Every year something magical happens to the Quartier des Spectacles in downtown Montreal. This whole neighbourhood is invaded by multiple festivals, and one of them is the Festival International de Jazz De Montréal (FIJM) which is held yearly in late June and early July. This year was no exception, except that Bucketlist Music Reviews took on the challenge to cover this world-famous jazz festival with over 450 acts performing during the 38th edition. Let me tell you about my first experience covering the world’s largest jazz festival.
It may come as a surprise to some, but the FIJM has entertainment for everyone from street performers to food vendors, kid zones, music, fireworks, and more. It’s a true festival, and it’s the community event of the year. A great variety of Jazz Fest events have free admission, and this year’s event featured four major outdoor events and a variety of indoor shows. So many people attend this festival that it’s easy to make new friends and get lost in the music.
Getting the festival started on June 28th were Sessions 375, which gathered some of the most talented Montreal artists to continue the 375th anniversary celebrations of this fine city. It was headlined by Half Moon Run, and included performances by Coeur de Pirate, Milk & Bone and The Franklin Electric. This was a successful first evening; the streets were full of fans and curious strangers. This was one big party, and I can safely say that all these artists made new fans. For me, The Franklin Electric stole the show as they took us on a beautiful journey with their melodies.
The second event on July 1st was called Discotheque featuring performances by Carley Rae Jepsen, Men Without Hats, Radio Radio, and many more artists doing covers of pop songs. It was a huge disco party including a giant disco ball, beach balls, and fireworks to celebrate our country’s birthday. The highlight of the evening was Men Without Hats playing a short four-song set from a side stage set up for the evening. Hearing the song “Safety Dance” sung by thousands of people is something I never knew I needed in my life. We even got a special guest star during Carly Rae Jepsen…THE RAIN! It started pouring, but that did stop people from shouting out “Call Me Maybe.”
The third event on July 4th was the famous Tuesday show, and this year’s edition featured Walk Off The Earth the unconventional, multi-talented, five-piece musical phenomena that is currently taking the world by storm (I did not come up with that, the band did). These guys put on a show, I tell you! This band is famous for their epic covers, but they also have some kick-ass originals. They won over the crowd from the first note of their cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” and continued with a fiery set including pyrotechnics, confetti, and beach balls. It truly was an entertaining performance.
Now all the outdoor shows are cool, but what happened indoors, you ask? Across multiple venues like Salle Wilfred-Pelletier, Theatre Maisonneuve, and Metropolis, the indoor shows were full of artists legendary in their own right. I got to catch The Gypsy Kings, Thievery Corporation, Joss Stone, Feist, Buddy Guy, Charles Bradley, Melissa Etheridge and Joey Bada$$.
All of these stars were on top of their game, but my favourite performance of the festival goes to Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires. This man oozes soul, and he is as humble as they come. I’ve never seen an artist more into their art than this man. You feel and see the emotion in every second of his performance. From the “I love you”s to the tears, this man is what soul is all about. He’s a cancer survivor, and at 68 years young he is a national treasure! He is a must see, and I want to personally thank him for showing me love as I excited the photo pit. My heart has never been so warm.
Talking about crazy ass performances, how about Buddy Guy? Yes, I’m talking about the legendary blues guitarist. This guy was the house guitarist for Muddy Waters; let that sink in. This guy influenced some of the most outstanding guitarists of our time and is a living legend. At 80 years old, Buddy Guy is one of the most entertaining artists touring today. He’s funny and full of talent, and it’s a blessing to be able to hear him play that Stratocaster. If seeing him wasn’t enough, we also got to enjoy a set by Charlies Musselwhite, the legendary electric blues harmonica player! Fresh off his B.B. King Award given to honour and recognize the exceptional talent of an artist who has left an indelible mark on the blues scene by FIJM. What a joy to see him perform.
Another standout was Melissa Etheridge. This woman can full-on rock! No wonder the room was full of excitement to see her step onto the stage! Joss Stone did a wonderful job warming up the place. This was the best bill of the festival! So many shows, I could go on and on! From the wonderful locals like Jesse Mac Cormack and Valaire to San Juan’s IFE, whimsical performances could be found on every corner of the festival site. Jazzfest is the place to be.
Finally, the last major event and, in my opinion the best free show of the festival – Anderson Paak and the Free Nationals. This final show was the embodiment of what the Jazz Fest is. He is a musical genius, has a freaking amazing voice, brings the funk, and the guy can play the drum like no other. I was blown away by this performance. The packed Place des Festivals ate it all up. It was a nice way to end the festival.
This festival is a celebration of highly talented individuals performing wonderful music for anyone willing to listen. It’s a must for any jazz or blues fan, or fan of music in general, and everyone should go to this event once in their life. What a joyful place to be to take in some sun, enjoy the company of friends, and have a few beverages. See you next year from June 28th to July 7th 2018.
Written and Photographed by Eric Brisson and Danny Donovan
*edited by Kate Erickson