Folk-ing Good Time: Montreal Folk Fest on the Canal

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This past Saturday afternoon, I caught the outdoor lineup of Montreal’s 8th Annual Folk Fest on the Lachine Canal. I only knew two things going in: I was going to enjoy a lazy, sunny Saturday afternoon listening to music by the water and I had a great pun to use in the title of my review.

Something I should have realized, but didn’t, was that I would be hearing quite a bit of folk music. This year our Jazz Fest features the likes of Ghostface Killah and Huey Lewis and the News, both great artists, but not exactly Jazz musicians. Meanwhile, just down the road, the Ottawa’s Blues plans to host Iggy Azalea, Keith Urban and Weird Al Yankovic among others. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very much looking forward to seeing the Weird One play Just for Laughs, but he’s not a blues artist, I don’t even think he has parodied one in 30 years.

A Folk Music Festival Featuring Folk Music?

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Michael Hurley

Imagine my pleasant surprise hearing folk music at something called the Folk Fest. No, it wasn’t all traditional folk, but there definitely was quite a bit of that. The rest had at the very least a strong folk sensibility.

The first two acts I caught on the big stage (the outdoor venue had three stages) were clearly in the pure folk column. Sin and Swoon, a Montreal-based duo, sang of not standing by your man and tunes inspired by their own stories from the road. True musical storytellers.

They were followed by folk legend Michael Hurley whose lyrics were political commentary for the most part. A veteran troubadour through and through.

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All-Day Breakfast String Band

On the second stage, with the canal and St-Henri as a backdrop, I caught the All-Day Breakfast String Band. Actually, I believe this is the second time I have seen them play their blend of highly fun and danceable Appalachian Folk Country. The first was during PorchFest NDG when they were backing up Stephanie Flowers.

Andy & Ariana: Quirky Scotian Piaf

One act that really caught my attention was the duo of Andy & Ariana. Originally from Nova Scotia, they have been touring their unique musical blend for quite some time. When I say unique, I mean a mix of original songs, one about their furnace, one a dirge about having a good time staying up and waking up late coupled with a slew of Édith Piaf covers. They had an original album for sale as well as a Piaf cover album.

Whether it was original or Piaf, Andy played guitar and made some a propos noises and faces while Ariana really belted it out, occasionally with an instrument in hand as well. At one point she mused that the crowd seemed to be into the performance because this was Montreal and we know French greats like Piaf. Well, that may be the case, but I think the very positive audience response had more to do with Ariana’s incredible voice and the way it fit into the performance.

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Andy & Ariana

No, this wasn’t what I would call folk per-se, but it definitely fit the mood of the event and they were true storytellers, which is what folk artists should be.

Folk-ing Clean Washrooms and Folk-ing Smart Organization

The only time you ever mention the washrooms in a festival review is if they are an abomination and a distraction from the rest of the event. With Folk Fest, it was the opposite. The Port-o-Johns here were impeccable and there weren’t massive lineups. There was even a soap-water pumping station nearby.

Now I’ll admit that this wasn’t a get hammered and high sort of event, it was a family-friendly community festival, so that may have had something to do with it. But still, this was impressive.

In fact, the whole organization was quite impressive. They sold beer, wine and sangria for affordable prices and people were on the honour system not to bring in their own. A truly self-policed community event.

You also had to buy a glass to drink your alcohol in for $2. Rather, you rented the glass, because if you returned it, you got your $2 back. I decided to keep mine:

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A nice momento of a fun time by the canal.

This was the only Folk Fest event I took in this year, but the festival actually featured free outdoor shows Friday, Saturday and Sunday, big concerts at the Corona Theatre by Bruce Cockburn and others as well as shows at Bar de Courcelle. All in the southwest community, either right on or near the canal.

I’ll be sure to check out more of it next year. For now, I can say that a folk-ing good time was had by all.

* photos by Jason C. McLean

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