Leonard Cohen Mesmerizes Audience At 1970 Isle of Wight Festival


Jimi Hendrix was a tough act to follow under the best of circumstances. But to follow him onstage after midnight in front of a crowd of more than half a million people that had been setting fires and throwing bottles at the stage seemed like an impossible task for a poet with an acoustic guitar and a gentle band of backing musicians. Yet Leonard Cohen turned the volatile situation at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival into one of the most magical performances of his career.

Excerpt from Leonard Cohen Plays a Spellbinding Set at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival by Mike Springer (Dangerous Minds: Oct 10, 2015)

While there is little in this post that will be new to hardcore Leonard Cohen fans, savoring the account of Cohen’s iconic performance is always worth a read and a viewing, and for those not familiar with this remarkable episode early in the Canadian singer-songwriter’s career – well, you’re in for a treat.

The article and an embedded video of Murray Lerner’s Leonard Cohen’s Live At The Isle of Wight 1970 can be found at Leonard Cohen Plays a Spellbinding Set at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival

Credit Due Department: Thanks to Jo Meul, who alerted me to this post.

Signs of Leonard Cohen: Newspaper Ad for 1970 UCLA Concert: “A program of now poetry and music for beautiful losers and saints of all age”

ucla1970adAd for the 1970 Leonard Cohen and The Army concert at Royce Hall:  I especially like the performance being styled as “a program of now poetry and music for beautiful losers and saints of all ages,” in the expectation that those viewing the ad would be interested in Cohen’s poetry as well as his music and would also recognize the allusions to his literary work. (OK, I also like the prices: $5.50, $4.75, $4.00, $3.25; Students $2.50)

For a personal report on the 1970 UCLA show, see The 1970 Leonard Cohen Champagne & Crazy Guy Concert At UCLA: A First-Hand Account

Signs Of Leonard Cohen: 1970 Leonard Cohen University Of Wisconsin–Madison Homecoming Concert

1970uof2Poster for the 1970 University Of Wisconsin–Madison Homecoming (“Homecoming For The G.I.s”), which includes a listing for the Oct 30, 1970 Leonard Cohen concert.

A first hand account of that show can be found at The 1970 Leonard Cohen University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert, The Anti-War Movement, & Joe Way

Note: Originally posted February 3, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

The 1970 Leonard Cohen University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert, The Anti-War Movement, & Joe Way



Madison – Brigadoon with a touch of Havana

Leonard Cohen

DrHGuy Note: This extraordinary personal account of the 1970 Leonard Cohen University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert and its sociopolitical context has been unavailable recently.1 Now, however, Cohencentric, in cooperation with the author, Joe Way, is proud to publish the report in its entirety. I heartily recommend this article, written at a time when the Gulf War was this country’s key political issue, not only to Leonard Cohen fans but also to anyone interested in the social protests and peace movement of the late Sixties and early Seventies, the contentions over the war in Viet Nam, or the atmosphere in which the Boomer Generation made the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

1970 Leonard Cohen Madison Concert Review by Joe Way

“The fifteen minutes of the sixties” (as Leonard Cohen has characterized them) wore on into the summer and fall of 1970. Examine this timeline:

  • May 4, 1970. Four students are killed and eight wounded by National Guard troops in an anti-Viet Nam demonstration at Kent State University in Ohio.
  • August 24, 1970. Sterling Hall (in which is housed the Army Math Research Center) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is destroyed by a homemade bomb killing one young researcher in another Viet Nam war protest.
  • August 31, 1970. Leonard Cohen performs at 4 AM at the Isle of Wight festival following a Jimi Hendrix appearance that according to Ira Nadel “set the stage on fire.” Leonard first appeared in pajamas, but then followed his seventeen song set with a fourteen minute encore that according to Kris Kristofferson was “the damnedest thing you ever saw – he charmed the beast.”
  • September 18, 1970. Jimi Hendrix dies in his sleep.
  • October 4, 1970. Janis Joplin dies at 27.
  • October 5, 1970. British Trade Commissioner, James Cross, is kidnapped by FLQ (Front de liberation du Quebec) terrorists in Westmount, Leonard Cohen’s childhood Montreal home area. (Read the FLQ’s communiqué and demands after kidnapping Cross.)
  • October 10, 1970. Quebec reporter, Pierre Laporte, is kidnapped by FLQ (Front de liberation du Quebec) terrorists.
  • October 16, 1970. Pierre Trudeau implements Canada’s War Powers Act establishing martial law. When questioned about the act, an angry Trudeau replies: “There’s a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don’t like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is go on and bleed.” (View the CBC interview clip with Prime Minister Trudeau where he made this comment.)
  • October 17, 1970. Pierre Laporte is found dead in a car trunk.
  • October 30, 1970. Leonard Cohen performs at the Wisconsin Student Association sponsored, anti-war, “Bring them Home from Viet Nam” Homecoming celebration at the University of Wisconsin Field House in Madison.


manchild Insert here an eighteen year old freshman from a very small town in northern Wisconsin called, “Tigerton” who arrived in Madison somewhere in the middle of September 1970 to start his college life. The people of Tigerton were concerned that he would turn communist and lose his religion on this godless campus. That person was me.

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  1. Portions of this material were posted Feb 16, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric. []

Leonard Cohen “Playing Tinkerbell” at 1970 Stony Brook Show: First-hand Accounts


Leonard Cohen at Hartford April 8, 1970

Note: Originally posted Feb 16, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric. Updates are indicated in the text.

Leonard Cohen Challenging The Audience

Review by an audience member of Leonard Cohen Concert Dec 5, 19701 held at the Student Centre of Stony Brook University, New York, NY:2

I was a graduate student at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in the early 1970s, and during my first year there, sometime in the late fall of 1970, Cohen gave a concert in the gymnasium in the Student Centre.

Here are a few things I can recall. He was backed up by one or two female vocalists, and some instrumentalists too I think. He performed in an all-black outfit, maybe just slacks and turtleneck. He looked tired and a bit haggard.

There was a full audience and the concert unfolded in a curious way — he seemed to be losing interest after a few songs and claimed that the crowd was not giving him the vibes he needed (not said in those exact words). I thought he was going to walk out. I think he may have started to. The audience was a bit rowdy and impatient with his antics. Then gradually the audience (probably entirely made up of students from the campus) started responding more, and he did this thing where he was seeming to be revived by this response, and so he gave the audience the feeling that they had somehow given him the life and energy to go on.

It was a very nervy thing to do, sort of playing Tinkerbell, and the atmosphere that resulted was quite amazing. And then the performance started getting a lot better. I was at the exit when he left at the end, I remember a sort of minibus, maybe a Volkswagen minibus, that he and the band climbed into and took off.

Update from LeonardCohenForum:

Yep I was there! I believe it was even a free concert… the one memorable thing I remember LC doing was he had a stool (?) set up near the mike with a glass and a bottle of wine and before he started performing he poured some wine out on the stage floor saying, For those who cannot be with us tonight… which was very meaningful since Jimi and Janis had just died

Update from LeonardCohenForum:

I attended the 1970 Stony Brook concert in the University Gym. It was at the beginning of December. It was my freshman year and I was only 16 years old at the time. The concert was phenomenal. The only strange moment was when Leonard came on stage and gave a mock Nazi salute to the consternation of many in the audience. People were definitely not apathetic, only mellow but certainly disoriented by this entrance gesture and were unsure about his motivation. He could definitely be spirited and feisty during that time of his relative youth. It was the end of the counter-culture, but Leonard was always in his own groove. He was not to have his Zen awakening for many years. He was always a bit sardonic and his voice was much stronger and deeper than during his recent London tour. His songs and poetry are gorgeous and he will always be one of a kind, although the mock politeness he displayed in London was quite precious and funny!

Update from LeonardCohenForum

I remember the concert well. It was also my freshman year and I had just turned 17. I worked on the concert for work/study and sold tickets in the Student Union. I remember he was dressed all in black and gave the salute. I was disturbed. I also remember the after-party. We were standing around him in a circle and nobody said anything. So, I broke the ice, shook his hand and started up the conversation. I felt like everyone was waiting for him to levitate. I still remember the feelings that experience evoked. Now it is over 42 years later. He is on tour now and will be in Miami, where I live on March 20th. Amazing.

Credit Due Department: Photo atop this post by George Tunick.

  1. At the time of the original posting, the exact date was unknown. The source indicated “This concert was performed during the late fall 1970, possibly after Canadian Thanksgiving (October 12), on a Sunday evening, so possible dates are October 18, 25 ; November 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 ; December 6, 13, 20, 27.” Now other sources, notably Tour Archive: Stony Brook University 1967 – 1973, report the date as Dec 5, 1970 []
  2. This account is from LeonardCohenLive.com which is no longer online []