This past Saturday afternoon, I caught the outdoor lineup of Montreal’s 8th Annual Folk Fest on the Lachine Canal. I only knew two things going in: I was going to enjoy a lazy, sunny Saturday afternoon listening to music by the water and I had a great pun to use in the title of my review.

Something I should have realized, but didn’t, was that I would be hearing quite a bit of folk music. This year our Jazz Fest features the likes of Ghostface Killah and Huey Lewis and the News, both great artists, but not exactly Jazz musicians. Meanwhile, just down the road, the Ottawa’s Blues plans to host Iggy Azalea, Keith Urban and Weird Al Yankovic among others. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very much looking forward to seeing the Weird One play Just for Laughs, but he’s not a blues artist, I don’t even think he has parodied one in 30 years.

A Folk Music Festival Featuring Folk Music?

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Michael Hurley

Imagine my pleasant surprise hearing folk music at something called the Folk Fest. No, it wasn’t all traditional folk, but there definitely was quite a bit of that. The rest had at the very least a strong folk sensibility.

The first two acts I caught on the big stage (the outdoor venue had three stages) were clearly in the pure folk column. Sin and Swoon, a Montreal-based duo, sang of not standing by your man and tunes inspired by their own stories from the road. True musical storytellers.

They were followed by folk legend Michael Hurley whose lyrics were political commentary for the most part. A veteran troubadour through and through.

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All-Day Breakfast String Band

On the second stage, with the canal and St-Henri as a backdrop, I caught the All-Day Breakfast String Band. Actually, I believe this is the second time I have seen them play their blend of highly fun and danceable Appalachian Folk Country. The first was during PorchFest NDG when they were backing up Stephanie Flowers.

Andy & Ariana: Quirky Scotian Piaf

One act that really caught my attention was the duo of Andy & Ariana. Originally from Nova Scotia, they have been touring their unique musical blend for quite some time. When I say unique, I mean a mix of original songs, one about their furnace, one a dirge about having a good time staying up and waking up late coupled with a slew of Édith Piaf covers. They had an original album for sale as well as a Piaf cover album.

Whether it was original or Piaf, Andy played guitar and made some a propos noises and faces while Ariana really belted it out, occasionally with an instrument in hand as well. At one point she mused that the crowd seemed to be into the performance because this was Montreal and we know French greats like Piaf. Well, that may be the case, but I think the very positive audience response had more to do with Ariana’s incredible voice and the way it fit into the performance.

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Andy & Ariana

No, this wasn’t what I would call folk per-se, but it definitely fit the mood of the event and they were true storytellers, which is what folk artists should be.

Folk-ing Clean Washrooms and Folk-ing Smart Organization

The only time you ever mention the washrooms in a festival review is if they are an abomination and a distraction from the rest of the event. With Folk Fest, it was the opposite. The Port-o-Johns here were impeccable and there weren’t massive lineups. There was even a soap-water pumping station nearby.

Now I’ll admit that this wasn’t a get hammered and high sort of event, it was a family-friendly community festival, so that may have had something to do with it. But still, this was impressive.

In fact, the whole organization was quite impressive. They sold beer, wine and sangria for affordable prices and people were on the honour system not to bring in their own. A truly self-policed community event.

You also had to buy a glass to drink your alcohol in for $2. Rather, you rented the glass, because if you returned it, you got your $2 back. I decided to keep mine:

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A nice momento of a fun time by the canal.

This was the only Folk Fest event I took in this year, but the festival actually featured free outdoor shows Friday, Saturday and Sunday, big concerts at the Corona Theatre by Bruce Cockburn and others as well as shows at Bar de Courcelle. All in the southwest community, either right on or near the canal.

I’ll be sure to check out more of it next year. For now, I can say that a folk-ing good time was had by all.

* photos by Jason C. McLean

When the thunderstorms retreat, I sit outside on my tiny patio, drinking sangria, content that the seedlings are growing (with only a few transplant casualties), and pluck away at some guitar strings humming along with some of my favourite melodies. The signs of summer also announce the beginning of Montreal’s festival season and there is no lack of choice for the initiated and uninitiated alike. Thanks to McAuslan brewer, who brew the most wonderful rosé cider and are ardent supporters of local arts, and Hello Darlin’ productions Montreal has its very own Folk Festival on the Canal providing a spot for acts to land and share their tunes with music lovers as well as an opportunity to showcase local bluegrass, country, and folk talent.mccoury_band-no-logo

The 6th edition of Montreal Folk Festival on the Canal boasts some impressive programming and begins on June 12th with the first of three indoor shows with Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. The next evening, Corinna Rose, a talented and promising local act, will be opening for headliner Tim O’Brien who in turn will be kickin’ off the fest’s opening gala. On friday, The Travelin’ McCourys who are considered bluegrass royalty by many, will be playing at the Virgin Mobile Corona Theatre. Of the three indoor shows, I am the most intrigued by The Travelin’ McCourys who have been playing on the road for around twenty years. Two of the band members, the McCourys, have bluegrass in their blood as they are the sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury.


For the second year, the weekend programming and “meat” of the fest is free taking place at the Ilot Charlevoix near the Atwater Market. On saturday, I am most excited for Will Driving West and Old Man Luedecke. I first heard of Old Man Luedecke from David Pearce of the Jimmyriggers, whom I met whilst volunteering for the fest a couple years ago, when he sent me the tune “I Quit My Job” after hearing me complain about my barista gig one too many times. Old Man Luedecke is a one of kind treat, not to be missed, and lately I’ve been humming his tune “A&W Song” round the house.

As for sunday, The Franklin Electric, a Montreal based music collective, will be launching their debut album This is How I Let You Down an emotional blend of folk and pop. Apart from them, I am less familiar with the acts lined up for Sunday, but that’s not a bad thing. I’ve found that this can be  the best scenario for finding a new ‘coup de coeur’. A few years ago, I was taken by surprise by Canailles when they took the Folk Fest stage and by Anthony D’Amato when he took part in a songwriter circle. They are now amongst my favourite musical acts. This year, The Once seems most promising. I spotted one of them playing a bodhran in one of their videos and my heart danced a little.

The_OnceThat’s not all, along with showcasing folk, bluegrass, and traditional artists the Folk Fest, in partnership with Parks Canada and Mountain Equipment Coop, provides music lovers and their friends and lovers an opportunity to experience some urban camping. Starting on saturday, tents will be pitched sprouting like tiny mushrooms along the canal and fest goers will be able to enjoy all of the weekend programming on site. Urban camping is made sweeter by the opportunity to try out some of Montreal’s lovely treats and new food trucks including Popcorn Mania, Sweet Lee’s Bakery, Hot Dog Mobile, Smooth Fruit, Grumman 78 (tacos!), Landry et Filles, Ma Tante Quiche, and Latte on Wheels.


Come for the tunes, stay for the folk.