Cécile Doo-Kingué

Starting off the day was Cécile Doo-Kingué with her soothing voice and really impressive blues guitar skills. She had a full range of songs that went from the very political, to one about stealing food from her mom’s kitchen and getting an ass whooping. Cécile ended her show appropriately by using her behind as a bongo drum.

Joe Grass took the stage next with his band Notre Dame De Grass. The trio started with a slow soulful folk song called “We Waited” and continued with their own unique type of country. Joe Grass’ voice, reminiscent of Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam, fit the songs beautifully. It was also really fun to watch how into the performance the drummer was, and then the fiddle player seemingly turning his fiddle into an electric guitar during solos.

Next were Grouyan Gumbo, singing in Acadian French and playing music that draws from traditional Cajun and folk. This group got the crowd a little more lively. The band consisted of a rhythm section, bass, accordion, and fiddle, and totally rocked out on their instruments. Not really my thing, but I could appreciate it for what it was.


The next band, Canailles, started their set off with a stompy-type gospel song, leading into some pure bluegrass/country. I could tell that this was the most energetic and fun act of the entire festival so far. The whole band sang along in unison with the lead female singer who had an amazing voice reminiscent of Wanda Jackson. Canailles somehow managed to sing their original French songs in American-style old country, and it totally worked. Loved the upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle, but what I really appreciated (and had seen for the first time so far this whole festival) was the use of the wash board as an instrument.  The homemade shaker made out of an old Glenfiddich container also told you that these guys were a total DIY type of band. Canailles totally woke me up like a bucket of water dumped on your head on a hot day. By the end of the set, I was clapping like an idiot.

Next up was surprise act Stefanie Parnell. Parnell played two songs on her acoustic guitar and, to be honest,  didn’t  really fit in with the fun fiddle and banjo atmosphere created by the prior bands – especially when she had a friend join her on stage and rap along to her song. The girl had a lovely voice, but her performance seemed more like something you might get on the auditions for Canadian Idol. Maybe she should audition. She would definitely make the finals.

New York-based Anthony D’Amato was up next, and (though I know he’s probably sick of this…), immediately my mind went to compare him to Ryan Adams. D’Amato impressed me with his songs, one being a political song entitled “Holy War”  about being a disgruntled American, and another catchier tune, a tribute to Woody Guthrie, entitled “On the Banks of the River Where I Died”. My favourite song of the set had to be the last one, entitled “Hank Williams Tune”; a charming song with witty lyrics about falling for someone who digs all the same stuff as you.

Mark Berube and The Patriotic Few

Next were Mark Berube and The Patriotic Few, a four piece band consisting of keyboards, drums, bass, and cello. The band performed mostly songs off of their newest album, June In Siberia. I’ve been sitting here trying to think of words to describe Mark’s set, and the one word that keeps coming up is ‘powerful.’ He proved he had a vivid imagination with his song about a small community of Japanese cowboys, and he captivated the audience with his stage banter. The band surprised everyone with their acapella “Ye Bo Mama”, a traditional African Siswati song. To end the song, the drummer got up and played the cellist’s cello like a bongo drum, and I think the crowd went a little nuts.

Mark ended his performance with a powerful (there’s that word again) Bob Dylan-esque storytelling tune, when unexpectedly, a breaker went, and the speakers and monitors both blew out. Instead of stopping there at the last song and saying goodnight, Mark and his band put their instruments down, started clapping their hands and singing their hearts out, and urging the audience to sing with them lyrics quite fitting for the situation: “plant the flowers on the stones”. Mark Berube and his band received a well-deserved standing ovation for their performance. My hands were itchy from all the clapping, and my eyes were teary. It felt like coming out of an emotional and thought provoking movie at the theatre. To sum it up: Mark Berube and The Patriotic Few played with so much heart that they used up all the electricity. Amazing.

Sheesham and Lotus, three crazy old timey dudes in bowler hats and three-piece suits, were up next. These guys professed to the crowd that they were out to scientifically prove that old time music is better than it sounds. With a fiddle, banjo, sousaphone, and a homemade instrument made for singing into (that I’m assuming they created themselves) called a “sepiaphonic monophone”, they proved their point and then some. These guys were not just musicians but true performers, making us feel that we were back in the Twenties, watching a comedy act in a speakeasy. At the end of the performance, the audience clapped so much that the guys played two more songs. This festival just kept getting better and better.

The last performer of the night was David Francey along with his guitarist Mark Westberg. Francey, a former construction worker, was charming and humble, referring to his music career as “this job,” performing  several songs about his wife,  singing about his childhood as a paper boy, and about his former life as a construction worker. Introducing each song with a little story or anecdote, he had the crowd’s complete attention. Francey possesses a quality that is rarely found in artists today: the ability to write a simple song and well thought out, honest lyrics with no gimmicks or unnecessary bells and whistles. David Francey proved that he is both a prolific song writer and a master at storytelling.

David Francey – Wonder by AkidaMusic

Wow, I got all serious for a while there didn’t I? I guess when it comes to true talent, there’s no joking around. What I saw today surpassed my expectations for The Montreal Folk Festival. By the end of this night I was tired, sweaty, and felt like I had gotten hit by two buses full of awesome. I would like to thank everyone involved in this project, and I will be there next year with bells on.

See more photos by Owain Harris from the Montreal Folk Festival via our facebook page.

The Third day of Folk Fest took place on the St-Ambroise Terrace, a perfect intimate venue for such an event. The first act of the day I caught was Scott Normandy and supporting him, The Newark City Band. Scott and his band played a tight set executing some really laid back, bar scene alternative country. This set had some catchy tunes that the crowd seemed really into, and some really immaculate solos from his lead guitarist. Normandy chose to end his set with Tom Petty’s, Last Dance with Mary Jane. I found myself stuck trying to decide wither this was appropriate or cliché. I still can’t decide.

Following Normandy were The Wildwood Flowers. This five piece group consisted of a very quiet male guitarist and four lovely ladies that played the upright bass, mandolin, and another guitar. One of the things that made this performance perfect was the matching outfits worn by these talented ladies. Right off the bat, these girls described themselves as French-speaking people in love with old American country music, and woke the crowd up with their covers of classic country bluegrass songs, and old gospel such as Dolly Partons’ Jolene and popular bluegrass standard Keep On The Sunny Side. Despite the language barrier, these charming gals had quite the stage banter and kept the crowd hootin’, hollerin’ and asking for more. Lovely job!

The next band, Bourrasque Celtiques’, randomness made me wonder if they had all just met at a bus stop and decided to form a French hippie quasi-psychedelic folk group. These guys were definitely something. From the girl singer with the lovely voice, to the grey bearded old guy with long hair that was both obviously extremely excited that he had an excuse to dust off his old duds from back in the freaky days, and an amazing mandolin player, these guys kind of ruled. I wasn’t surprised to hear a pan flute, but I really appreciated the flashes of heaviness the guitarist laid upon the crowd. I will admit I was a little worried when they pulled out the bagpipes, but as a testament to this groups’ totally random approach, Bourrasque Celtique somehow made all this awkwardness work.

Ever since I read the Folk Festival program, I was curious about the next performer Emm Gryner. I couldn’t tell if Gryner was coming off as cold or nervous at first but later when she started to warm up, and exclaimed to the crowed that there was a flower in her whiskey, (and drank it anyway) I decided that it was nervousness. Looking very cute and like a little bit of a bad ass, Emm Gryner sat at her electric piano and poured her heart out. She admitted that in all of her repertoire she only had two happy songs, which she played. Switching from piano to guitar and back to piano, it was easy to tell this little lady had been doing this for years. Emm has in the past been nominated for a Juno, and joked to the crowd about her album that didn’t win the award calling it a “Juno Loser.” The highlights of Gryners’ performance were a Kate and Anna Mcgarrigle cover titled Tell My Sister, and an amazing , totally unexpected slowed down piano rendition of Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me.

Following Gryner was songstress Rose Cousins. Rose had the audience in the palm of her hand with her beautiful voice (a little Martha Wainwright-ish), songs about heartbreak, being in love, and the loss of her grandmother. Cousins was a joker too, which is always a sign of an excellent performer. Playing for absolutely everyone on the terrace, Rose had a dog and some birds singing along with her at one point. Such a wonderful lady, I felt like asking for her autograph and then asking her to come to my house for dinner.

So I will admit that I didn’t know too much about the next act, Fred Eaglesmith, but by the time he and his band of gypsies were done playing, I felt pretty dumb for not knowing who they were. When Fred stepped onstage wearing a black top hat and a black silver button lined ringmaster jacket, I knew this would be a spectacle. To start off the show Fred joked to the audience (I think) that his band was not high on drugs but quite low on drugs. Eaglesmith had a varied repertoire of tunes, including songs about praying, trucks, and songs about posers who only like Johnny Cash because it’s the cool thing to do. Fred’s band consisted of a dude in a hat playing guitar, and four hot chicks in amazing outfits, playing the flute, accordion and drums. It was seriously hard not to stare in awe at these folks, and they didn’t just look amazing, but had the talent to back it up. Fred was funny, engaging, and seemed like a bit of a hard ticket which I always appreciate.

Tricots Machine took the stage next, starting out with slow sleepy songs that turned into anthemic sleepy folk/pop. This four piece group performed using a melodica, xylophone, and two keyboards. These people were painfully cute and really interacted with the crowd, getting them to sing along with their adorable songs.

Tricot Machine – Pas fait en chocolat by ribon

This concluded day three of Folk Fest, and it seemed like either all of these bands were slowly growing on me, or the festival was getting progressively better each day. Maybe it was a little bit of both.

Now I’m not completely sure, but during day four of Folk Fest, I might have had a religious experience or two. Let me tell you about it in part two.

Owain Harris’s Montreal Folk Festival photos  via our facebook page.