Hallelujah for the Cohen festival

Leif Bodnarchuk (on right) with Leonard Cohen (wearing hat) and other members of the singer's crew.
Leif Bodnarchuk (on right) with Leonard Cohen (wearing hat) and other members of the singer's crew.

There have been concerts, cover albums, books and films paying homage to his oeuvre and now an entire festival dedicated to the work of Leonard Cohen is coming to Ireland.

The Leonard Cohen Event runs from Thursday to Sunday in Dublin’s Liberty Hall featuring music, film and literature relating to the Canadian singer.

It all began in the spring of 2000 when a group of fans, many already known online to one another through the Leonard Cohen Forum, gathered in his native Montreal in celebration of his art. Thus the bi-annual Leonard Cohen Event was conceived and organised by fans for fans.

Since that first gathering, the event has taken place in Hydra (Greece), New York, Berlin, Edmonton, Krakow, and Madison (USA). Now the festival comes to a “city of poets and singers”, as Cohen said when he performed in Dublin in 2008.

Among the highlights are an exclusive screening of never before broadcast footage of one of Cohen’s concerts from his 2013 tour which has been provided by his manager, Ed Sanders, especially for the Dublin event.

“It’s a unique type of festival as fans from around the world gather together to celebrate the work of someone they love,” explains Leif Bodnarchuk, a Canadian-born writer who toured with Cohen from 2008-2013 as a guitar technician.

Larne-based Bodnarchuk having worked at close quarters with Cohen, is not surprised at the level of devotion shown for Cohen: “He is simply a great guy. I know it sounds sycophantic but it’s true — he really is such a high-class act. He is generous to a fault, humble, down to earth, genuine and multifaceted. I suppose you’ve got to remember that this guy is also a Buddhist monk.”

Being a guitar technician may sound wonderful but Bodnarchuk is quick to point out that it can be intensely stressful. “You may be stuck together with the same 40 or so people 24/7, sometimes for as long as 55 days at a stretch. But I never saw so much as a trace of a rock star temper tantrum from Leonard over our five years on the road. He completely trusts his staff and was very hands off with the day-to-day planning of things but would always want to know what was going on. The only time I saw him with the slightest bee in his bonnet was when he got a look at the gruelling tour schedule.”

In 2012 Bodnarchuk began writing daily entries in an online diary while touring with Cohen. They were collated into a book and entitled No Ideas, in self-effacing honour of Cohen’s album Old Ideas.

At the Dublin event, Bodnarchuk is among an eclectic group of musicians and spoken word artists who will perform their own work and that of their hero. Noted Irish writers Dermot Bolger, Gerard Smyth and John MacKenna are among those taking part. MacKenna is a longterm friend of Cohen and interviewed him for a series of radio programmes for RTÉ.

While there’s slim chance of Cohen himself showing up, organisers say the event is well-known to the legendary performer — his family and friends have attended previous events — and he regularly sends along greetings and gifts. Well, still, there’s no harm in hoping for the miracle...

* Tickets for the entire festival — which includes all the spoken word and music events as well Literary Walking Tours and Arts and Historical Trails — are €145. See www.leonardcohenforum.com for booking and programme details.

bookings@leonardcoheneventdublin.com

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