Words and photos by Darryl Block
Day 1: Feist
On Friday, May 19, the Montreal suburb of Santa-Therese, Quebec, became the backdrop for the sophomore edition of the Santa Teresa Festival. The short downtown strip was gated off and invaded by festival goers from the surrounding region; every historic cul-de-sac and alley packed with gaming areas of hipsters playing ping-pong and informal mid festival dance parties while a long line extended 50 feet from the entrance of the towering Sainte-Thérèse-d’Avila de Blainville – an 18th century cathedral at the end of the downtown strip. The line that stretched across the church property and sprawled onto the sidewalk as early as 7:00pm was formed in preparation for Friday’s special act, a performance by Leslie Feist scheduled to begin two hours later, in the intimacy of the small capacity stone and stained glass sanctuary.
Feist’s performance would prove well worth the wait as she would play an almost two-hour set, covering everything from her 2017 album Pleasure, to Broken Social Scene tracks with guest BSS members, to new interpretations of her classic repertoire of Mushaboom, and Gatekeeper.
In a space edged by pillars and presided over by a large crucifix, Feist broke through the opulence with casual charm and the frenetic energy of her performance; one which verged on the ecstatic during her rendition of A Commotion. This song brought the audience to its feet to the base of the altar, surrounding Feist, as she made her frenzied way through them. Feist transformed the Romanesque atmosphere that initially stifled the audience into an obsequious pew-seated silence into something exultant and communal that did not falter until the 11pm noise curfew brought the evening to an end. The aftermath of Feist fans pouring out into the downtown street overrun by stumbling intoxicated revellers struggling to prolong the night in a festival grounds that was rapidly reverting to a quaint village.
Day 2: The Rain
The second day of the festival promised an ambitious lineup for a small town festival, featuring Milk & Bone, Alice Glass, Wolf Parade, July Talk, and Nick Murphy aka Chet Faker. The forecast, which called for rain proved accurate, but did not deter the crowds who had perhaps read the festival website’s assurances that the outdoor shows would take place rain or shine. However, at 5:00pm, when Alice Glass was scheduled to perform, the Main Stage, an outdoor stage situated in the town square stood empty, as damp music fans scurried between archways or stood soaking in the rain outside of the small bar venues that housed the smaller acts. It was soon announced that Alice Glass would be relocated to a smaller venue. However, in the end, Glass canceled her act. This cancellation would be the first for the day but Main Stage acts, Her and The Voidz would soon follow suit. The festival did succeed in relocating Wolf Parade to Le Montecristo, but the venue proved far too small for the act and many fans were turned away disappointed and damp. Some crowding into a discount vintage shop to search for warm clothes.
The disastrous day was quickly turning to night before Canadian rock sensations, July Talk, took the stage. Their swaggering theatrics fed by the rain as it flew off them in sprays as they pitched and careened across the stage. This energetic spectacle has become the trademark of the hardworking band. It was on full display on this torrential day in Sainte-Therese during their singles, Push+Pull, and Gentleman. These songs drew some cheers and dancing from the sodden audience as Peter Dreimanis stalked and Leah Fay sprawled across the wet stage.
As July Talk wrapped up their act, the rain cleared. The stage was quickly mopped in preparation for the headliner, Nick Murphy, the new moniker of the subdued Australian DJ formerly known as Chet Faker. Having abandoned the basic set of tables and keyboards from his solo act in exchange for a full backing band, and simplistic rhythms and melodies for more complex song structure, Nick Murphy, the lead singer, is now better outfitted for a main stage or an arena than his former incarnation. A lot of depth and bombast were added to the act but some of the humble intimacy was lost. The show was well received but short-lived as the rain delay left him only 35 minutes to get the crowd dancing.
Day 3: Wrapping Up
As bands began playing on the final day, the festival in many ways represented everything you could ask for in a music festival; the sun was out, the grounds were packed, and the signature cocktail, the Santa Soda was pretty good and, most importantly, the music, for the most part, was excellent.
The ethereal tones of UK producers, Mount Kimbie opened the early afternoon on the main stage. Their low-key grooves acted as a comfortable entry point for the die-hard fans who jockeyed for a position in the front row. Many of these diehards would maintain this position for the rest of the day, sweating it out in the hot sun to ensure their spot for the festival headliner.
Mount Kimbie was followed by explosive Montreal institution, post-rap group, Dead Obies, whose infectious energy got the crowd moving and shouting. The Dead Obies, a cast of 5 Montrealers formed in 2011 produce a quintessentially Montreal Franglais post-rap, a fun mash-up of English and French hip hop. A highlight of the day was pop singer Abra, who took the stage in a t-shirt and fishnets, to enthrall the crowd with her sultry voice and R&B vibes. This act was followed by Ghostmane, whose angst-filled shrieks and repeated attempts to form a murderous rage pit stirred the crowd up to a pitch.
Following Ghostmane, events took a turn reminiscent of Saturday’s scheduling missteps but were more aptly handled. Hip hop artists Trippie Redd and Ski Mask The Slump God cancelled but were smoothly replaced by another Francophone hip hop artist, Loud. UK-based electropop duo, Oh Wonder, played next as the set up band for the headliner as twilight fell. They were predictably excellent, hitting all the right notes and playing all of their crowd pleasing singles.
As night fell during the moments leading up to the main act, people slouched over the front rail in exhaustion after a long day of sun and dancing but refused to relinquish their spot for the closing act. A 9:30 past, the time for headliner, Lil Uzi Vert, there was no sign of the performer and no news on the festival app. Minutes passed as the crowd, who had been waiting all day to see Lil Uzi Vert, went from restless to aggressive. Though they had begun by cheering for Lil Uzi, soon they began shouting angrily and giving the finger to the stage. The festival responded by passing out free water bottles to the front rows, which temporarily mollified them. But as the time passed, the full bottles were thrown back at the stage and security guards in protest. After over an hour of waiting, an audience member hurled a lit firecracker into the stage area, which exploded and sent security shuffling out into the crowd to try to find the culprit. This antagonism continued to grow until two hours had passed when the festival finally notified crowds through the festival app, that Lil Uzi Vert had been delayed by customs and would not be playing. The app stated that affected parties would receive a refund and the crowd should move respectfully out of the area. Unfortunately, this request only seemed to enrage the tired fans, many of whom vaulted over the barriers, rushing the stage and toppling expensive sound equipment and municipal property.
Three days after the festival closed, the Santa Teresa Festival Facebook group posted the refund procedure– and a plucky promise to “see you in May 2019. ”
While the convergence of weather unpreparedness, artist cancellations, and the mishandling of a crowd turned savage may easily become the story of the sophomore effort of the Santa Teresa Festival – it should not define it. Most of these failures are not uncommon to new music festivals and may be worth forgetting as the festival returns, given the speed at which the organization self-corrected and offered compensation.
What will be remembered are the wonderful, singular experiences: an intimate Feist show in cathedral, a raucous July Talk show in the rain, and an eclectic and ambitious lineup in a historic and beautiful Francophone city.