April 6, 2017 – The JUNO Songwriters’ Circle has been recorded. You can listen to the audio.
The Junos Songwriters’ Circle is always a lot of fun, with big-name and newer artists sharing the stage to tell the stories behind their songs before playing them.
At this year’s Junos, Bruce Cockburn hosted the Sunday afternoon event at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre in two sessions: first up was Colin Linden, Lisa LeBlanc and Wintersleep’s Paul Murphy; then Chantal Kreviazuk, Daniel Caesar and Donovan Woods took over.
Below, read on for five things you missed at the songwriters’ circle — aside from the music.
1. Everyone’s love for Bruce Cockburn
“Many of the greatest times of my life have been standing two or three feet away, to Bruce Cockburn’s right,” joked Colin Linden after Cockburn kicked off the set with “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.”
By the end of the afternoon, Cockburn had made both Linden and Kreviazuk cry with his performances — “Is there a tissue?” Kreviazuk asked — and invited LeBlanc to teach his five-year-old daughter to play “You Look Like Trouble (But I Guess I do Too)”.
“I’ve had nightmare dreams about Bruce Cockburn singing that [‘Wondering Where the Lions Are’], Chantal Kreviazuk singing that [‘Surrounded’], and then having to go after that, it’s like literally terrifying,” confessed Woods before his first song. The whole thing was just a big love fest.
Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn came home to Ottawa Sunday to host what’s dubbed the “jewel of the Junos” at the National Arts Centre, bringing together established stars and up-and-comers to explore what he called the “mystery” of the craft.
“Nice to have an excuse to be back in Ottawa,” the capital-born Cockburn, 71, told the sold-out crowd at Southam Hall, which greeted him with a standing ovation before he’d sung a note.
With him for the 2017 Juno Songwriters’ Circle were nominees including Chantal Kreviazuk, Colin Linden and Wintersleep’s Paul Murphy plus the powerful singer-songwriter Donovan Woods, Acadian newcomer Lisa LeBlanc and 21-year-old R&B phenom Daniel Caesar.
“I don’t get here often enough,” Cockburn said, adding that he’d decided to perform some “old ones.”
Cockburn reached back into his catalogue to play hits like Lovers in a Dangerous Time, inspired by the “innocent and lovely” fumblings towards romance of his then pre-teen daughter, now a mother of four, amid the Cold War, AIDS crisis and environmental degradation of the 1980s.
He launched into the beautiful, menacing first bars of If I Had a Rocket Launcher after explaining its inspiration was hearing the first-hand accounts of Guatemalan refugees who’d fled savage attacks, the song’s helpless rage amplified by Linden’s haunting slide guitar.
Another classic song and Cockburn hit was born in Ottawa. It was the late 1970s and Cockburn’s cousin, then a Canadian spy, told him over a dinner in Hull that amid the skirmishes of China and Russia, they could all wake up tomorrow to the end of the world.
“This is a guy who knew what he was talking about — it kind of spoiled dessert,” Cockburn said.
But the next day,”Ottawa was still here,” and as he drove along the Queensway, Cockburn began Wondering Where the Lions Are, which became a Top 40 hit in the U.S. and so familiar to his fans much of the NAC crowd sang along word for word.
Folk singer Bruce Cockburn is encouraging U.S. musicians to keep pushing for free speech under the Donald Trump administration.
While accepting an honour at the Folk Alliance International awards show in Kansas City, Mo. on Wednesday night he took a moment to address the volatile political climate.
“It seems evident that the current administration is not much interested in democracy,” he said in prepared remarks.
“They are trying to stifle opposition across the board by a range of means. Looks to me like they’re just getting started.”
The Canadian singer, who lives in San Francisco, then urged musicians to be a catalyst for dialogue and debate.
“We may get tired, but we have to keep singing,” he said.
Country singer Kris Kristofferson presented Cockburn with the People’s Voice Award in recognition of his role in social and political commentary. His 1984 track “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” is widely considered a staple of activist music.
Cockburn reflected on his experiences as a young performer during the Vietnam War, and on later years when he found his voice during the U.S. presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
He then turned to the current U.S. political climate and told songwriters to consider their music as more than just words, but a “focal point for collective energy” of the community.
“Doesn’t mean we can’t sing love songs,” Cockburn reasoned.
“But if you think you can keep your head down and ignore the political side of things, it’s liable to be waiting for you with a blackjack in the alley when you come out the stage door.
Credit:MontrealGazette.com Photo: Bruce Cockburn, left, accepts his People’s Voice Award for his role in social and political commentary from country singer Kris Kristofferson at the Folk Alliance International awards show, in Kansas City, Mo., on February 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Brian Hetherman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*