-- Folk legends Cockburn, Baez share ethos and passion, but not the stage in Vancouver --
By Francois Marchand, Vancouver Sun

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16 July 2014 - Fusion Festival -- July 19-20 | Holland Park (Surrey)

Vancouver Folk Music Festival -- July 18-20 | Jericho Beach Park (Vancouver)

There is a somewhat delicious irony in the fact that Canadian folk-rock veteran Bruce Cockburn and folk legend Joan Baez will be in the Vancouver area on the same day July 19, yet they will perform on two very different — and distant — stages.

Cockburn will be in Surrey performing a headlining set at Surrey’s Fusion Festival, while Baez will be at Jericho Beach Park serenading the Vancouver Folk Music Festival crowd.

The two could have easily been paired, especially considering Baez is also performing an afternoon workshop in honour of late folk troubadour Pete Seeger, a man both Baez and Cockburn celebrated at a huge 90th birthday bash at Madison Square Garden in 2009.

“I didn’t pay much attention to her back in the day,” Cockburn said in a recent phone interview. “She was a famous person with a good voice and she had good taste in songs, but I was more interested in the songwriter people than the performers. I wasn’t very well versed in the lore of Joan Baez when I first met her.”

Cockburn’s first encounter with Baez happened somewhere in the mid ’80s at a protest concert of some sort in Santa Barbara, California, as he recalled.

“It might have been a pro-choice rally, or something about South America,” Cockburn said.

At the time, Cockburn was making waves with his album Stealing Fire, his 1984 cornerstone that included two of his most famous songs: Lovers In A Dangerous Time, and If I Had A Rocket Launcher, Cockburn’s heavily political song which he penned after visiting Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico set up after the counter-insurgency campaign by then Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt.

In the song, which Cockburn has stated is not meant to be a violent call to arms but a cry for help, he sings, “If I had a rocket launcher, some son of a bitch would die.”

“The song had been around for a bit, but it was still relatively new,” Cockburn explained. “Her audience disapproved of it exceedingly because they thought it was some kind of war song. People had been with me until that point and then you could just feel — nobody booed it, but there was a real kind of tension in the audience.”

Baez’s pedigree as an antiwar protester is well-known.

A fixture of the ’60s counterculture scene, Baez was deeply involved in the American Civil Rights movement. Now 73, she helped found the U.S. chapter of Amnesty International in the 1970s. In recent years she has been involved in environmental causes, the fight for equal rights for gays and lesbians, and in protesting the war in Iraq.

A close friend of Bob Dylan, she helped bring him to fame. She covered myriad artists as an interpreter, and has been celebrated for her quivering, emotionally charged delivery.

Unfortunately, Baez was not available for an interview for this story.

“I think she’s gotten better over time,” Cockburn said, adding that she was a good person to help celebrate Pete Seeger’s life at the workshop held by the Folk Fest mid-day Saturday with Texas rocker Alejandro Escovedo and a handful of other artists.

“The 90th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden was an incredible day,” Cockburn added. “There were 60 artists on that bill. It was a very long day. But the place was packed and the feeling was really positive.”

Cockburn has been revisiting many of the important moments in his career in recent years.

There was the documentary entitled Pacing The Cage released in 2012, documenting the recording of his 2009 live album Slice O’ Life.

More recently, Cockburn, now 69, has laid low and stayed mostly away from songwriting while collecting his memoirs (up to 2004) for a book to be titled Rumours Of Glory that will be published by Harper Collins in the fall of 2014.

Though he has little new material, Cockburn said he was looking forward to headlining Fusion Fest on Saturday.

The event regularly attracts over 100,000 people to Holland Park, where international food, art and music is on display. Other performers this year include Vancouver pop-rockers Hey Ocean!, blues rockers No Sinner, and Australia’s Ash Grunwald.

“We’ve had other offers over the years but this one came at the right time — and by ‘time’ I mean my own age,” Cockburn said. “I’m at the point in my life where writing a memoir is a meaningful thing. Even 10 years ago it would have been too soon. Hopefully, it will appear as something meaningful to people.”

The book, co-written by friend and California-based journalist Greg King, will dig deep in the life of a man who has won numerous Juno Awards, was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2001, and has been covered and celebrated by more than 400 artists including, most notably, U2’s Bono, who is one of Cockburn’s biggest fans.

It will also give a glimpse into Cockburn’s deep political and spiritual thoughts as well as illuminate the origins of some of his most well-known material.

“The easiest thing to deal with was childhood and early life,” Cockburn said. “The memories are simple. A kid’s view of the world is simple. It’s fun to write about and uncluttered. As it got into the more complex world of adulthood it got harder, and that’s when I enlisted the aid of Greg King to work on it with me because I couldn’t get back far enough from it to see how to put it together.

“There’s a lot of background material in the book. There’s a lot of explanation, of what the context was for If I Had A Rocket Launcher or the environmental stuff — there’s a lot of extraneous stuff. I think it makes it different from your standard rock ‘n’ roll memoir.”

~ from Vancouver Sun by Francois Marchand.

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This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.