A View From The Woodpile

The following was written in 2009 as the Introduction to my first photo book regarding Bruce’s work. A discounted price is available if the book is purchased through me.

I met Bruce Cockburn for the first time on April 15, 1994, at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Washington. A friend who worked at a local radio station got me into the soundcheck before the show. A few months earlier I had started a newsletter called Gavin's Woodpile. As luck would have it Bruce's manager, Bernie Finkelstein, and representatives from Bruce's then-U.S. label, Columbia Records, were both at this soundcheck. I took the opportunity to talk briefly with Bernie about the newsletter and he asked that I put him on my mailing list. The ball kept rolling from there and it's been a fun ride ever since. I would see Bruce in concert on every tour and as many times as was reasonable. Having access to soundchecks to shoot photos really started at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in Alberta in August 1996. While I had shot a few shows from my seat prior to that, Edmonton was the first time I was authorized by True North Records to take photographs. 

Most soundchecks are closed affairs with only Bruce, band members, his tour manager (Leslie Charbon), a sound and light person, and a few venue personnel in attendance. It's generally a beehive of activity with all kinds of things happening at once, even after Bruce has come onto the stage to begin the soundcheck. He really stays quite focused given all this activity and he is clearly in charge of how things go. Most soundchecks last about ninety minutes and I have attended some that have gone nearly two hours. Bruce is often the last person to leave the stage as he checks details.

It took me a long while to get comfortable shooting both at the soundchecks and during the shows. I did not want to be a distraction to Bruce and band members. It has been important to me to respect Bruce's space. I eventually came to see myself as another one of those bees flying around the hive, and if the other bees weren't distracting, why would I be?

For a long time I would shoot from the house of venues because I didn't know what was acceptable to Bruce in terms of where I could go. In time I started to go up on the stage (during soundchecks only) and in the wings to shoot photos. I essentially never use a flash and I always try to be as hidden as I can be.

Lighting is always the biggest challenge for me and because of that, I almost exclusively  shoot at 1600 ISO. During the soundchecks the lighting is constantly being played with, adjusted, turned on, turned off, a red gel added, a blue gel removed. I never quite know how things are going to turn out.

Even after attending so many shows and soundchecks I am still excited about the process. I think it's because I still wonder at how fortunate I am to have the chance to peek behind the curtain and see how The Wizard makes the show happen. Thank you, Bruce.

The photos in this book were taken between 1994 and 2008.

Daniel Keebler

© Daniel Keebler 1993-2021