Special guest will make ‘Feast of Cohen’ richer

Tara Bradbury
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Leonard Cohen’s songwriting partner Anjani Thomas to join the lineup

This year’s “Feast of Cohen” show will be more special for producer Vicky Hynes than it has ever been, for a couple of reasons.

Hawaiian performer Anjani Thomas, who has worked with Canada’s Leonard Cohen as a songwriting collaborator and singer, was intrigued by the annual “Feast of Cohen, ” and contacted producer Vicky Hynes through her manager. Thomas will be onstage during this year’s production with local performers to celebrate Cohen and to bring her own work, including more Cohen collaborations, to the table. — Submitted photo

Hynes has been producing the annual post-Christmas tribute to Leonard Cohen for 14 years, having first organized it as a way to stave off the after-Yuletide letdown, and it’s now the longest-running festival of Cohen’s music in Canada, and second only to Spain’s worldwide.

A group of local musicians perform tunes by the celebrated Canadian musician, poet and author, each one putting their own spin and interpretation on the music.

This year, Hynes has got an extra-special guest performer: Hawaiian singer-songwriter and pianist Anjani Thomas, best known for her longtime work and partnership with Cohen, both as a co-writer and backup singer.

Thomas is a solo singer with three records to her credit, most recently 2006’s “Blue Alert.”

Hynes got a call from staff at Fred’s Records last August, telling her a man was in the store saying he was Thomas’ manager, and wanted to get in touch with her.

“Lo and behold, he was contacting me because apparently (Thomas and Cohen) have quite a few songs, not a handful, but more like 70 or 80, that they’ve co-written together. She’s looking at possibly recording next year, and she hasn’t decided whether she’s going to do a complete album of co-writes or some of her own stuff and some co-writes,” Hynes explained. “She was looking for a platform to present some of the new stuff that hasn’t been heard before, and she had heard about ‘Feast of Cohen.’”

Hynes admits she was humbled but intimidated at bringing Thomas into the show at first, but was put at ease after e-mail conversations with the musician, whom she said surprised her with her overwhelming niceness. Thomas’ appearance in this year’s show is the icing on the cake for Hynes, who got to meet Cohen in person for the first time last April, when he performed at Mile One Centre. In the weeks leading up to his performance, there was a social media campaign to have Hynes introduce him onstage. Instead, she and a handful of other “Feast of Cohen” participants were invited to meet him and take in his soundcheck.

After a performance of about an hour and a half, Cohen came down from the stage and thanked the group for coming, presenting them with VIP gift bags that included autographed copies of his tour program.

“That was the topper,” Hynes said of the experience. “I could not believe that I was sitting there in a private little audience.

“Yes, this year’s ‘Feast of Cohen’ is a lot more special. I don’t know how much more special we could get.”

Thomas will perform a 20-minute set with local musicians Bill Brennan and Mark Peddle during this year’s show, which will also feature Chris Kirby, Joanna Barker, Sherman Downey, Chris Picco and Ian Foster, along with some “Feast of Cohen” regulars: Hynes, Bryan Hennessey, Jill Porter, Sean Panting, Jenny Gear, Lori Cooper and Des Walsh. The Beautiful Losers — the show’s house band, including Sandy Morris, Boomer Stamp, Kelly Russell, Dave Panting and Geoff Panting — will also perform.

“Feast of Cohen” will run at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre Dec. 28 and 29. Tickets are $50 (HST and service charge included) and are available at the Arts and Culture Centre box office, by calling 729-3900, or online at www.artsandculturecentre.com.

Geographic location: Canada, Spain

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