Posted by: kaleidophonic | July 4, 2012

Montreal International Jazz Festival

One of the many great things about living in Montreal is the International Jazz Festival that’s held here every summer. Jazz greats come from across the globe to show off their chops to appreciative Montréal audiences – but the ticket prices for these shows can be high.

That’s why the BEST thing about Jazzfest is the series of FREE outdoor concerts that are offered each day, several times a day. While you can rarely see the big name jazz performers at these free shows, they are still definitely worth the price – I’ve seen some real gems at the free shows, and if you’re just not feeling the vibe, you can leave, or wander over to another stage, no money lost.

The first free show I ever saw at Jazzfest was a few years ago, and it was one of the best I’ve seen so far: the Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars. These guys laid down some of the best grooves I’ve ever moved too, and it wasn’t until halfway through the set that I realized that although the songs were upbeat, the subject matter was often pretty dark. These guys are refugees, after all, and deal with all the heartache, frustration, and pain that comes along with that. But I have to say, if you’re going to write a song about the struggles of living like a refugee, you might as well make it one you can dance to.


Last year I saw a great indie soul band called Fitz & the Tantrums. These guys are super classy, rock hard, and really put out a lot of energy for the audience. I really dug them and it was thanks to the free exposure at Jazzfest that I bought tickets to their show next time they were in town. They were all sick as dogs with the flu, but still worked their asses off for us and everyone was up and dancing the shit out of the dancefloor. Hardworking band, you better believe these guys are good. You can download a free EP at their website, and if you dig soul music you should definitely check them out. Here’s a live vid of them playing “Rich Girls.”


This year I’ve managed to catch four live shows so far (the fest ends on Sunday, but unfortunately I won’t be here over the weekend). Two were ok but not great, and I don’t remember their names anyways. But one that really got the hair standing on the back of my neck was a bluesman called Steve Hill.  This guy has CHOPS. He actually managed to single-handedly restore my faith in the blues, which has been seriously sagging of late. Too many of the Canadians who play the blues seem to play this tepid, middle-of-the-road stuff that just bores me. But Steve Hill has the soul and the gritty dirty sound that true bluesmen need. He just OOZED grit, and his performance blew me away: not only did he totally rock his guitar, but he sang AND played the bassdrum & high-hat AT THE SAME TIME. This, my friends, is seriously difficult to do. Trust me, I’ve tried it. Kudos Mr. Hill!

There’s actually Youtube footage from the same day I saw him at the Fest. I think it was the earlier show tho, cause I don’t remember him wearing a vest. But whatever. Check it out.


And last, but not least, the show I saw tonight, Sidi Touré. Touré and his band are from Mali, and while his show was slightly marred by technical difficulties, the audience was really appreciative. For me I feel it’s a real privilege to get to watch African musicians, in traditional garb, playing traditional instruments, performing music from halfway around the world. Here’s a vid for his song “Mon Pays” (“My Country”), which he played for us tonight.


As you can see, the free fare offered by Jazzfest can be quite varied, but it is almost always a good time, and the musicians are always happy to be performing for Montreal audiences.

That’s it for now, and for the next few days as well: I’m heading out to the countryside for a much-needed mini-break.  But if you happen to be in Montreal this week or over the weekend, definitely make time to check out the Jazz Festival. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. Also, I highly recommend you check out the guys selling mango-on-a-stick.

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