What’s the one thing no one ever wants to have happen at their music festival? Well, terrorists probably, but barring that admittedly extremely unlikely event, the real answer to that question is rain. Especially in the summer, especially outdoors.
Friday evening turned out to not be so bad. Despite early overcast and a strong mist, the weather never reached anything beyond a comfortable breeze. The food trucks were out in force with numerous poutine options available (and probably some other dishes as well.) There were also numerous drink options including a delicious bourbon lemonade mix, a number of local artisan tents, a VIP area that was probably too expensive for what it actually ended up being, and a silent auction with a number of nifty items available including several musical instruments.
Of the two stages, the larger one seemed to be where most people were gathering when they weren’t checking out the tents. This may have been largely due to the fact that while Mike Mckenna Jr, The Vlcheks, and The Arnold Sisters all provided awesome sets, the sound at the Canal stage was not flattering.
But boy oh boy was the main stage on fire this night. The Durham County Poets gave everything with their unique blend of blues and folk (complete with a song about howling at the moon) and even though their main man Kevin Harvey is wheelchair bound, his voice and melodies still made anyone who was listening stand up and dance. Local darling Hanorah and her band came charging out of the gate with soul, delivering a mix of tracks from her record For the Good Guys and the Bad Guys along with a smattering of stripped back acoustic numbers. During these, whenever she hit her impressive high notes and runs, the crowd roared and clapped with approval.
The final act was a voice over the P.A. system informing the crowd that there would be shuttles available to escort them to Charlevoix metro. Just kidding, the final act was The Damn Truth, and they were nothing short of incredible. You can tell how close every member of this band is just by watching them interact with each other on stage. Frontwoman Lee-La Baum kept getting close enough to guitarist Tom Shemer and bassist PY Letellier that it almost seemed like they were kissing, and these two were no strangers to each other either. Baum’s Janis Joplin style voice, which at times was so full of emotion that it almost seemed like she was on the verge of tears, sat easily on top of the huge chunky riffs. A cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown,” which they dedicated to the CHOM crowd, suited these true rockstars perfectly and was an inspired choice of closer.
If the turnout on Friday was definitely not what it might have been had the weather been a little more forgiving, Saturday probably saw about 85% of the people who had planned on attending opt to stay home instead.
Ironically, the Lhasa De Sela with its small stage that had served as not much more than a passway the prior evening, became the place to be as the wind picked up and the rain started to come down heavier and heavier. The Canal stage continued to suffer a streak of bad luck as the awnings along the side of the stage took a beating and finally caved to the wet onslaught. Homebound, the young duo who were burdened with the unfortunate task of closing that stage out, performed admirably with a selection of original melodies and a Troye Sivan cover, despite the fact that everything on stage that could conceivably be considered equipment was soaked in a thick coat of rain.
Over on the main stage though, for those who dared brave the storm, were still dedicated and energized bands giving their all. What actually became a highlight of the entire weekend was Canadian folk hero Hawksley Workman. His unique bark carried across the canal and through the streets causing even casual onlookers who had been running to escape the downpour to pause and take a listen. A small but loyal group of fans stood directly in front of the stage and danced in the puddle that was once a park while Workman gave his first Montreal performance in 10 years. (“We know!” Shouted a couple of crowd members when he reminded us of this fact.) His band was even more experimental than what one might hear on his recordings, giving otherwise bouncy numbers like “Smoke Baby” an almost Pink Floyd-esque vibe to them.
The huge lineup of French folk rock group Canailles did an admirable job of following Hawksley with an almost punk rock vibe to their tunes. Equipped with 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 vocalists, many of which performing duties on other instruments, a fiddle, a washboard, and a whole mess of synchronized dance moves, you’d almost have forgotten that you were being pelted with raindrops the size of golf balls while you were watching them. Almost.
Written by Syd Ghan
Photography by Michael Kovacs
*edited by Mike Milito