Montreal’s Folk Fest celebrates its 10-year anniversary

Willie Nelson

Anyone who knows me, knows that I adore my neighbourhood. Montreal’s Sud-Ouest borough (the South West as it’s commonly referred to by Anglophones) is such a big part of who I am and what I do on a daily basis. I’ve paddled in the Lachine Canal for close to 17 years now, worked in the area for over a decade, and have resided here for close to six. This area fits me like a glove.

A big part of my love for this neighborhood (aside from the fact that I can’t walk out the door with0ut bumping into at least 3-4 people I know and like) has to do with the activities and the happenings that take place in this part of Montreal.

There’s something special about the vibe in the South West. Something current and underground, yet very laid back and welcoming. No one’s really trying to impress anyone in this hood. Sure, just like in all rapidly changing neighborhoods, valid issues of gentrification occasionally rear their ugly head, and you do get business entrepreneurs with no real feel for the area looking to swoop in and cash in on its current trendiness, but for the most part that “vibe” some are looking to capture and exploit —  like lightning in a bottle — can’t be forcibly contained and utilized for someone’s commercial purposes. Those who get it wrong (and many do), die a quick death.

That “vibe” has been built up over decades and carefully nurtured by artists and people who wanted to bring something special to the hood and share a little of their own passion with the rest of us. Those small affairs full of heart sometimes turn into big things.

Montreal Folk Fest

One of those small affairs turned big is the Montreal Folk Festival sur le canal, celebrating its 10-year-anniversary this year. Looking back, it’s almost impossible for me to believe that it all started at the St. Ambroise Terrace at McAuslan’s Brewery an entire decade ago with very humble expectations, a small but enthusiastic folk-loving crowd, and an even smaller reach. I remember it well because I was in the audience and have been ever since.

And when I say “St. Ambroise Terrace” I’m not referring to today’s spanking brand new and vastly expanded terrace that employs dozens of people and works like a well-oiled machine welcoming hundreds and hundreds of beer-guzzlers on any given day to take in the sun and the south west love in the shadow of my beloved and rapidly crumbling Canada Malting plant silos.

I’m talking a tiny little part of all that (mainly the stage area to the far left and the bar area) played host to the very first Montreal Folk Festival sur le canal, organized (still to this day) by Matt Large and Carl Comeau, for whom it’s still a real (and often, very stressful) labour of love.

Attendance was tiny and the buzz was minimal, but the bluegrass and folk bands were extraordinary, the audience was enthusiastic, and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming, full of kids and animals and smiling faces — exactly what you want a folk fest to be.

An impressive 10-year anniversary lineup

Celebrating a decade is no small feat for the little folk festival that could. It’s only understandable that the good people behind it want to commemorate it with something special, and that’s exactly what they’ll be doing.

From June 14 to 18, the annual family-friendly festival announces five days of world-class music with singer/songwriter, world music, Quebec traditional, Indigenous music, bluegrass, and indie-folk options in both French and English.

It all kicks off on Wednesday, June 14, with a free opening party at my favourite bar in the world Bar de Courcelle featuring The Off-Whites.

On Thursday evening, concerts at the beautiful Maison de la culture Marie-Uguay and the gorgeous Paradoxe Theatre will simultaneously pay homage to Montreal’s queen of folk, Penny Lang, and country music legend Willie Nelson. Organized in partnership with FamGroup, the Penny Lang tribute will see musicians from across the country coalesce in Montreal to show their love and respect for the late singer/songwriter. Across the street at the Paradoxe Theatre, some of Montreal’s finest folk and country musicians will perform classic Willie Nelson hits and deeper cuts.

Free outdoor venue

Donovan Woods, Sarah Harmer, John Jacob Magistery, Les Tireux d’Roches, Ian Kelly, Birds of Chicago, and Beyries are just a few of the world-class musical acts playing at the free outdoor venue at Centennial Esplanade (corner of St-Patrick and Pitt). From Friday afternoon to Sunday night, the outdoor venue along the Lachine Canal will host music and dance, local food and crafts, and family-friendly activities.

The Lhasa de Sela tent will host close to 20 young local musicians, plus a feature concert showcasing cherished youth performer Henri Godon. This year’s Quartier du Canal stage will feature a dozen homegrown acts.

An array of auction items will be up for grabs to raise funds for the Lhasa de Sela Youth Bursary for Excellence in Music. The bursary is an annual financial award intended to support young Sud-Ouest musicians who wish to further their study or practice of music.

New to the Folk Fest this year, veteran Montreal folkie and current Yellow Door Coffeehouse director, Marc Nerenberg and Les Troubadours du Yellow Door will host a singalong under the Lhasa Tent.

On Friday, June 17, an old-time community square dance will be held under the Lhasa Tent we will hold a square dance with renowned caller Peg Evans and an all-star old-time band featuring members of the All Day Breakfast Stringband.

On Saturday, June 18, the celebrated Veillée du canal will be hosted by traditional Quebecois dance caller Michel Payer and a stellar dance band led by fiddler Marie-Pierre Lecault from Bon Débarras and Zogma.

Every night, festivalgoers can head to Bar de Courcelle, the official after-hours venue!

If you’ve never been to the Folk Fest, you’re missing out. It’s one of the most chill summer events a city already known for its chill summer events has to offer. Bring your blankets, your friends, your kids, your pets, and your good vibes and just prepare to spend the day outside, hanging by the beautiful Lachine Canal on a gorgeous summer day, taking in the relaxing sounds of banjos, bluegrass, acoustic harmonies, and harmonicas, as you watch the sun set and become convinced the world can be a little softer.

As always, food trucks and beer tents will be out and available to supply everything you need to make your day (or weekend) there a wonderful experience, as well as a family area for the kiddies.

A closing party for Folk Fest volunteers (volunteer if you’ve got the time, it’s a great way to help out a festival that’s big on enthusiasm but always low on funds) will be held at Bar de Courcelle. Montreal musician and long-time favourite of mine, Shane Murphy, will be ending the festivities on a loud note.

See you there!

Where and when

When: Wednesday, June 14 to Sunday, June 18.

For the entire schedule and to purchase tickets for the indoor events you can check out their website.