Olivia Korkola & Willie Nelson

Thunder Bay musician, Olivia Korkola, performed what she described as her “coolest gig to date” last week. Korkola, a second year performance student at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, was honoured to be one of the few sophomore students invited to perform in this year’s commencement concert. The showcase for graduating seniors paid tribute to this year’s honourees: music legends, Willie Nelson, Carole King and Annie Lennox. Each of the Grammy-award winning artists received honorary doctorates in music from Berklee. “I was going to ask them if I could write my own medication,” Nelson, who recently turned 80, joked to the Boston Globe, “Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

All three musicians appeared last Friday night at Boston University’s 8,000-seat Agganis Arena for the event. Lennox performed a breathtaking version of her 1992 song “Cold,” and Carole King joined Berklee students onstage for “The Locomotion,” one of her many chart topping hits. As Willie Nelson waited to take the stage, Korkola, as part of the Berklee Roots Ensemble, paid tribute to one of her music idols with a high energy medley of Nelson’s “Darkness on the Face of the Earth” and Bob Wills’ “Stay All Night, Stay a Little Longer,” one of Nelson’s early hits.

A review by Rolling Stone praised their performance, saying, “With at least a dozen fiddlers, three guitarists, a crack banjo player and more, this big group of students from New Jersey, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere could pull up a bus in front of the Grand Ole Opry tomorrow.” Nelson and his two sons followed the group, and as a special surprise, welcomed old friend and fellow outlaw, Kris Kristofferson to join him on Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya.”

“It was an honour and the highlight of my career to perform for Willie Nelson and to see him smiling as he watched from the side of the stage,” said Korkola. “Add to that, hanging out backstage with incredibly talented musicians like Carole King, Annie Lennox, and Kris Kristofferson—this is what I’d call a pretty great gig!” she laughed. Korkola returned home to Thunder Bay this week where she will spend the summer performing, teaching fiddle, and working on material for her next CD. 

Korkola was a long-time member of the Kam Valley Fiddlers, and was nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award as “Young Performer of the Year” in 2011 for her debut CD, Playing In Traffic.

For more information, visit www.oliviakorkola.com.