It was January 20, 1981. Bruce Cockburn was scheduled to give a performance, a sold-out show at the National Arts Centre (NAC) in his hometown of Ottawa. I had done a radio interview by telephone with Bruce a few days before, talking about the show and his upcoming album.
I don`t remember now exactly what it was, but our conversation veered and he asked to bring something to him at the show. Probably some new music that he hadn`t heard yet, I think the latest album from Phil Keaggy. (Yes I know that transferring it from vinyl to cassette was a copyright violation, but I was younger then. Plus, I knew Phil – he would be thrilled to know Bruce wanted to hear his new record.)
However the concert at the NAC didn`t happen that night. Ottawa can be cold in January (the only colder national capital is Ulan Bator) and sometimes stuff happens. In the cold, water mains can break, and when one did on Elgin Street, outside the NAC, water leaked into the facility`s electrical system. Concert postponed.
I knew Bruce must be already in town (he was living in Toronto then) so I telephoned True North Records to see if I could drop the cassette at his hotel. Turns out the show was going on, just moved elsewhere and by invitation only. Would I like to go? Silly question.
So I found myself that evening at Barrymore’s Music Hall, the best of the local clubs. (Over the years I have seen many memorable performances at Barrymore’s, including Don Maclean, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Mark Farner, Sam Phillips, Roy Buchanan, Iona and of course Bruce. I turned down free tickets the night U2 played there, two months after Bruce, because I had something better to do. I still wonder what that was!)
Barrymore’s (they have since dropped the apostrophe) was a great place to see a show. An intimate location, five levels that seated about 200 comfortably (though they tended to put 500 in for major acts). The place was packed, and all the good tables had “Reserved” signs on them, so I found a spot on the bench on the second level, eye-level with the performers on the stage, which was the best I could find. Then an acquaintance walked by, someone from the CRTC that I had interviewed on a previous occasion. I said hello. He pointed to an empty table, the best seat in the house and asked why we didn’t sit there. “It’s reserved,” I said, “for CFRA” (at the time a pop music station, now news/talk). “We’re sitting there.” A waitress came over to tell us we couldn’t, that it was reserved for people from a radio station. “I’m from the CRTC, we licence radio stations.” She took our drink orders and that was the last we heard of it. I don’t know if anyone from CFRA ever did show up. It was a great performance. I think Bruce was energized by the club atmosphere.
I almost didn’t get in to see the show. Arriving at Barrymore’s and mounting the stairs to the second floor entrance I gave my name, “Lorne Anderson, CKCU-FM,” only to be told “You’re not on the list.” So I suggested that the list be consulted again, as I was very definitely supposed to be on it. The answer was the same, no. And this time I was shown the list, with the names of several of my colleagues, but not mine. Which led to my being asked “Who told you that you were on the list?” “Someone at True North said they were putting my name in.” “Oh, why didn`t you say so? Bruce’s friends are on a different list.” It never occurred to me that I qualified as Bruce’s friend, but I guess that night I did.