MONTREAL -- A star-studded lineup including Sting, Feist and k.d lang are performing some of Leonard Cohen's greatest hits to a packed but subdued crowd in Montreal.

The concert, organized to mark the one-year anniversary of the singer's death, opened on a fairly upbeat note with a performance from Sting singing Cohen's hit song "Dance Me to the End of Love."

He was followed by Canadian star Feist, who strummed a guitar during a stripped down version of Cohen's "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye."

Patrick Watson, former Cohen collaborator Sharon Robinson and The Lumineers' Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites followed, the latter taking on "Democracy," one of Cohen's most political songs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau made a brief appearance on stage, where they said their first dance at their wedding had been to the tune of Cohen's "I'm Your Man."

Trudeau said his father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, met Cohen backstage once in 1988 and asked him "what does one have to do to get a good review in this town?"

He also thanked Cohen's son Adam Cohen for organizing the event, "as a son who also knew what it was like to have a challenging and larger-than-life father."

Early in the concert, the crowd applauded warmly but mostly kept to their seats as star after star took to the stage to perform Cohen's famously downbeat oeuvre.

The first standing ovation came midway, after Irish singer-songwriter Damien's Rice's dreamlike version of "Famous Blue Raincoat."

He was followed by Adam Cohen, who performed "So Long, Marianne," the song written for Marianne Ihlen, his father's muse.

The performance began upbeat but turned emotional as the singer delivered the song's second half in a spoken monologue with his eyes closed as the words, "Goodbye old friend," flashed on the screen behind him.

Many of the performances featured simple, acoustic arrangements, including Ron Sexsmith's "Suzanne" and k.d. lang's power-ballad version of "Hallelujah."

One notable exception was Elvis Costello, who performed a rock-heavy version of "The future."

Lana Del Rey and comedian Seth Rogen are expected to perform later in the show.

Fans, including many from outside Canada, lined up Monday night outside the Bell Centre ahead the memorial concert.

Friends Marian Ohberg and Nancy Bartlett, who made the trip from Atlanta, showed up in black felt hats that resembled the type Cohen favoured.

They say Cohen's music has been a theme of their 50-year friendship, prompting them to make their first visit to the city in decades.

"He's a songwriter and a poet who loves women," Bartlett said.

"Who can resist that?" Ohberg added.

Ronald Ferket, who came from Belgium, spent the day before the concert visiting some of the Montreal locations mentioned in Cohen's songs.

Ferket, who has been a fan since 1967, says Cohen's poetry and the messages in his lyrics are even more important than the music.

He says his personal life motto, inspired by Cohen's song "Bird on a wire," is to "try, in my way, to be free."