*header photo by Valerie Gay-Bessette
Last month Mark and I had the pleasure of attending Festival International de Jazz de Montreal.
Now in its 38th year, Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (or Montreal Jazz Fest for short) ran for over a week from the end of June to the beginning of July. 2017 was an especially noteworthy year as it coincided with Montreal’s 375th birthday. Being present to mark the near 40 year love affair that the city has with this beautiful festival made the experience all the more enjoyable, and we definitely weren’t the only ones feeling that way.
Every year over 2 million people converge on Montreal’s downtown core for Jazz Fest. Over 600 concerts and 400 activities and events take place over the 10 days of the festival across 9 outdoor stages and 10 concert venues. Throughout Jazz Fest Montreal plays host to 3000 musicians from 30 countries, 250,000 tourists, and over 300 journalists. With stats like that, it’s no wonder that the Montreal Jazz Festival is ranked as the world’s largest Jazz Festival by Guinness World Records.
There are many things to love about Montreal Jazz Fest, and the music is just one of them. No matter what music you enjoy, there is something for everyone at this festival. From up and coming indie acts to some of the biggest artists in the world, from home grown talent to artists from the far reaches of the globe, variety is not only the spice of life, but the flavor of Montreal Jazz Fest. And the best part is, so much of it is completely FREE to enjoy!
Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles hosts multiple stages with free music programming, including some of the biggest artists in the world. The likes of Coeur de Pirate, Half Moon Run, Franklin Electric and Anderson Paak and the Free Nationals all graced the TD Stage in the heart of downtown Montreal. We had the pleasure of checking out Walk off the Earth on the 4th of July on that same stage. Hailing from Ontario, WOTE rose to fame with their now viral cover video of Gotye’s “Somebody that I used to know”, where the entire band played a single guitar at the same time. But it’s their musical chops that earned them this prestigious gig at Jazz Festival. Singer Sarah Blackwood was an inspiration. At more than 8 months pregnant, she rocked the earth mother rock goddess vibe like a pro, with rock being the operative word as she belted out tune after tune, and rocked the guitar. The band shifted seamlessly between crowd pleasing covers and great original tunes, once again reminding us that despite their more gimmicky beginning, they have definitely earned their place in rock stardom. (photos by Valerie Gay-Bessette)
Pokey Lafarge graced the TD stage not once but twice the following night. The Missouri native’s whimsical fashion sense, quiet charisma and contagious sense of humor made him an absolute pleasure to watch. His musical style can best be described as aanode to the origins of American music. Combining blues, ragtime, swing and of course jazz, Pokey’s eclectic sound was perfectly showcased at Montreal Jazz Fest. (photos by me.)
For for more intimate musical experiences, Jazz Fest had many ticketed show options available featuring some incredible artists. Bob Dylan, Thievery Corporation, Charlotte Cardin and Melissa Etheridge were just some of the artists that performed at the many theatres, clubs and venues around Montreal’s downtown.
I’ve been a Joss Stone fan for years – her debut The Soul Sessions is still one of my all time favorite albums. I’d seen Joss perform in Toronto several years back but seeing her perform at Jazz Fest blew that experience out of the water. Decked out like an ethereal goddess, her voice like fire and her smile contagious, Joss was a vision on the stage of the Wilfred Pelletier room in the Places Des Arts building. She derives such joy from performing, which in turn makes her a joy to watch. She played the perfect balance between old and new material with some covers thrown in, including my personal favorite “Super Duper Love”. (photos by Benoit Rousseau.)
Husband and wife duo Whitehorse took the stage the following night at the Metropolis. This performance marked the first time Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland were joined by a full band. While the pair generally rock it regardless of accompaniment, having a band filled out their sound and made for a more dynamic musical experience. It’s always wonderful to see this real life couple interact on stage; their chemistry is undeniable, and their harmonies are spellbinding.
Next up were The Strumbellas. Watching the Ontario natives, who I first saw on a teeny side stage in the middle of the afternoon at a local festival, graduate to a stage of the Metropolis caliber was nothing short of inspiring. The gothic folk six piece, led by singers Simon Ward and David Ritter, played a variety of tunes from their 3 album repertoire, including singles like “Spirits”, “Young and wild” and “Sailing”. With their gooseflesh inducing harmonies, happy go lucky stage presence and beautiful songwriting, the Strumbellas are sure to go far in this business, and playing Montreal Jazz Fest is just another great milestone along the way.
What you may be surprised to read is that while I adore music, it’s not my favorite part of Montreal Jazz Fest. It’s the people that come for Jazz Fest, and how the festival cherishes them. Jazz Fest provides festival goers with so many amazing opportunities to not only experience great music, but to enjoy the city, the summer, and each other. People from all walks of life, all ages and all abilities come together for this festival. There’s great children’s programming to spark that love of music early, there are tons of activations and activities all around town, fantastic food vendors and so much more.
Montreal Jazz Fest is a dedication to the city’s love of music. I’ve travelled to many places for the sake of music, but nowhere have I witnessed such a deep love than in Montreal. So if you get the chance to love music in a city that loves music like no other, then make sure you get to Festival International de Jazz de Montreal for yourself.