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‘Jewel of the Junos’ – Songwriters’ Circle

April 3, 2017 –

Bruce Cockburn takes part in Juno Songwriters' Circle - photo Patrick Doyle - The Ottawa Citizen
Bruce Cockburn takes part in the Juno Songwriters’ Circle at the NAC in Ottawa on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Patrick Doyle / The Ottawa Citizen

Every song has a story.

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.

Bruce Cockburn takes part in the Juno Songwriters Circle-2-photo - Patrick Doyle The Ottawa Citizen
Bruce Cockburn takes part in the Juno Songwriters’ Circle at the NAC in Ottawa on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Patrick Doyle / The Ottawa Citizen

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.

Colin Linden and Bruce Cockburn take part in the Juno Songwriters Circle - photo Patrick Doyle The Ottawa Citizen
Colin Linden and Bruce Cockburn takes part in the Juno Songwriters’ Circle at the NAC in Ottawa on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Patrick Doyle / The Ottawa Citizen

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