After 19 years, how do you keep reinventing the magic of Leonard Cohen’s music?
The same way he did, Vicky Hynes has learned. With brilliant storytelling, charisma, and a whole lot of talent.
Tonight, Hynes will open her 19th annual “Feast of Cohen” show, a tribute to the late Canadian icon, in St. John’s. The production originally began as a way for Hynes and friends to shake the post-Christmas blues, but quickly became a much-loved and much-anticipated event. That first year saw people packing the LSPU Hall to the point there were audience members sitting on the floor. Now, having taken turns at Holy Heart Theatre and the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, “Feast of Cohen” is back at the Hall, with limited tickets left for a three-night run.
“It’s all the more special now that we have returned to the Hall. It provides more of a listening and gathering experience of minds and hearts because of its intimate setting.”
— Vicky Hynes
Hynes has been a Cohen fan since the release of his first album, “The Songs of Leonard Cohen,” in 1967, immediately struck, she has said, by his voice. She had the chance to meet him once, about six years ago, during what would be Cohen’s last visit to Newfoundland. Hynes and other “Feast of Cohen” participants were invited to take in his soundcheck, after which he came down from the stage to shake their hands and presented them with gift bags, each containing an autographed tour program.
Each year, Hynes endeavours to recruit a mix of established local artists and exciting up-and-comers to put their own spin on Cohen’s music and poetry. There’s never been a shortage of performers from which to choose, and most have always jumped at the chance to take part in the show.
This year, Carolina East is among them. A native of South River now based in St. John’s, East has had a tremendous year in music, earning the MusicNL Award for Country Artist of the Year for her debut self-titled recording, along with two other MusicNL nominations; an Indigenous Music Awards nomination and an East Coast Music Awards nomination; national airplay, and spots on stage at the Iceberg Alley Performance Tent and as opening act for Boney M recently at Mile One. She released her second recording, “Crossroads,” in the fall, and will soon embark on an Atlantic Canadian radio tour before heading back into the recording studio.
Hynes noticed the buzz around East and her dedication to music.
“I’m really appreciative and humbled they asked me to be a part of ‘Feast of Cohen.’ It’s a privilege, and to be able to perform at the LSPU Hall is very cool,” East told The Telegram. “I’ve been drawn to Leonard Cohen for many years.”
East will be performing two Cohen songs: “Tonight Will Be Fine,” from his 1969 “Songs From a Room” album, and 1988’s “Everybody Knows.”
East said she doesn’t feel especially pressured when it comes to presenting Cohen covers to an audience with many die-hard fans.
“WIth an iconic artist like Leonard Cohen, people want to hear the songs they way they were recorded, so they can recognize them and sing along. I know that,” East said. “I have the liberty of making them my own in some way, of making them a little Carolina East, while still maintaining the integrity of his music. I’d never do it any other way.”
Other “Feast of Cohen” performers this year include Quote the Raven, Mick Davis, Rachel Cousins, Mark Manning of Rum Ragged, Tiber Reardon and Maggie Meyer, along with house band The Beautiful Losers and other “Feast of Cohen” regulars: Sandy Morris, Jill Porter, Jenny Gear, Lori Cooper, Brian Hennessey, Des Walsh, Derek Pelley, Maria Cherwick, Andrew McCarthy, and Dave, Geoff and Sean Panting.
Apart from the venue, Hynes says the show has become even more dear to her heart since Cohen’s passing in 2016.
“(It’s) all the more necessary to bring Leonard Cohen’s songs to the people, as his impact on the world with his words and music lives on,” she said.
This year’s “Feast of Cohen” will run tonight, Friday and Saturday. Tickets can be purchased by calling the LSPU Hall at 753-4531 and online at rca.nf.ca.