Jazz Fest: Montreal’s Bread and Butter

Montreal; ever-so-loved for its blistering hot summers and unending party scene, is home to some of the greatest music festivals in Canada. It is during this time of year that young people flock to the city in hopes of catching their favourite bands—whether it be at Osheaga or IleSoniq, the festival vibes are all around.

Among the heaps of festivals that grace our fine city, very few are as renown and beloved as the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. Beginning in late June and heading straight into the second week of July, it’s the bread and butter of Montreal in the summer, proving that Osheaga isn’t the only party worth going to.

Taking place in Place des Arts, the FIJM packs an overall 2 million attendees into the already cramped Ste. Catherine St. and nearby ruelles.

The FIJM is as incredibly dynamic and action-packed as the festivals that grace the grounds of Parc Jean Drapeau. Just take a stroll through the bustling streets of downtown and you’ll discover buskers, poets, aerobic performances, and a variety of concerts and gigs—many of which are free.

Gracing stages all over the city were the likes of none other than Cat Power, Ms. Lauryn Hill and Danny Brown, amidst a slew of iconic and lesser-known performers alike.

Cat Power’s solo performance at Metropolis on June 29 stole hearts and opened the festival with a tender feeling of sad resilience and delicacy. Sans her accompanying band, attendees were at the whim of Power’s magical voice and unique stage presence, as she told stories of times long past and softly whispered “sorry”s from the microphone. Perhaps she wanted to feel more Canadian? I don’t know.

Her show was short yet still so sweet, as she played fan favourites “The Greatest,” “Good Woman”—bring on the tears—and “Where is My Love?”
The second week of the festival continued to blow minds with a variety of awesome, dynamic music. Lauryn Hill—oh my god—would be performing at Place des Arts, and Danny Brown—hell yes—at Metropolis.

Both musicians, while incredibly different in genre, share a knack for high-energy shows and a dedicated fanbase.

With two sold out shows, Hill’s soulful voice, accompanied by a dozen other musicians, packed the Place des Arts concert auditorium. Her show was magical—her voice as vast as an ocean and the band leading you through the water. Tones of blue projected on the ceiling amplified the waviness of Hill’s set as she took you on a journey from one artistic style to another.

Hill is a one-of-a-kind musician. Her voice is raw, passionate and soulful. Her flexibility in tone and style as an artist is rare, as displayed in her show. She sang in French, she sang our city’s name like the words couldn’t have stayed any longer in her mouth. “Montreal,” she sang over and over again. The crowd went wild.

She was eventually joined by her kids on stage during the finale. Heartwarming, much.

FIJM’s choice to have Danny Brown was well thought-out. Both unusual and welcome, it was a great way to attract a different music community to the festival. Brown’s shows can be pretty hardcore, with moshpits abound and lots of jumping. The July 5 show was no different.

Despite anticipation for the new album, Brown mostly performed tracks off of Old, such as all-time favourites “Drinkin’ and Smokin’”, “Dip”, “Kush Koma” and “25 Cents”.

The moshpit was wild, crushing practically everyone on the main floor. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood though, despite the elbowing. Two girls squeezed their way up to front stage just to stand there and try to talk, unmoving and uncaring of the music. They were soon lost once again into the masses of people losing their shit for Danny Brown.

Without forgetting to note new to the scene and show-opener, Nate Husser. Joined by The Posterz, the collaborating artists gave Brown a Montreal-style homecoming.

Admittedly, the festival often carries the weight of hosting incredibly unique and oftentimes underground artists while simultaneously trying to promote them to the larger Montreal population, many of whom aren’t diehard jazz fans.

It makes for lots of shows going unnoticed or garnering smaller crowds. With that in mind, I picked one band at random, dedicating myself to discovering new sound and talent.

I went to Moon Hooch’s show with no more than a brief listen on Spotify. The New York City-native trio, surprised me with their the upbeat, fast-paced, chaotic sound. With just two saxophones and a shirtless drummer, Moon Hooch was easily one of the most engaging performances from this year’s lineup.

A mix of jazz and bass-y electronic music, the band’s hour and a half long set boomed through L’Astral; its powerhouse-eclectic noise ringing through the body of the crowd.

Somehow, it felt as though saxophonist Mike Wilbur was screaming through his instrument. In awe I wondered at the man’s lung capacity.

Towards the end of their set, Wentzl McGowan attached a large, dented pylon to his sax. I had never seen anything like it. They transitioned with a heavy, thumping bass from the make-shift amplifier and their sound took on a danceable, groovy tune.

Their set was nothing short of phenomenal. Some people bounced and bobbed to the eclectic ring of Moon Hooch’s quick percussion and heavy bass, others sat not-so-still. No matter where you were in the venue, dancing was unavoidable.

I left the show that night with a new favourite band. Check them out below—maybe they’ll become your new favourites, too!

The FIJM proves itself to be a fun time, no matter what you’re into. Encouraging city-dwellers to crowd the streets of Place des Arts and take it all in, whether it be enjoying the public pianos or the free concerts.

Jazz Fest is cool, alright? A lady wrote an original poem for me on her typewriter. There was sweet tunes. And vegan food! Need I say more?

Don’t miss out again. And if you did make it, well, tell your friends and come again next year!

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