On Saturday evening, four amazing Canadian artists were inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in the beautiful Massey Hall. This ceremony, which hasn’t happened in five years, was revived as Stéphane Venne, Beau Dommage, Bruce Cockburn and the grandfather of grunge himself, Neil Young became honoured members. The evening was a spectacle of English and French talent that dazzled the audience. Here’s what happened.
Beau Dommage were the first of the evening to be inducted. Giving life and truth to Montreal in the 1970s, Beau Dommage crafted their way into the heart of Canadians (or at least French Canadians). Presented by Canada’s next Governor General, Julie Payette, Beau Dommage was honoured with their induction via a story from Julie’s time in space. She was able to bring a Beau Dommage CD into orbit with her and present it to the band after her return. Saturday evening, she had the pleasure of honouring them again.
Next to be honoured was Stéphane Venne who was inducted by the beloved French musician, Daniel Lavoie. Lavoie recounted his history with Venne who mentored him and was responsible for creating a successful musician out of Lavoie. Venne was not only a songwriter but was a revolutionary in French-speaking Canada for his pride in French music. He even created a radio station that played exclusively French music!
Buffy Sainte-Marie was given the honour of recognizing Bruce Cockburn as a new inductee. Her speech was heartfelt and passionate. Buffy hit on Bruce’s most well-known achievements quickly before diving into his humanitarian work and the ability of his music to change people. This emotional speech from one of Canada’s biggest humanitarians was truly spectacular.
Tying off the evening, Neil Young was inducted by Mr. Randy Bachman who recounted stories of their teen years performing in small Winnipeg bars. Bachman sat behind his guitar and mixed in Neil’s hits like “Sugar Mountain” and “Old Man”, encouraging the audience to sing along. If a choir of 2000 strangers sounds good anywhere, it’s at Massey Hall.
The night was full of tributes to all four inductees with highlights that included Whitehorse, Jessica Mitchell and The Arkells covering Neil Young, Hawksley Workman covering Cockburn, Florence K covering Stéphane Venne and Damien Robataille covering Beau Dommage. Two performances really stood out in my mind however.
The first was a cover of Cockburn’s “Stolen Land” by Elisapie and William Prince. This impassioned cover contrasted the deep voice of Prince against the high, ghostly vocals of Elisapie. In a time where Canada is confronting their dark past with the Indigenous population, the song hit the audience hard.
The second performance that stood out was KD Lang’s cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless”. This gorgeous, stripped down rendition had moments of restraint on Lang’s part, singing softly then slowly crescendoing into full fledged, raw power belted out into Massey Hall. With goosebumps crawling the skin of the audience, this performance was absolutely top notch.
A Good Start with a Long Way To Go
This revival of the Songwriters Hall of Fame was a spectacular first look at how Canada’s most prized songwriters should and will be honoured. The obvious gap of course, was among the inductees themselves. Not to take away from these four very talented artists, but the soloists were exclusively male (one member of Beau Dommage was female) and they were exclusively white. In following years I hope to see Canada’s Indigenous musicians honoured on stage in the same way. This induction ceremony brought me hope that things will only get better and better. Additionally, on a personal note, it was an honour to see Young inducted, as he has been my favourite musician for years. With songwriting like his under Canada’s belt, it’s no secret that there is loads of talent to still be discovered in our home and native land.