Bruce Cockburn shows hometown crowd that he’s not slowing down

Bruce Cockburn at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. June 20, 2015. Photo: Joel Hurd

Bruce Cockburn at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. June 20, 2015. Photo: Joel Hurd

We’ve all seen it…the musicians who stay too long, becoming almost caricatures of their former selves. They perform well past their prime, their songs get transposed down a half step or two, or more, so they can hit the high notes, and leave you wishing the last time you saw them really was the last time you saw them.

Then there’s Bruce Cockburn. At age 70, his voice seems as strong as ever, his fingers move up and down the guitar neck with effortless fluidity, and he looks as healthy as he sounds. I hope I look that good when I’m 55!

On saturday night The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival presented Cockburn and his trio on the Laurier Avenue Music Stage, a covered venue in front of Ottawa City Hall, for an intimate concert for several hundred people. Cockburn was greeted with an enthusiastic standing ovation before he ever even picked up his guitar, which seemed to take him by surprise. By then the crowd had spilled out well beyond the limits of the tent. Virtually every square meter of the fenced in area had an audience member occupying it.

Roberto Occhipinti, a first-call Toronto jazz bassist and producer, was given several solo sections to really show his jazz chops, and his bow work was unexpected and very satisfying. Drummer Gary Craig, also from Toronto, was a joy to watch as he liberally used the toms to accentuate Coburn’s lyrics. The foundation they created allowed Cockburn to take some chances in the instrumental breaks between verses, demonstrating why many admire his guitar work as much as his songwriting.

Switching between two six string guitars, a national steel, and a 12-string, Cockburn played nearly all of his most popular tunes, and referred to his recently-published memoir on several occasions, and how writing it kept him distracted from songwriting for three years. He also playfully noted that unlike any of the works of Henry Miller or Vladimir Nabokov, his book actually has a theme song, before launching in to Rumours of Glory.

On a personal note, I was introduced to Cockburn’s music by my guitar teacher in 1983. I was instantly hooked and have wanted to see him live ever since, but never did. What a thrill to finally get to do so in his home country, and home town, with nearly a thousand of his biggest fans.

1 Comment on “Bruce Cockburn shows hometown crowd that he’s not slowing down”

  1. Bill DesJardin says:

    I was introduced to Bruce Cockburn around the same time and have also not seen him live until this year. Its amazing how his voice hasn’t changed and how proficient he remains on guitar. I saw him twice solo and would have loved to seen him with accompaniment. Like you described, it give him a little more foundation to explore compared to playing alone. Nice review.

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