1 October 2017 - I must admit to being a bit shocked when I heard Bruce Cockburn was being inducted this year into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
I'm sure my thoughts were shared by many Cockburn fans — "You mean he wasn't already in it?"
That shock was somewhat ameliorated when I learned that one of his co-inductees was Neil Young.
"Well, all right then," I said to myself. "Bruce is finally getting the recognition he deserves."
So it was. A little over a week ago Cockburn was feted by his peers in a gala Hall of Fame concert at Toronto's Massey Hall. (Neil was there too, of course, but this column isn't about him.)
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, featuring Hamilton's own Tom Wilson, took the stage to perform Cockburn's classic "If I had a Rocket Launcher," and Buffy Sainte-Marie hailed him as "an agitator, an activist, a protester."
On Saturday night at Hamilton's FirstOntario Concert Hall, Cockburn proved he is all that and much more. He's not just a songwriter, a protester or a poet. He's also one heck of a guitarist.
At 72, Cockburn is white of hair and a little stooped in posture, but he's lost none of his renegade spirit or his consummate musical skills.
He demonstrated that time and time again during his 18-song set, playing a seemingly endless stream of guitars — acoustic, electric, 12-string, six-string and a strange little number that looked like a ukulele but sounded like a jet stream.
His fingers effortlessly danced over the strings on oldies like "Wondering Where the Lions Are," as well as new songs like "States I'm In" from his "Bone On Bone" album.
He played jazz-infused, gospel-tinged blues on another new song called "40 Years in the Wilderness" and let the feedback fly on a fiery versions of signature songs "Rocket Launcher" and "If a Tree Falls."
He was backed by the rhythm section of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings — drummer Gary Craig and bassist John Dymond — and his nephew, multi-instrumentalist John Aaron Cockburn, who together managed to lay down the perfect accompaniment to Cockburn's genre-bending lead.
Still, it was the songs that made the night. Lyrics Cockburn first sang decades ago were given new relevancy. He reached back in his catalogue for "Free to Be," a track he recorded in 1977 in opposition to the rise of white supremacist groups like the Western Guard.
"I forgot about that song for a very long time … and then the news happened recently," Cockburn explained to the audience.
Cockburn has been always been ahead of the pack. What may have seemed radical 30 years ago, now seems main stream, perhaps even fashionable.
Almost to prove the point, Cockburn closed the show with a blistering rendition of "Stolen Land," a song he wrote in 1986 about the injustices suffered by the world's Indigenous people. Judging by the standing ovation Cockburn was given, it seems the message may finally be getting through.
•Opening for Cockburn, was Hamilton singer-songwriter Terra Lightfoot, who performed a solo set that featured several songs from her upcoming album "New Mistakes." Lightfoot is a roots rocker who usually is backed by a full band, but the quality of new songs like "Paradise," "Drifter" and "Norma Gale" easily won over the audience. "New Mistakes" will be available Oct. 13 on Sonic Unyon Records. Lightfoot is setting off on a tour of North America, Japan and Australia before returning home for a concert with her band on Jan. 13 at McMaster University's LIVElab theatre.
~from Graham Rockingham - Hamilton Spectator, photo Scott Gardner,The Hamilton Spectator.