The mad get-ready-for-Christmas rush is over, the magic of the big morning has come and gone. Even the Boxing Day sales fisticuffs are over. But it’s days more before you can ring in the new year, so… Now what?
Now, it’s time for a feast. Not one for your already drum-tight tummy, though. This one’s for your ears. It’s the “Feast of Cohen,” and after 12 successful years, it can officially be called a Christmas tradition in St. John’s.
The premise is simple: a group of musicians get together to pay tribute to the great singer, songwriter, author and poet Leonard Cohen, by covering a few of his tunes. The result is not so simple. It’s a stew of laughter, tugged heartstrings, memories, maybe a few tears for the sappiest of attendees, and most of all, incredible music.
Vicky Hynes started the Feast and still runs it, down to the tiniest detail, today. As she heads into the show’s 13th year, she says, “It’s still stressful. It’s always stressful. When I first got involved with doing this, it was a bit of fun; just a one-nighter with a small audience down at the LSPU Hall. But it’s grown so over the years!”
She isn’t exaggerating. From that first show for a hundred or so people, to an eight-night run at the LSPU Hall, to the much bigger venue of the Arts & Culture Centre, the Feast has always put bums in seats.
“I was floored by the response,” Hynes says. “It was just a little circle of friends thing, you know? And it just got bigger and bigger and bigger. … Now, you look out in the audience. There’s kids out there. There’s teenagers. There’s 20-year-olds. There’s people of all ages. Next thing you know there’s families coming together. I was really struck by that appeal. (Cohen) really appeals to everybody.”
Hynes is without a doubt a Cohen fan with a capital F, but her fellow musicians’ admiration for the man was also core to the show’s creation.
“I was working the bar at the Ship Inn and we got talking about songwriters,” Hynes recounts.
“I said, ‘I know people really dig Dylan and Neil Young, but there’s something about Cohen for me. His music seems to climb inside you. It leaves a lasting mark on you.’ Brian Hennessy and Dave Panting strolled in, saying how they really appreciated the songwriting, too. I said, ‘Well how about we just do something different this Christmas week? Do something that’s a real break from everything?’ They were all chuckling because most people think of Cohen as dark, not the sort of thing for the middle of the merry season. I said it’s just the thing!” And so the Feast was born.
Over the years, many performers have come and gone. But a core group that includes Bryan Hennessey, Jill Porter, Sean Panting, Jenny Gear, Des Walsh and Lori Cooper has joined Hynes many times.
And then there’s the band. “They’re the real thread through it all,” says Hynes. “We’ve got a seasoned band of performers that I’ve worked with for about forty years off and on. They are all pillars of the music community here in Newfoundland. What they bring is pure magic. It’s the icing on the cake.”
The Beautiful Losers, as they call themselves, are Sandy Morris, Derek Pelley, Boomer Stamp, Kelly Russell, Dave and Geoff Panting.
In addition to the awesome stalwarts, each Feast brings a few special guests to the table. “You like to keep it fresh,” says Hynes. “Once you’ve done something a few times, it’s nice to see new faces, and their presentation and their take on the material. They always bring something special.”
This year, current darling of Newfoundland’s music scene, Amelia Curran, will take part in the fun.
It seems an appropriate choice, seeing as the National Post once described her music as “a bit like Leonard Cohen being channelled in a dusty saloon by Patsy Cline”.
Singer/songwriter Andrea Monro will join Curran. Well known for her performances with several local bands over the years, Monro also works with schools to bring the art of songwriting to students, and is the producer of the Bluebird North concert series.
Multi-award winning Andrew James O’Brien is next on the list. He’s been tapped by many as one of the province’s most promising musicians, an accurate portrayal as anyone who’s seen him play knows.
With more than 100 original songs and a handful of MUSICNL awards to his credit, Blair Harvey was a fixture on the downtown
St. John’s scene for many years. He’s returned to Newfoundland from Toronto to join in the show.
Luke Major has been making music for more than a decade, most recently with Mercy the Sexton and The Once. He rounds out the special guests.
Asked to recount some of her favourite moments over the years, Hynes talks about the year they performed at Holy Heart Theatre just months after Cohen himself had done so.
“It just seemed the natural thing to do. To hit the stage where he had walked and performed and where we all wept and went cracked. And it was really special. Even though the room was so much bigger in comparison to the Hall, and we lost that real intimate feeling that we had with our audience, it was truly special to know that he had been there just months before, and we were performing more or less in his footsteps.”
It is said that Cohen is aware of the Feast, though he’s never publicly acknowledged it.
Hynes believes the show is the reason he added a St. John’s show to his last tour, however.
“I think he did that as a nod to his fans from Feast of Cohen.”
Tickets are now on sale for Feast of Cohen XIII, happening Dec. 28 and 29 at St. John’s Arts & Culture Centre. Call the box office at 729-3900 or visit www.artsandculturecentre.com to purchase or learn more.