When the thunderstorms retreat, I sit outside on my tiny patio, drinking sangria, content that the seedlings are growing (with only a few transplant casualties), and pluck away at some guitar strings humming along with some of my favourite melodies. The signs of summer also announce the beginning of Montreal’s festival season and there is no lack of choice for the initiated and uninitiated alike. Thanks to McAuslan brewer, who brew the most wonderful rosé cider and are ardent supporters of local arts, and Hello Darlin’ productions Montreal has its very own Folk Festival on the Canal providing a spot for acts to land and share their tunes with music lovers as well as an opportunity to showcase local bluegrass, country, and folk talent.mccoury_band-no-logo

The 6th edition of Montreal Folk Festival on the Canal boasts some impressive programming and begins on June 12th with the first of three indoor shows with Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. The next evening, Corinna Rose, a talented and promising local act, will be opening for headliner Tim O’Brien who in turn will be kickin’ off the fest’s opening gala. On friday, The Travelin’ McCourys who are considered bluegrass royalty by many, will be playing at the Virgin Mobile Corona Theatre. Of the three indoor shows, I am the most intrigued by The Travelin’ McCourys who have been playing on the road for around twenty years. Two of the band members, the McCourys, have bluegrass in their blood as they are the sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury.

Old-Man-Luedecke

For the second year, the weekend programming and “meat” of the fest is free taking place at the Ilot Charlevoix near the Atwater Market. On saturday, I am most excited for Will Driving West and Old Man Luedecke. I first heard of Old Man Luedecke from David Pearce of the Jimmyriggers, whom I met whilst volunteering for the fest a couple years ago, when he sent me the tune “I Quit My Job” after hearing me complain about my barista gig one too many times. Old Man Luedecke is a one of kind treat, not to be missed, and lately I’ve been humming his tune “A&W Song” round the house.

As for sunday, The Franklin Electric, a Montreal based music collective, will be launching their debut album This is How I Let You Down an emotional blend of folk and pop. Apart from them, I am less familiar with the acts lined up for Sunday, but that’s not a bad thing. I’ve found that this can be  the best scenario for finding a new ‘coup de coeur’. A few years ago, I was taken by surprise by Canailles when they took the Folk Fest stage and by Anthony D’Amato when he took part in a songwriter circle. They are now amongst my favourite musical acts. This year, The Once seems most promising. I spotted one of them playing a bodhran in one of their videos and my heart danced a little.

The_OnceThat’s not all, along with showcasing folk, bluegrass, and traditional artists the Folk Fest, in partnership with Parks Canada and Mountain Equipment Coop, provides music lovers and their friends and lovers an opportunity to experience some urban camping. Starting on saturday, tents will be pitched sprouting like tiny mushrooms along the canal and fest goers will be able to enjoy all of the weekend programming on site. Urban camping is made sweeter by the opportunity to try out some of Montreal’s lovely treats and new food trucks including Popcorn Mania, Sweet Lee’s Bakery, Hot Dog Mobile, Smooth Fruit, Grumman 78 (tacos!), Landry et Filles, Ma Tante Quiche, and Latte on Wheels.

 

Come for the tunes, stay for the folk.

I love folk music, but honestly I was kind of nervous about covering the Montreal Folk Festival. Love me some Bobby Dylan, Woody Guthrie, or some Weavers. Folk music can be the most honest, and heartfelt of any of the genres. I just didn’t know what to expect at a modern day folk festival. Nu folk? Is that what you call it? Turns out, it was just like any other festival. I had pleasant surprises and found myself cheering for talent I had never heard before, but sometimes I was just bored.

Opening the festival was Francophone duo Osmosaic. I felt for these folks because when they started the crowd was less than sparse, but musically this group left a boring taste in my mouth. Osmosaic’s songs were obviously very carefully crafted and both vocalists were great guitarists, and spot on in the harmonies department, but something about the music was just a little bit “Sharon, Lois and Bram” without the “Sharon”.

Next act up was rockabilly dudes The Hellbound Hepcats. I had never seen these guys but heard really great things about them, and definitely wasn’t disappointed. These skilled musicians did what any good band should do: they played a few great covers, had some awesome originals, did some rockin’ solo’s, and got the crowd (who increased in numbers during their set) to get up and cut a rug. The Hepcat’s charming singer even jumped off stage to dance with a few ladies and the Parks Canada mascot, a giant beaver, named Parka.

The Hepcats were a hard act to follow, but The Jimmyriggers tried. These guys made their first mistake by playing way too loud for a folk fest. Not to sound like a cranky old lady, but turn it down Jimmyriggers! I really tried to like these guys and the Blue Rodeo-ish vibe they were going for, but the hooks weren’t catchy enough and the atmosphere was kind of dead. If all of The Jimmyriggers songs had the same vibe as their last song, a powerful country/folk ballad titled, I stand In The Weeds I would have clapped more, smiled more and maybe even waved a lighter in the air.

And now to the pleasant surprise: a two part folk jam session. The first part was led by blues guitarist Rob Lutes, then gradually built up to five musicians. Lutes’ raspy voice and engagement with the crowd reminded me that I was at a folk festival. These musicians’ bluegrass and jazz guitar performances had more heart and soul than any of the acts so far at the festival. A cover of Bob Dylan’s, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright was the perfect ending to this set.

The second part of the folk jam, led by cowboy hat wearin’ guitarist Matt Large was just as good if not better. Consisting of six guitarists, a lapsteel, and a harmonica, these guys embodied the spirit of folk. With a twangy old-school country and southern gospel vibe, this group could have easily been on the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. The highlight of this performance was Bobby Dove, an adorable spunky chick with a killer voice (and an awesome jean vest). Bobby Dove held her own with the best of them when she belted out a heart-wrenching rendition of Hank Williams’, Long Gone Lonesome Blues. Ending with Wagon Wheel, another song penned by one of the fathers of folk, Bob Dylan, these folk jams were the most authentic performances of the entire day.

The next act, The Montreal Sacred Harp Pleasure Society (ha!), might be the hardest to describe. This group, having never used microphones before faced a pretty daunting challenge. Performing in a little known style called “Harp” music, a traditional choral music hailing from the Southern region of the U.S., these guys were unexpected and different. The choir leader amused the crowd by introducing each song and explaining what it was about. Unfortunately the group performed in a circle, causing half of the members to have their back to the audience making it a hard performance to watch. I think one of the girls was out of tune the entire time but this music had me intrigued so I didn’t really care.

The Edinburgh Choir followed next. These kids (literally, kids) have sung a national anthem at a Montreal Juniors game and toured Quebec City, so they were totally pro! The choir sang a bunch of cute songs with all kinds of actions to go along with them and had everyone in the crowd saying “Awwww!”

Closing the day was Belzebuth, a traditional Quebecois folk band complete with mandolin, bodhan (Irish hand drum), a violin and an accordion. Belzebuth had the entire crowd including the Edinburgh Choir on the dance floor. These guys knew how to play a crowd, created an awesome atmosphere and were the perfect ending for the day.

All in all, Friday’s performances were a pretty good time, listening to some old-school folk and watching some new musicians that I would otherwise never have heard. By the end of the day, the Montreal Folk Festival crowd consisted of people from all walks of life, and everyone seemed as pleased as punch. I know that sounds pretty cheesy but it’s the truth, I swear!

See more photos by Owain Harris from the Montreal Folk Festival via our facebook page.