In Conversation with Tom Cochrane

The Gazette spoke with the “Life is a Highway” artist before he appears at CannaFest next week.

Few Canadian rock and roll icons are as well-known and loved as Tom Cochrane and Red Rider. The “Life is a Highway” artist will take the stage at CannaFest, the Boundary’s annual classic rock festival on Aug. 9. To set the stage, Cochrane spoke with the Gazette, reflecting on the importance of Canadian classic rock, coming back to British Columbia, and what he has planned when he hits the Cannafest stage.

Q: This will be your first CannaFest performance. Ever been to the Boundary?

Tom Cochrane: I’ve never been to Grand Forks or the Boundary, but we’ve done tons of shows in Kelowna, Penticton, so I’m very familiar with the area. I’m glad to hear things are on the road to recovery after the flooding. It it is always a pleasure to be in B.C., but this will be special. Cannafest is well-run, bringing in lots of people and it is a great, spirited celebration of summer. B.C. was our home, we spent the better part of the first few years out in B.C. so it is like coming home.

Q: What do you have planned for the show? Anything the fans should keep an eye out for?

TC: There are always surprises, there are 11 or 12 we call them non-negotiables, there are those songs that people come to hear that have been hits worldwide, but we always put in a few surprises.

Q: Earlier this year, the country was rocked by the Humboldt bus tragedy. Your song “Big League” became almost synonymous with what happened. What do you make of that?

TC: That tragedy resonated with the country, and if something positive can happen out of that, it pulled us together as a country. When I was asked to do it by James Duffy, I was initially reluctant, as Canadians, we look to give each other room to grieve. To me, I said I would do, it as long as the families knew and someone had talked to them, and [Duffy] had, so I agreed.

That song resonates as it is almost hauntingly close. Hockey pulls communities together, Canada is defined by those small communities like Grand Forks, even more than cities. [Humboldt] touched everyone. It is one of those Canadian things, even though people all over the world responded. It is important as a Canadian to write as a Canadian, and hopefully it resonates with others. We can all relate to kids on busses. I rewrote that third verse in five minutes when I woke up that morning [to perform] … and I did it understated. If in some small way it helped the healing process, I want that to be the focus.

Q: CannaFest is really a celebration of Canadian classic rock and all that makes it great. What do you think sets Canadian rock music apart, and what does Canadian rock mean to you?

TC: When we started out, we struggled a lot with [being Canadian], management said ‘don’t tell them you’re Canadian and I said to hell with that.’ Canadians take pride and ownership of certain artists, and we aren’t afraid to speak about Canadian experiences and folklore. [There’s] a strong sense of pride in the material, we have embraced it, I am very proud of that and owned it. There are bands like Blue Rodeo and the Tragically Hip that [set the stage]. I am proud of being Canadian … even with tons of shows in the States over the years, we’re always proud of it, and it has become something where Canadians are proud of it, that’s whats sets it apart. [There is also] a good sense of adventure in the bands, we’re rugged artists, we cut our teeth in Canada. [Canadian rock] is important, kudos to CannaFest.

Cochrane will perform with Red Rider at Cannafest on Thursday night, Aug. 9 at 11:30 p.m. More information and tickets at cannafest.ca

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