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'I like playing festivals because it’s a throwback to the hippie days,' the Guess Who front man says. 'In the Guess Who glory days, we played the best one of all, but nobody filmed it. It was the Seattle Pop Festival, in ’69.'Grant W Martin

He’s in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and he’s an officer of the Order of Canada, but when the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) honoured him with a lifetime achievement award last month, Burton Cummings was particularly proud.

“The award is about songwriting, which is a big deal to me,” Cummings says, calling from Los Angeles. “It’s at the top of the list.”

Speaking of songs, the former Guess Who front man has a bunch of new ones – enough, he says, for a double album that he hopes Canada’s Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Kiss) will produce.

In the meantime, the 70-year-old Stand Tall singer busies himself with festivals, the musical gatherings he’s been enamoured with since performing at a rather legendary one in 1969. (It’s not the one you’re thinking of.)


I like playing festivals because it’s a throwback to the hippie days. In the Guess Who glory days, we played the best one of all, but nobody filmed it. It was the Seattle Pop Festival, in ’69. We had only one hit record, These Eyes. It was about 60,000 people, which wasn’t as big as Woodstock, but the lineup was better. I saved the poster. It was Alice Cooper, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner, Led Zeppelin, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, It’s a Beautiful Day, the Youngbloods – it went on and on.

Another great thing was that they had an area roped off for the performers and big bonfire at night. All these guys would bring out their Gibson Hummingbirds and sing under the night sky. You’d hear 20 famous voices all harmonizing around this campfire. I was 21 at the time, a foot off the ground.

Our manager bamboozled the promoters so that we got to play all three days. The same night Led Zeppelin played, the Doors were on. They were at the top of their game and Jim Morrison was as shamanistic as ever. The whole thing put me in the mood for festivals forever.

I like being part of a big bunch of acts. It makes everybody try a little harder. I tend to play festivals with performers who are peers of mine. It’s hard to feel a part of today’s industry. Hardly anyone’s selling any discs anymore. That ship has sailed. I feel very out of touch at times. I watch the Grammys and I don’t know half the artists. I met Shawn Mendes on the night I got my big SOCAN award. He had no idea who I was – no time for the likes of an old guy like me.

I’ve met most of my own heroes. And I’ve outlived a lot of them, sadly. I’m just trying to find my own little niche now. I’ve done about 30 albums and there are some people who count me as one of their favourite singers.

I’ve read interviews with Robert Plant. He mentioned a song of mine called the Ballad of the Last Five Years, which is a very deep cut off 1974’s Road Food. So, there’s Robert Plant, one of the greatest hard-rock singers in history liking the song and liking my voice. When your peers say something nice, that’s what makes me stick my chest out.

Burton Cummings plays Queen City Ex, Regina, Aug. 3; Rockin' the Fields of Minnedosa, Minnedosa, Man., Aug. 5; Cannafest, Grand Forks, B.C., Aug. 10; PNE Amphitheatre, Vancouver, Aug. 31; The Grotto at Cooks Creek, Winnipeg, Sept. 2.

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