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The Montreal International Jazz Festival

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The Montreal International Jazz Festival invites over 3000 musicians together from dozens of countries, for well over a thousand performances, most of which are free. We wouldn’t have the chance to see much of the festival, as it began during our final night in Montreal. But we did get a taste.

Montreal Jass Festival

The Montreal Jazz Festival was first celebrated in 1980, and has since grown into the world’s largest, certified as such by the Guinness Book of World Records, in 2006. But looking at the lineup, you’ll notice right away that it’s not all jazz. In fact, the invited bands and musicians represent a wide range of genres, including rock, soul, hip-hop and folk.

My heart raced as I looked through the program, which featured acts like Brian Wilson, Danny Brown, Jamie Cullem, Lauryn Hill, Noel Gallagher, Peter Bjorn & John, Rufus Wainwright, The Tallest Man on Earth and Wynton Marsalis. I’d have liked to see all of these! But since we were leaving the city on the festival’s second day, the only act we were able to catch was Cat Power, who was playing a solo show at the Metropolis.

Out of all Montreal’s summertime festivals (and there are tons), the Jazz Festival is the undisputed king. It’s centered around the Place des Arts, where you can enter for free and check out performances by lesser-known artists throughout the day. This is in the heart of the city, and traffic is completely cut off for the duration of the festival, which draws millions of music-lovers.

Every single time we told a Montrealer that we’d be leaving at the end of June, we heard some variation on the same theme: “Are you stupid?!” We’d be missing July, widely agreed upon to be the best month in the city. And that meant we’d be missing the Jazz Festival. It was a little frustrating to be reminded of this fact over and over again, but we didn’t really have a choice. I’m happy that we experienced a bit of the festivities… and we can always return. I have a feeling the Jazz Festival will be around for a long time to come.

Location on our Map: Metropolis | Place des Arts
Montreal International Jazz Festival: Website

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Montreal Jass Festival
Montreal Jass Festival
Montreal Jass Festival
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July 19, 2016 at 2:08 pm Comments (0)

Montreal’s Mural Festival

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Street art is a phenomenon which hip cities long ago stopped trying to fight, and started to embrace. When it’s well-done, street art can beautify otherwise drab buildings, provoke thought, and even drive tourism. If you’ve ever wondered how the artists manage to make use of their building-sized canvases, you should check out Montreal’s Mural Festival, where you can see them at work.

Montreal Mural Festival

Montreal is definitely a city that wants to be on the cultural vanguard, so we weren’t surprised to find a thriving street art scene here. Walking along Saint-Laurent Boulevard is akin to walking through an open-air museum, with massive works occupying every conceivable open space, and more traditional graffiti “installations” in the alleyways.

Mural, a festival which is in its third year, brings a sort of structure to the street art scene, by commissioning artists from Canada and the rest of the world to create new pieces. As you walk around St. Laurent, you’ll find artists with paint cans and sprays, bringing their new creations to life. You can also see the works which were produced in previous iterations of the festival. A large section of St. Laurent is closed to traffic for the duration of Mural, and a lot of festival-type stands open up. Snacks, artsy trinkets, palm readers… that sort of thing.

Montreal Mural Festival

We enjoyed ourselves at the festival; it was fun to watch the artists at work, and see how large-scale street art is done. But still, something was irritating us about Mural. Visitors are encouraged to pay for a “VIP Tour” of the new murals, and buy a ticket to enter the “VIP Zone.” The main corporate sponsor is a phone company, and other partners include Barefoot Wines and Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has heard that street art is cool nowadays, and since Coca-Cola is down with the kids, Coca-Cola is suddenly all about street art. Make art, live young, drink Coke! I can just imagine some marketing team coming up with a new slogan, and it makes me puke.

But as long as you can divorce your mind from the sadness of a movement being co-opted by the very institutions it was born to subvert, the Mural festival can be a lot of fun. The art is excellent, regardless of who it’s being sponsored by, and it’s hard to fault these artists for taking advantage of the opportunity. Even if you can’t make it to Montreal to see the current iteration of the Mural Festival, don’t worry; these works of art will be around for a long time.

Location of the Main (VIP) Stage
Mural Festival – Website

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Montreal Mural Festival
Montreal Mural Festival
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June 22, 2016 at 8:21 pm Comments (0)

The St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival

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An uncensored celebration of independent theater at its most creative, the St-Ambroise Fringe Festival entertains Montreal with over 800 performances spread across twenty days. We were in town during the festival’s 26th year of existence, and couldn’t resist taking in a show… the only problem was deciding which to see.

Fringe Festivals came into being in Edinburgh during the 1940s, when independent theater companies began performing without sanction on the “fringe” of the city’s popular International Festival. The practice caught on among companies who’d been unable to gain a foothold in established events, and soon “Fringe Festivals” had become a worldwide phenomenon.

As the fringe scene matured, some ground rules eventually became necessary, and today Canada has even established an “Association of Fringe Festivals.” Such an organization might seem antithetical to a movement born to subvert the establishment, but their rules are hard to argue with: (1) participants are selected in a non-juried manner, so every hopeful has an equal chance of performing, (2) 100% of box office goes to the artists, (3) festivals may not censor or control any content, (4) anyone and everyone must be allowed the opportunity to participate.

Given these all-inclusive ground rules, we expected Montreal’s Fringe Festival to be comprised of a bunch of crazies standing on boxes and screaming poetry about their morning bowel movements. So it came as a surprise when, after going through the schedule, I had circled about two dozen shows that sounded interesting. These were comedies, one-person cabarets, drag-shows, dramas, and bizarre events which defied any easy categorization. I kind of wanted to see them all.

Captain Aurora II

In the end, we chose “Captain Aurora II: A Superhero Musical Sequel,” performed by the Kaleidoscope Theater Company in the Chapelle Theater on Rue Saint Dominique. The original Captain Aurora was one of the biggest hits of last year’s festival, so we felt confident about our decision. And it was just as fun as we’d hoped.

As a general rule of “Fringe” shows, production costs are kept to a bare minimum, venues are small, and running time is limited, so it’s not as though Captain Aurora II was a big, Broadway-style musical. It felt more like a high-school production… that is, one presented by a high-school filled with insanely talented people. The plot, about the struggle between an evil alien race and Captain Aurora’s Sky Guard, was both ridiculous and hilarious. The props and costumes were budget-level, but cleverly designed, and the singing, music and acting were top-notch.

And at just $12, the tickets are completely affordable. As we were leaving the Chapelle, other artists from Fringe were promoting their shows, and we grabbed a few fliers. Montreal seems to have a ridiculous number of talented artists, and the Fringe Festival gives them all a chance to be heard.

Location of the Chapelle Theater (just one of the festival’s dozens of venues)
St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival – Website

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June 12, 2016 at 10:56 pm Comments (0)
The Montreal International Jazz Festival The Montreal International Jazz Festival invites over 3000 musicians together from dozens of countries, for well over a thousand performances, most of which are free. We wouldn't have the chance to see much of the festival, as it began during our final night in Montreal. But we did get a taste.
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