work virtually year round to make it all happen.

The job of being a festival artistic director is challenging, interesting, rewarding and time consuming, but it is all worthwhile knowing that the festival is living up to its mandate of promoting a type of music that gets too little radio play and too little media attention.

Long live folk music!

ArtisticDirectionRandyThe mission of the Mariposa Folk Foundation is: The promotion and preservation of folk art in Canada through song, story, dance and craft.

Man with a Marmalade Voice – Jory Nash Passing Through Mariposa

Man with a Marmalade Voice – Jory Nash Passing Through Mariposa

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joryNashA singer-songwriter and story teller described as having a marmalade voice, Jory Nash is the quintessential folk minstrel. His music weaves together elements of folk, jazz, blues, pop & soul. With thoughtful lyrics and intricate melodies, he draws the audience close. With easy humour, engaging banter and colourful stories, he wins them over. A man of many hats, Jory has served on the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals Board, as Artistic Director of the Shelter Valley Folk Festival, and produced the Gordon Lightfoot tribute show, The Way We Feel. Among many other musical credits are six albums, many tours, numerous awards and lots of airplay.

For more information about Jory Nash at Mariposa Folk Festival, click here.