Starting off the day was Cécile Doo-Kingué with her soothing voice and really impressive blues guitar skills. She had a full range of songs that went from the very political, to one about stealing food from her mom’s kitchen and getting an ass whooping. Cécile ended her show appropriately by using her behind as a bongo drum.
Joe Grass took the stage next with his band Notre Dame De Grass. The trio started with a slow soulful folk song called “We Waited” and continued with their own unique type of country. Joe Grass’ voice, reminiscent of Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam, fit the songs beautifully. It was also really fun to watch how into the performance the drummer was, and then the fiddle player seemingly turning his fiddle into an electric guitar during solos.
Next were Grouyan Gumbo, singing in Acadian French and playing music that draws from traditional Cajun and folk. This group got the crowd a little more lively. The band consisted of a rhythm section, bass, accordion, and fiddle, and totally rocked out on their instruments. Not really my thing, but I could appreciate it for what it was.
The next band, Canailles, started their set off with a stompy-type gospel song, leading into some pure bluegrass/country. I could tell that this was the most energetic and fun act of the entire festival so far. The whole band sang along in unison with the lead female singer who had an amazing voice reminiscent of Wanda Jackson. Canailles somehow managed to sing their original French songs in American-style old country, and it totally worked. Loved the upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle, but what I really appreciated (and had seen for the first time so far this whole festival) was the use of the wash board as an instrument. The homemade shaker made out of an old Glenfiddich container also told you that these guys were a total DIY type of band. Canailles totally woke me up like a bucket of water dumped on your head on a hot day. By the end of the set, I was clapping like an idiot.
Next up was surprise act Stefanie Parnell. Parnell played two songs on her acoustic guitar and, to be honest, didn’t really fit in with the fun fiddle and banjo atmosphere created by the prior bands – especially when she had a friend join her on stage and rap along to her song. The girl had a lovely voice, but her performance seemed more like something you might get on the auditions for Canadian Idol. Maybe she should audition. She would definitely make the finals.
New York-based Anthony D’Amato was up next, and (though I know he’s probably sick of this…), immediately my mind went to compare him to Ryan Adams. D’Amato impressed me with his songs, one being a political song entitled “Holy War” about being a disgruntled American, and another catchier tune, a tribute to Woody Guthrie, entitled “On the Banks of the River Where I Died”. My favourite song of the set had to be the last one, entitled “Hank Williams Tune”; a charming song with witty lyrics about falling for someone who digs all the same stuff as you.
Next were Mark Berube and The Patriotic Few, a four piece band consisting of keyboards, drums, bass, and cello. The band performed mostly songs off of their newest album, June In Siberia. I’ve been sitting here trying to think of words to describe Mark’s set, and the one word that keeps coming up is ‘powerful.’ He proved he had a vivid imagination with his song about a small community of Japanese cowboys, and he captivated the audience with his stage banter. The band surprised everyone with their acapella “Ye Bo Mama”, a traditional African Siswati song. To end the song, the drummer got up and played the cellist’s cello like a bongo drum, and I think the crowd went a little nuts.
Mark ended his performance with a powerful (there’s that word again) Bob Dylan-esque storytelling tune, when unexpectedly, a breaker went, and the speakers and monitors both blew out. Instead of stopping there at the last song and saying goodnight, Mark and his band put their instruments down, started clapping their hands and singing their hearts out, and urging the audience to sing with them lyrics quite fitting for the situation: “plant the flowers on the stones”. Mark Berube and his band received a well-deserved standing ovation for their performance. My hands were itchy from all the clapping, and my eyes were teary. It felt like coming out of an emotional and thought provoking movie at the theatre. To sum it up: Mark Berube and The Patriotic Few played with so much heart that they used up all the electricity. Amazing.
Sheesham and Lotus, three crazy old timey dudes in bowler hats and three-piece suits, were up next. These guys professed to the crowd that they were out to scientifically prove that old time music is better than it sounds. With a fiddle, banjo, sousaphone, and a homemade instrument made for singing into (that I’m assuming they created themselves) called a “sepiaphonic monophone”, they proved their point and then some. These guys were not just musicians but true performers, making us feel that we were back in the Twenties, watching a comedy act in a speakeasy. At the end of the performance, the audience clapped so much that the guys played two more songs. This festival just kept getting better and better.
The last performer of the night was David Francey along with his guitarist Mark Westberg. Francey, a former construction worker, was charming and humble, referring to his music career as “this job,” performing several songs about his wife, singing about his childhood as a paper boy, and about his former life as a construction worker. Introducing each song with a little story or anecdote, he had the crowd’s complete attention. Francey possesses a quality that is rarely found in artists today: the ability to write a simple song and well thought out, honest lyrics with no gimmicks or unnecessary bells and whistles. David Francey proved that he is both a prolific song writer and a master at storytelling.
Wow, I got all serious for a while there didn’t I? I guess when it comes to true talent, there’s no joking around. What I saw today surpassed my expectations for The Montreal Folk Festival. By the end of this night I was tired, sweaty, and felt like I had gotten hit by two buses full of awesome. I would like to thank everyone involved in this project, and I will be there next year with bells on.
See more photos by Owain Harris from the Montreal Folk Festival via our facebook page.