Earlier I had the privilege of attending the Montreal International Jazz Festival and I can confidently say it was one of the best festival experiences I have ever had.
When I was first asked to cover Jazz Fest (or Festival International de Jazz Montreal – FIJM for our francophone friends) I was immediately intrigued. This was a festival that has managed to not only stay relevant for nearly forty years, but in that time has managed to grow into a world class and world famous festival, with some of the biggest names in music gracing its stages. The idea of a jazz festival first took hold in the seventies, a spark in the mind of music industry veteran André Simard. In 1977 Simard partnered with André Ménard and Denys McCann to form Spectra Scène (known today as L’Equipe Spectra), and began planning the festival in earnest.
In 1980 Ray Charles performed at the inaugural Montreal Jazz Fest, already setting the bar sky high, and ensuring every year’s festival was better than the last. In 2016 more than 3000 artists from around the world performed in more than 1000 concerts over the course of 10 wonderful music filled days. I myself only spent 2 days at the festival (June 29th-July 1st) but in that short time, I got the chance to explore many aspects of the festival. For the entirety of the festival the city of Montreal was the oyster of music lovers as a plethora of clubs hosted music of all genres. I saw the passionate power posse that is Mashrou Leila at Club Soda, an indoor venue where hundreds of music lovers gathered to watch these boys push the envelope of protest pop rock music. Royal Wood brought his brand of soulful songs to the Savoy Metropolis, giving Montreal a taste of what an Ontario crooner can do. Fans got the chance to check out the likes of Lauren Hill, Kool and the Gang and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds over the course of the festival, and that was just the ticketed events.
My favourite part of the Festival was the free outdoor programming. It wasn’t that the artists were amazing (which they were) but it was the audience that made the experience unforgettable to me. Never have I seen such a varied cross section of individuals all coming together in the same place for the same reason. I saw young couples holding hands, grandparents with their grandchildren, heard a multitude of languages spoken around me by people coming from far and wide, alone, in pairs, in families or big groups of friends. Montreal Jazz Fest brought together people from all walks of life, all with their own experiences and stories all together for the same reasons: a love of music, and the search for a great time. In the two days I spent at the festival I saw so many amazing artists on those big outdoor stages, and every time I became more enamoured with the crowd than ever. Openminded, happy to be there and so very chill; these festival goers made the festival for me just as much as the music did.
The other thing I loved about Jazz Fest was how eclectic the music was on those outdoor stages. While jazz definitely made its presence known, rock, folk, hip hop, R&B, pop, really every genre of music got its chance to shine during those 10 days. I did make sure to check out some jazz since it’s not normally what I jam to, and I was pleased that I did, it’s not a genre to be overlooked as I’ve been doing. Check out some photos of my favourite discoveries of my jazz fest adventure, Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Fwonte and The Hot Sardines.
Musical highlights for me on the big stage were show openers Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and singing sweetheart Francesco Yates, two artists far from each other on the age spectrum but so very close on the awesome spectrum. Sharon, recently recovered from a bout with cancer was resplendent in royal blue, covered in fringe and glitter, her voice strong and full of soul. The crowd was so enthralled with her that I dared not push through them to get up close for photos, so please forgive these shots. Trust me, the music was worth it.
Night 2’s headliner Francesco Yates was just as incredible to watch. Thanks to my dear friend Vanessa Vai, who played the role of soundperson for Francesco, I was able to get up close and personal and even backstage to capture the action. And action there was. This 20 year old phenom is a ball of energy with the talent to match. Gifted singer, amazing guitarist and a consummate performer, Francesco is more than just a young pop star on the rise; he’s a superstar in the making. Imagine if Prince, Mick Jagger and Robert Plant all donated their DNA to create one musical monster: that’s Francesco. If you don’t believe me, do yourself a favour and check him out live for yourself and you’ll see just what I mean.
Thanks for an amazing first experience Montreal Jazz Fest. See you in 2017.