Bruce Cockburn returns to Calvin

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At the age 74, Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist Bruce Cockburn has 34 albums to his name, including his most recent instrumental album that came out earlier this year. As part of his “Bone on Bone” tour, Cockburn once again graced the CFAC auditorium with his presence on Wednesday evening.

While Cockburn has performed at Calvin on numerous occasions — at least half a dozen times, by SAO Director Ken  Heffner and the audience’s reckoning — a good-sized crowd of both older and younger generations gathered to hear him perform two full sets on the CFAC stage. 

Cockburn, accompanied by his nephew John Cockburn, played a wide selection of songs from his vast repertoire that spans nearly 50 years (his first album debuted in 1970). Songs included “Night Train,” “3 Al Purdys” and “Café Society,” as well as a good selection of purely instrumental pieces. 

A great number of Cockburn’s songs — like “3 Al Purdys” and “Café Society” — are underlain by shrewd and biting social commentary. As one line in “Café Society” goes, “The caliphate of perverts, the flight of refugees / Expanding ranks of homeless and the disappearing bees.” 

Perhaps Cockburn’s most famous song in this vein is “If I Had A Rocket Launcher.” In the discussion with Ken Heffner that followed the two-hour show, Cockburn commented on how tired he is of audience members who demand that he play “If I Had A Rocket Launcher.” Cockburn also mentioned his empathy for Greta Thunberg and her environmental activism.

In the Q&A session, one audience member asked Cockburn what pains him as a Christian living in a broken and painful world. Cockburn explained that the thing that pains him most, now an older man who’s seen a great deal of life, is “the distance between myself and God… I don’t want to die and go up to heaven and be unable to recognise God.” 

In response to Heffner’s classic closing question of “What would you want your audience to come to your concert with?” Cockburn replied that the more interaction he could receive from his audience, the more he could give as an artist. 

Cockburn then thanked the CFAC audience for being a lovely and loud audience. “My last audience was good in their own way,” he said. “They listened intently and never interrupted. But you guys are good in a different way, so, thank you!”   

In his uniquely quiet, intense way, Cockburn continues to dazzle his audiences with incredible guitar picking while also challenging them with the heart-wrenching troubles of the world. Secular and Christian audiences alike can’t help but pause when Cockburn sings, “And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate / If I had a rocket launcher, if I had a rocket launcher / If I had a rocket launcher, I would retaliate.”