Gordon Lightfoot seems to like to keep people guessing, including himself.
"I don't like getting locked into the same show every night," he said.
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So the Canadian folk musician has a setlist system he likens to a baseball team's pitching rotation -- one fans will see in action when his "50 Years on the Carefree Highway Tour" comes to the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan Friday.
Lightfoot will revisit the hits -- songs like "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and "If You Could Read My Mind" -- but also rotates in others for each 26-song show. And there are plenty to choose from: He's recorded 220 songs through his long career.
"It's quite a repertoire," Lightfoot said. "It gives you the feel of variety."
The "50 Years on the Carefree Highway Tour" is a throwback to Lightfoot's early days as a performer in Toronto coffee shops in 1960, covering songs by fellow folk singers Bobby Bare, Bob Dylan and Bob Gibson. A few years later, musicians like Elvis Presley and Peter, Paul and Mary recorded two of Lightfoot's first songs, "Early Mornin' Rain" and "For Lovin' Me."
Lightfoot signed his first recording contract in 1965 with United Artists and began working his own songs into his performances. Since then, he has been nominated for five Grammys and won 17 Juno Awards (Canada's version of the Grammy Award).
Last summer, he was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
"It's a full life," Lightfoot said.
Aside from his success, he's also been through emotional and physical trauma. Lightfoot has been married twice with two children from each marriage. In 2002, he suffered an abdominal aortic aneurysm that put him into a coma for 2½ months.
"It's been a little bit like a roller coaster," Lightfoot said. "But it always seems to get back to rest."
Lightfoot, who turns 75 in November, is still enthusiastic about the tour, although he admits his bandmates are "a lot younger" than he is.
"We have a nice, fresh, youthful approach," Lightfoot said.
Reaching a young audience with folk music from the 1960s and '70s is a challenge.
"Some of these old guys think they can make an impression," Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot is taking a page from other longtime talents still performing -- musicians like Tony Bennett, now 86, Willie Nelson, 80, and Kris Kristofferson, 76.
"They still get out there and get it done," Lightfoot said.
He intends to do the same.
"My task is simply to do a great show and establish communication with the audience," Lightfoot said. "We want (the audience) to love the music. We love playing it."