There were teenagers down front in the auditorium. There were white-haired, conservative seniors filling row after row further back. There were even some people, scattered throughout the crowd, who looked a little as if time may have stopped for them round about 1970.
Everyone of these people had one thing in common.
They were at Upper Canada Playhouse on Sunday, February 21, to spend an evening with one of Canada’s greatest musical legends: Bruce Cockburn was in town and the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage was hosting him.
Over the course of a two hour, sold-out, one man show, Cockburn demonstrated just why, at over 70 years old, he will always be a legend.
“I view Bruce Cockburn as Canadian musical royalty,” said teacher, guitarist and member of the board of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage, Derek Hunter. “To me he’s a virtuoso on the guitar. He can make one man alone on stage sound like a whole band. He is past 70 now, and he shows no signs of ever fading. I think he’ll continue playing until he drops.”
Cockburn was alone on the stage through both sets.
He had at least six different guitars with him, and chose each one with a view to how it would express the feeling of an individual song or solo. The sound and lighting effects in the show brilliantly enhanced his playing.
But I think he would still have won the hearts of the audience if he had been performing on a bare stage, with only a simple acoustic guitar in his hands.
Cockburn has always been an artist who espoused progressive and environmental causes, and certainly he has been deeply involved in political activism. We saw that Sunday night in his rendition of 1984’s If I Had a Rocket Launcher, with its chorus, “I’d make somebody pay,” and lyrics that proclaimed, “Everybody loves to see justice done…on somebody else.” He doesn’t shy away from controversy.
But he also invited the audience to sing with him on 1979’s hit, Wondering Where the Lions Are (which they did with great enthusiasm). And shouts and applause greeted the opening chords of Lovers in A Dangerous Time, classic Cockburn.
His mastery of the guitar was demonstrated again and again when he did instrumental solos. It’s no exaggeration to say that no one plays like Cockburn.
He writes breathtakingly beautiful lyrics, full of imagery and spiritualism, and his voice remains as pure and strong as ever.
Bruce Cockburn received a standing ovation at intermission: then the audience rose and cheered at the end of the show until he came back out for an encore.
I remember thinking, when the white haired, soft-spoken artist finally left the Playhouse stage that, even 40 years later, strip away a very thin layer of seasoning, and the passionate, fiery, outraged Bruce Cockburn of the 60s and 70s is most definitely still there.
That’s kind of comforting.