Gordon Lightfoot's legacy was ringing through the rafters at Massey Hall as old friends, close family and a generation of young talent united to pay tribute to the Canadian troubadour.

The sold-out Thursday concert carried an extra special surprise as Rush's Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson made a rare musical appearance together. They joined Blue Rodeo to perform the Lightfoot original "The Way I Feel."

It was one of many emotional turns during Celebrating Gordon Lightfoot, a star-studded night of essential songs, deep cuts and memories about the man whose death last year rattled music fans.

"Gord was a public hero and we needed to do something that would bring him to the public… and maybe bring people some closure," Rick Haynes, the bassist of Lightfoot's band for more than 55 years, explained before the show.

"Tonight is very meaningful on quite a few levels."

Many of the night's musicians hand-picked the songs performed at the historic Toronto venue, where Lightfoot appeared some 170 times over his career. It gave them an opportunity to add their own perspectives to Lightfoot's songbook in a way that honoured his lyrical influence and solidified it as a masterwork for future artists to follow.

Lee and Lifeson chose to remain off the night's bill and were present for little more than a hello and a song. They've played together in public very few times since Rush's final tour in 2015, rejoining once for a tribute concert to Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins in 2022.

After the show, Lee explained why this night was an exceptional circumstance.

"Gordon Lightfoot was to musicians of my generation a true Canadian musical hero — and to boot he was a really sweet person," the prog-rock singer wrote to The Canadian Press via text.

"Both Alex and I really wanted to pay tribute."

Folk singer Meredith Moon brought one of the evening's most personal performances. As Lightfoot's youngest daughter, she shared memories of her father during her three-song set, which began with the lesser-known "Oh So Sweet."

"This is the song my dad used to tune his guitars to," Moon told the crowd before setting into it.

She followed with "Slow Moving Train" from her 2023 album, saying of her dad, "If he's here, which I think he probably is, he would like to hear it tonight."

Moon finished with her father's timeless "If You Could Read My Mind," as Serena Ryder joined her mid-song for a passionate duet with the two trading verses. Their rendition earned a standing ovation from many in the room.

Tom Cochrane received an equally enthusiastic reception to his take on Lightfoot's lyrically complex "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

Dallas Green of City and Colour arrived dressed in a denim suit and white shirt to lead the crowd in a clap-along version of "Sundown."

Other performers included Sylvia Tyson of 1960s folk duo Ian & Sylvia, who landed a U.S. hit with the Lightfoot-penned "Early Morning Rain" long before its songwriter was widely known.

Tyson chose not to sing that one, however, going with "At the End of the Day," the title track off her 2023 album which reflects on memories of the past and lives well-lived.

The night closed with all of the artists rejoining to perform “Summerside of Life.”

All of it was filmed for an edition of “CBC Music Live at Massey Hall.”

The evening tribute was split between two house bands, starting with Haynes' Lightfoot Band, which recorded and toured with the Orillia, Ont. native for decades. He said they plan to carry Lightfoot's legacy on for years to come under new lead singer Andy Mauck.

Blue Rodeo served as the house band for the second half of the night. They offered an assist to Julian Taylor on "All I'm After," Kathleen Edwards performing "Carefree Highway" and Allison Russell's take on "Black Day in July."

Band member Jim Cuddy said it was "a joy to deep dive" into Lightfoot's meticulous songs as he prepared for the tribute.

"They are so precisely constructed, they stay in your mind," he said.

Cuddy lamented the loss of an artist who lit the path for Canadian musicians who followed, including Blue Rodeo. He credited the "king" with inspiring local acts to seek success in their own country foremost.

"We don’t have anybody leading the way anymore," he added.

"Nobody will take his place, but it was a good reign."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2024.