New York City: Golden Holiday

Photo Margolis-Pineo, Chisolm Gallery CRI_211709UnknownTwo sleepy friends shuffle onto the 5:00 a.m. flight from Portland to New York City. We arrive at MoMA in time for a members-only peek at the Picasso sculpture exhibition. Beloved and familiar works include Goat, Baboon, and the serene Jacqueline, all of whom make the predawn flight entirely worth it.

We cruise the city’s venerable flower market for deep-green pine boughs and full-on red poinsettias. We admire the hundreds, maybe thousands of blooming amaryllis, and, Pine Conesas Mainers, marvel at a basket of $5 pine cones.

We light out for Jersey City to check out the 50-year-old version of my sister Seeky, who is also in full bloom. We admire her small city’s shiny copper turret and family vibe. We count bicycles and babies. Seeky’s new home is fab. As we take off our shoes and admire the dueling city views, I am awash in sisterly pride.

SANTAIn Manhattan, the weather is ridiculous, balmy. We’re coatless and carefree, meandering uptown and down. Everyone is shopping and smiling.

A nasty exchange on the subway yanks us back to reality. “Dumbass,” a man shouts at a woman in a fur coat, “You are a DUMB ASS.”  She scuttles to the opposite end of the train. I study my lap.

In need of Christmas cheer, we stalk the “real” Santa at ABC Carpet & Home. Apparently he is taking a long break. Disappointed, we agree that this is naughty, not at all nice.

20151211_113828Along the avenue, NYC is aglow, a glittering pageant. Macy’s windows feature the Peanuts gang at enormous scale in celebration of Charlie Brown’s Christmas. The film arrived a half-century ago – like Seeky, it never ages.

Our epicurean revels begin as always at Il Pesce in Eataly. Oh dear, no sea urchin today. Momentarily crushed but undaunted, we enjoy bruschetta with smoky bluefish and a briny and rich bruschetta of mussels. A large plate of grilled octopus arrives, meaty and fresh, and we fight over the big pieces. We marvel at the fruity olive oil, crusty bread, and convivial setting. We hug our server, Jessica, who somehow manages to recognize us every year in this city of ten million people. She remembers our favorite Bastianich rosé and hustles off to find a chilled bottle. Note to Mario: this girl is a treasure.

Studio Museum 2We make our way to Studio Museum in Harlem whose distinguished collection includes works by artists of African descent or influenced by black culture. Deeply moving works include Faith Ringgold’s narrative quilts, joyous color studies by Stanley Whitney, and Elizabeth Catlett’s mahogany mother and child. The Studio Museum is a friendly, inspiring gem – a must-see for all Americans.

Cocktail hour. We trot up Lenox Avenue to Chez Lucienne and find a comfy perch at the quiet, glowing bar. The gilded mirrors, low light and flinty wines help us reflect on our magical day of art and soul. We vow to return to Lucienne for an evening of French fare and jazz soon.

Chez Julienne HarlemAt 8 p.m. we duck into Red Rooster for legendary Scandinavian-inspired soul food. In the intimate below-stairs “supper club” we dig into deviled eggs, fried yardbird and catfish. Lobster mac and cheese is an oddball addition to the menu, but as Mainers, we must have it. There are no words. Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s soulful fare is food your grandmother would make if your grandmother could cook.

My Friend Visits SeekyPoster Gallery 1

Dog in Nighttime 2We shop, sip, savor and explore old and new favorites – from Chisholm Poster Gallery in Chelsea, to Flying Tiger and Shoegasm in the Flatiron District. Evening brings us to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a wondrous story rendered with occasionally overwhelming pyrotechnics. The show survives Broadway’s heavy-handed effects, and brings us to our feet in appreciation of one boy’s extraordinary tale.

casaMono_barJamon_logo_330x330-230x230We enjoy a last, late-night bite at Casa Mono, a Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant (also by  Batali and Bastianich), tucked off Union Square. Grilled octopus and potato, perfectly charred, arrives with sweet fig mash. This dish is more than worth fighting over, but we don’t. Cool burrata follows, gooey and savory, with balsamic and chopped walnuts. Our uni craving is finally satisfied with creamy scrambled eggs and delicate sea urchin – a silky, unctuous, subtle preparation.

Casa Mono Christmas view

Mario and Joe are having a moment, and so are we. We sit wide-eyed and grateful, basking in the golden glow of an inspired and delicious holiday in a hallowed setting – New York City at the peak of her holiday charm and magic. •

Anemones Christmas




















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A Snail’s Pace in Italy

Turquiose door, croppedA passo di lumaca, proceeding at a snail’s pace, is a great way to experience Italy. We pull into our sleepy little town of Argegno’s tiny town square with stunning lake view, and our pulse magically slows. We have arrived.

Lake view 1Our usual apartment is booked. We find another. Minor disappointments include a treacherous spiral stair, no WiFi, and a faint and frustrating whiff of mold. Upside includes a bright, well-equipped kitchen, wondrous views, terraced lawn and garden. NOTE: The absence of WiFi is actually an upside, but this revelation dawns slowly.

Clock rooftopsPizza GrishamFrom our balcony we are surprised by a direct view into our customary apartment. A man sits at ‘our’ dining table in a red shirt, typing. Fascinated, we invest him with the full cliché of writerly qualities – serious and bookish, traveling alone, working on a novel. Perhaps milking his publisher for a trip to Italy, like Playing for Pizza, John Grisham’s shameless travelogue in which an aging American athlete joins the Parma Panthers. Think Under the Tuscan Sun with meatballs.

Our stalker’s view consumes us. We linger on the deck, ignoring the lake, the boats and the birds, waiting for The Writer to stretch or get a snack. He rarely does. We’re delighted to catch him fussing with his laundry on the outdoor rack. We telegraph our approval, yes!, it’s perfect drying weather, as he gently drapes his socks across the delicate plastic strings.

Campari 1Days pass. Nothing happens. As visual stalkers, we are indeed moving at a snail’s pace, our original goal. We rejoice in a passo di lumaca.

Lack of WiFi forces us to leave our post once a day.  Mornings, we amble down the 66 stairs to Bar Motta for cappuccino and free WiFi. Most afternoons we can be found at bar Pensavo Meglio over a Campari Spritz in the cozy glow of a perfect internet signal.

One afternoon, a man in a red shirt sits by the fountain, tapping on a keyboard. The Writer! The fact that he is sitting with a woman affords us several hours of joyous, idle, overheated speculation.

The next morning, he is gone. Just like that. No keyboard, no novel, no girlfriend. No red shirt. Our cozy little passo di lumaca slides to a thudding halt.

DSCN0139Calamari LennoWe head for Lenno’s open market where there are plenty of consolations. We enjoy the best meal of our stay: a paper cone of calamari, freshest ever. Next time we will grab a lemon and savor 2 cones, maybe 3.

We walk the Greenway to Villa del Balbianello, a romantic villa on a lush promontory overlooking the Lake Como. The walking path is shady and overgrown, with blinding breakout views of the – glorious.

VillaBalbianello2Our pulse begins to quicken. We begin to notice the lake, the fish, the swans, and the boats. The water is very clear and the air is soft. We do not miss our obsession with The Writer, and do not miss our snail’s pace.

A large slug, lumacone, crawls out of the moist underbrush to remind us of our resolution to far niente and take things slow. We ignore her. •

Next up – Carmignano!

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Summer Afternoon: New York City

Hotel Empire sign roofLincoln Center subwayI arrive at the Hotel Empire at 63rd and Broadway. “Beware the Eurotrash,” warns cabdriver Harry, squiggling up one eyebrow like Vincent Price. My companion, Theater Boy, is full of soulful angst. His mood is as dark as the cavernous Empire lobby whose leopard-print chairs suggest Sunset Boulevard by way of Vegas. Dim chandeliers resemble mile-high mid-century Miro satellites.

BouludTheater Boy is either fretting or sleeping or bravely trying to squire me around and smile. Our first stop is Rosa Mexicano for a hit of Rachel’s favorite guacamole — the chunky green mash is wondrous. We amble to Bar Boulud, a civilized place with a hefty pricetag, where we share a charcuterie plate and toss back a few glasses of respectable Greek wine. After wedges of country paté, heap of rough-sliced ham, squidge of French mustard, and a few earthy beets and carrots, we’re ready to hit the streets.

It’s All About Maine

Mary Ann Willson (active 1815–1825), Maremaid, Greene County, New York, c. 1815, watercolor on paper, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, gift of Stephen C. Clark.

Mary Ann Willson, Maremaid, New York, c. 1815.

The Folk Art Museum of New York City has quirky weathervanes, portraits, decoys, colorful hooked rugs, paintings and offbeat works from our own 1930s modernist summer camp in Ogunquit, Maine. Trailblazers like Elie and Viola Nadelman, Marguerite and William Zorach and friends helped lead the way to preservation of American folk art. These farsighted modernists are responsible for the existence of the distinguished Folk Art Museum of New York City, of which I am a huge fan.

Don’t Look Down

Rooftop view EmpireI’m lounging high up on the vertiginous Empire pool deck. The pool is a single turquoise lane in which no one is swimming. And as Harry-the-cabbie predicted, I’m not hearing much English. What I am hearing is piped-in 80s music, which I consider a cultural offense. The irony is not lost that the rooftop terrace overlooks Lincoln Center, home to some of the most glorious music in the world. Oh, well.

images-5AC/DC’s Brian Johnson yells, “You. Shook me all night long,” and the rooftop guests seem to love it. Help. I’m lost in a Molly Ringwald movie.

Pearl Triumphant

imageEvening brings the evocative dance play, Pearl, celebrating the life of Pulitzer-prize winning author Pearl S. Buck. The show’s international cast of 30 performs the multi-cultural story in five stages – Spring, River, Flower, Moon, Night – based on a poem by Zhang Ruoxu. This ambitious dance-theater-piece explores the life of Buck, the proto-feminist writer best known for her novel, The Good Earth. Go Pearl.

Sip and Savor

Esca- Maccheroni alla Chittara, house made guitar cut spaghetti with sea urchin and crabmeatAll this dance, of course, makes me hungry. We’re drawn to Esca – “lure” in Italian – for a post-theater drink. Carciofo Negroni is an inspired cocktail of Cynar, Italian artichoke-flavored liqueur, Plymouth gin, and a serious flourish of orange peel. Esca’s grilled octopus, Polipo, is blackened and gorgeous. Best of all is an unctuous bite of maccheroni alla chittara, velvety sea urchin and crab over string-cut pasta.

Most Important Meal

Hotel Empire EstesAfter a great night’s sleep in the posh white noise of Hotel Empire, I awaken early to hit popular Maison Kayser, an outdoor café with great Parisian style overlooking Columbus Circle. Kayser’s Epinards & Chevre is the best breakfast in New York City, I swear, organic eggs baked with spinach, goat cheese, and gooey Bechamel. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Spinach, goat cheese, organic egg in a light Bechamel.

It’s a Mad, Mad World

MADD window Columbuc Circle Estes

Incendiary fashion MADDWe cross Columbus Circle to the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), for the Richard Estes exhibition. We feel a little freaky looking at Estes’ photographic painting of Columbus Circle, above, reflected in the windows of the MAD while inside the MAD looking at a painting of Columbus Circle reflected in the windows of the MAD…

Some of the pieces are “madly” incendiary, like the neckpiece of firecracker-salutes, left.

Summer Afternoon

Flava bombs very sweetCity Flowers“Summer afternoon – to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” — Henry James

Yes, this is true. And most especially in New York City.

Gritty and Stylish

Enjoying the Meatpacking DistrictFort Gansvoort IITheater Boy and I savor the sights and sounds of the historic Meatpacking District. This Bacchanalian ‘hood was a hub of activity in the 1800s, with open-air meat markets, meatpacking plants, lumberyards, and tenements along cobblestone streets.

Upscale Gansevoort Market now draws tourists and locals to its gritty and stylish dining, shopping, and tasting scene — check out the Meatball Guys, Yiaourti, or Donostia. Okay, any market that refers to itself as “curated” is just this side of twee. But Gansevoort’s locally sourced fare and hipster vibe actually works.

Riverside Seat

Lady Liberty with tourist Circle Linelogo@2xTheater Boy loves boats, and we grab tickets for the Circle Line to savor the island of Manhattan from the water. Highlights include the Statue of Liberty; Randall’s Island; High Bridge; Columbia; Harlem; Gracie Mansion; South St. Seaport; Brooklyn Bridge; Yankee Stadium; The Cloisters; and Grant’s Tomb. Our seats on deck are blistering hot, but the beer is cold and good. I mean really.

Whitney Museum: America Is Hard to See


Chris at WhitneyOur Manhattan odyssey ends at the new Whitney Museum designed by Renzo Piano. The sprawling exhibition, America Is Hard to See, encompasses more than 600 works of American art from the beginning of the 20th century, all from the Whitney’s permanent collection.

Indelible, iconic, and familiar images – some deeply unsettling – are gathered here for an extraordinary celebration of our ever-changing American culture. Not to be missed.

^ Monochromatic Chairs by Mary Heilmann at the Whitney.

Chuck Close

Explaining Bellows at WhitneyOne Last Bite

We savor our last and best bite at the museum’s outdoor café, cleverly named Untitled. Our grilled nectarine toast with almond pesto and ricotta leaves a sweet and lingering taste of summer afternoon.  •

Nectarine toast at Whitney

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“P” is for Paris


Peonies ParisPompidou 



Framboise pastry RêvePetits bibelots



Pouting a la moue


Clock d'Orsay brightened MOREProtest

Jossot poster

Pont des Arts @$#%&

DSCN4555Prix Fixe

Prixe Fixe




dora maar y picasso

Petite Jolie

Ma Petite Jolie


PAUL wine

MACCA ticket cropped III


For Vanessa, my friend and mentor since 1968. With love and respect forever, xo

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The Mighty North Atlantic Blues Fest

Rockland Breakwater LibbyFresh from my blues-immersion at the Montreal Jazz Fest, I head to picturesque Rockland for the most righteous blues event on the East Coast, the North Atlantic Blues Festival. The annual two-day event takes place at the public landing overlooking beautiful Rockland Harbor, Maine’s glorious coastline and endless blue sky.

Midcoast Memphis

dexterallenSome of the top names in the blues are here, wow. Remarkably enough, the music gets started a early with the wonderful Dexter Allen, the award-winning foot-stomping bluesman. You may recognize Dexter — he’s handsome, he’s talented, and he’s been around. He sings, “I’m hooked!” and so am I.

petersonbrosAllen is followed by the hard-working Peterson Brothers. Ages 16 and 18, the brothers have opened for greats like B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Glen and Alex agree, “We love what we do, and this is our life.” Watch for this youthful and talented duo, they have an amazing future.

harrisonkennedyContinuing our Canadian vibe, Ontario’s soul-and-country bluesman Harrison Kennedy plays between sets, fueling crowd energy and winning fans. This “Chairman of the Board” has performed with greats James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and B.B. King whose beautiful spirit seems to be following me this summer. Maybe I’ll catch Kennedy as he opens for Ruthie Foster in his home province in 2016.
Nick Moss’s gritty, electric performance is inspired.  As temps climb into 90s, he dances in the heat wearing a red buffalo plaid flannel shirt shirt, wow.  Suddenly the red buffalo plaid flannel shirt comes off and it’s more wow. This beefy guy blends rock, soul, and funk with such ease, it’s a wild ride.

rodpiazzaRod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers take flight for over an hour, serving up their distinctive blend of Chicago-style blues, R&B, and rock. They’ve been named Best Blues Band of the Year four times, and it’s is no surprise. They make it look easy. To the delight of the crowd, they make a surprise return later to play with Marcia Bell at the festival close.

Rockland Blues9Swingin’ & Swag

Check out the awesome array of food and goods for sale onsite, from sunglasses and hats to Maine crafts.  I especially enjoy the Allen’s Coffee Brandy tent, where I pick up stickers and recipes for Maine’s most popular adult beverage —Toffee Coffeetini, anyone?

Rockland Blues10Sustenance

The food, onsite and off, is pretty great. We’re issued a coupon for the Trackside Station, a funky antique railroad station on nearby Union Street, where we enjoy sweet potato fries with plenty of crunchy salt. With a cold summer ale, we’re happily derailed for a cool respite.  Never fear — the blues festival outside is piped in, live!

Blissed Out

Rockland Blues 6

I think we’ve brought “la chaleur” (the heat) with us from Montreal. It’s unusually hot here on the rocky coast, and I get a little squiffy watching audience members turn as red as Maine lobsters.

 Beautiful People

Spence and Joan Drury 2015

Beautiful people Joan and Spence

The beautiful people are here, and it’s a gas to watch them dancing, singing and swaying to the music — even little kids wiggle and stomp. The crowd is friendly, and the vibe is relaxed, and no one seems to mind that I clap like Al Gore. The North Atlantic Blues Fest is a gas for blues fans of all ages — family-friendly, convivial, and safe.

Rockland Blues11Tattooed Lady & Alligator Man

marciaballSeagulls wheel overhead and temps finally begin to drop as Marcia Ball brings the festival to a close with awesome boogie-woogie piano, Big Easy blues and soulful style. She compliments this beautiful Maine site, saying, “What a dump!” — an inside joke that goes way over our over-heated heads. We forgive her as she sings “The Tattooed Lady and Alligator Man,” a tune that transports all of us to New Orleans.

I don’t know how she sings with her legs crossed like that, but it doesn’t seem to cramp her style. She provides a spectacular, generous closing to an outstanding Maine music festival.

MusicianThree Decades of Soul

Maine visitors, tourists and locals return year after year to this wondrous blues event, the North Atlantic Blues Festival in historic downtown Rockland. An no wonder — it’s a great opportunity to see some of the most prestigious and talented blues artists performing in a glorious waterfront setting. Kudos to organizers Jamie Isaacson and Paul Benjamin for creating this stellar event, their stewardship is “keepin’ the blues alive.”

I am making this inspired and inspiring two-day event an annual tradition as of right now. Don’t miss the 23rd Annual North Atlantic Blues Festival July 16-17, 2016!

Rockland Blues 2

Rebecca and Dave enjoy the blues under a shady tree

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Brunch, Booze & Blues: Montreal 2015

“Une brunch sans alcool n’est rien d’autre  qu’un triste dejeuner tardif.”
Translation: A brunch without booze is just a sad, late breakfast.

Creative native wares at Zone Orange

Montreal park at the end of Rue Prince ArthurWe’re in Montreal for the 36th annual Jazz Festival and deliriously happy. Fresh from Paris, my French is in pretty good shape. We check into our bright and modern pied-a-terre from Like a Hotel on Rue Prince Arthur — in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles and a ten-minute walk to the Place des Arts. With a full kitchen, free WiFi, and abundant natural light, the apartment is perfect.

We’re thrilled to have tickets to the prodigious Patricia Barber, and equally eager for the array of free outdoor events like the 4-hour tribute to the late great B.B. King. Small, intimate venues like L’Astral and Club Soda are always a gas — bring it on.

Singing and Swinging

The great Patricia BarberAt Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Patricia Barber delivers “Stay With Me” to an SRO crowd of 3,000. She knocks it out of the Place des Arts with lilting piano, accompanied by spectacular bass and saxophone. Barber punctuates the set with well-timed laughs and yelps — intentional, musical Tourette’s. Her take on the Motown classic, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” makes me, well, love her. When she gets to Henry Mancini’s, “Two for the Road,” I’m in a deep jazzy swoon.

Club Soda and Pokey LaFarge are already rockin’ when we arrive. We sing along with “The Devil Ain’t Lazy” (“no siree!”), and Pokey’s newest ode to beautiful women everywhere, “Something In The Water.”  Download this great tune from Pokey’s website — it’s free.

Griffintown Brunch

Grinder's butcher shop Griffintown IIIoscar_peterson-300x202All this music makes me hungry. We head southwest to Griffintown, a bustling neighborhood in a feverish growth spurt. “The Griff,” historically populated by Irish immigrants and laborers who built the Lachine Canal, also happens to be home of native son and jazz icon Oscar Peterson — how synchronous. The vibrant urban area is up-and-coming, and I’m very intrigued.

Grilled Cheese La BureauOur first brunch is an event. We settle in at Le Bureau’s outdoor terrasse and take in the stylish, urban vibe. We opt for the signature grilled cheese — gooey appenzeller and gruyere cheeses, local ham “on-the-bone,” and crusty bread. With chilled sangria, both red and white, this is our first and simplest meal in this great city — marvelous.

We cruise Boucherie Grinder and admire the dry-aged, ethically-sourced wares. The upscale butcher supplies restaurants Grinder, Le Hachoir, and Léa — more on that yummy triumvirate later.

Sangria a la HachoirSangria City

Observe: Each sangria in Montreal is different. Due to an antique but sturdy law regarding fermentation, many are prepared á la minute, by the glass. The distinctive brew at Le Bureau features white wine, white rum, peach schnapps, apple juice, pineapple and 7-Up, which sounds thoroughly gross but is fresh and divine.

Our second brunch is at Le Hachoir of Boucherie Grinder fame. We’re seated in a breezy window, open to the street in authentic Montreal style. The vibe is funky and upscale, and the service is deliberately, purposefully slow. Rubén González recordings issue a Pavlovian command to relax. Hachoir’s white sangria is distinct and delicious, with raspberries, fragrant whole mint, Cassis, white cranberry and “un petit peu de brandy.”

Brunch brunch brunchOur burgers are as big as planets, each with an orbit of fries (and mayo), and small pile of salad, a nice counterpoint to the general unctuousness. Le Classique features a beef burger with bacon, aged cheddar, arugula, and satellite-size fried egg. Burger Jean-Guy is a venison burger with chevre noir, bacon, greens, and an unexpected sauce of sun-dried tomatoes and golden raisins.

Quel dommage:  Meat of such distinguished provenance must be served rare or medium — never well-done.

Savor the Sound

(c) Benoit Rousseau_FIJM_The Reverends Peyton's Big damn Band-7673Alan GerberBig Damn Band

We get religion with the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and especially enjoy Breezy, his slightly demented washboard-wielding wife. Other free outdoor favorites include Alan Gerber, a soulful bluesman with crazy Kabuki expressions; the sophisticated Pram Trio — not your daddy’s jazz, but equally  smooth; and West Trainz’s mobile musical trolley that loops endlessly through the festival, enchanting music fans of all ages — babies wiggle, adults swing and sway.

Between the Bands

Montreal Campari SangriaSangria somewhere meh

Sangria Nouveau MondeOur informal Sangria-tasting continues as we sip and savor onsite at Café Nouveau Monde and Balmoral, and streetside, along St. Laurent and St. Denis. Some are red, some are white; most come with straws and mid-century maraschino cherries. I find the reds traditional, with Bordeaux or claret, fruit and 7-Up. The whites are less predictable and often wildly creative.

Sangria Casa TapasMy favorite is delivered at a casual but very serious Spanish bistro, Casa Tapas, up the Plateau on Rue Rachel. The first sip nails it — the BEST sangria preparation of the entire superb experiment, with winning layers of wine, Cassis, a surprising hit of sweet vermouth, and the usual Montreal obsessions: white cranberry juice and 7-Up. It is fragrant, visually stunning and complex — perfect with our tapas trioof mussels with fennel, asparagus with manchego, and tiny green olives. We can’t wait to return.

Shop ’til you…

Do a bit of shoppingae05acb4f35fe09c18696ddb5698685cAnd don’t forget to shop in Montreal! The exchange rate is more favorable than it’s been in a long time (I call it, “the new discount”), and there are surprising bargains to be had.

One of my favorite shops is Kaliyana in the Plateau on Rue St. Denis, close to our mod digs. Check out Kaliyana’s flowing sculptural designs — contemporary, avant-garde pieces created by über-talented Canadian designer, Jana Kalous.

Tired of looking like everybody else? Head for Montreal.

Grand Blues Tribute

Belanger and ??? Denis AlixThe festival winds down and wraps up with its ultimate event, The Grand Blues Evening in Memory of B.B. King, a tribute to the iconic musician from Mississippi who devoted his life to the blues for 70 years. A massive crowd gathers on Place des Festivals stretching from the stage, down Jeanne Mance to St. Catherine. There are thousands of people. I’ll cop to a bit of crowd-phobia, but this event feels very safe and secure — seriously worth it.Belanger belt buckle © Freederique Menard AubinThe Québécois homage is split into two sets, with guests Jordan Officer, Jimmy James, Mike Goudreau and Conor Gains; singers Angel Forrest, Kim Richardson, Mathieu Holubowski, and more. Magnificent harmonicist Guy Bélanger anchors the event, which beloved festival founder André Ménard describes as “one huge Bistro à Jojo,” Montreal’s iconic blues club.

BB King retroBob Walsh launches into “The Thrill Is Gone,” and the electric evening is off and running. Kim Richardson is introduced by Bélanger as “Soul Sister #1,″ and follows Walsh with a spirited, “Let the Good Times Roll.” Mike Goudreau trades vocals with Richardson on “Everybody Wants to Know Why I Sing the Blues,” and for my personal favorite, “Caledonia.” Belanger plays with just about everybody, and the crowd is ecstatic — it’s truly a magical evening. We let the good times roll and celebrate B.B. King’s legacy until after midnight.

In the words of the immortal bluesman from Mississippi, the Montreal Jazz Festival “is the best in the world.”

bb-king-bowingDon’t miss the 37th edition, June 30 – July 9, 2016!


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Montreal Jazz: Biggest and Best

Club Métropolis – © F. Ménard-Aubin

Club Métropolis – © F. Ménard-Aubin

World-Class Rendezvous

Lucky me: I’m heading for the 36th edition of the world’s largest jazz festival, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Celebrating a passion for music for over three decades, North America’s French-speaking metropolis annually welcomes fans to 10 days of jazz-centric celebration — June 26-July 5 — where humble music fans like me can rub shoulders with aficionados of the genre in its purest form.

We’ve experienced performances by luminaries as diverse as Leonard Cohen, Wynton Marsalis, the B-52s, Stevie Wonder, Madeleine Peyroux, Woody Allen, Jamie Cullum and many more. This year I am looking forward to Patricia Barber, Wayne Shorter, and somebody named Pokey LaFarge.

jamie_cullum_enThe Jazz Festival hosts 30 countries, 3,000 musicians and entertainers, 1,000 concerts and activities—two-thirds of them free – in 15 concert halls and on eight outdoor stages, welcoming more than two million visitors to the city, noon to midnight. And it all happens on a beautiful urban “place” in the heart of Montreal’s downtown core — a green, safe, car-free zone. There’s no doubt – c’est magnifique!

09-DSCN5478Taverne-F_cheese-Portugal-MontrealWhile Jazz Fest takes over the downtown Quartier des Spectacles, diverse restaurants and dining opportunities abound on the sprawling festival site — everything from haute-cuisine to gourmet sandwiches and open-air food trucks. Stroll to Chinatown for dim sum, or hike to the Plateau for the best bagels and smoked meat sandwiches in North America. Don’t miss Old Montreal, with its quaint, open-front bistros and old-world ambiance. My personal favorite is Le Club Chasse et Pêche; ask for a garden table.

Sarah-B-Absinthe-Bar-to-Visit-The-Green-FairyMontreal nightlife features unabashed, prolonged bar-hopping and no shortage of watering holes. Dance the night away at clubs onsite or in Old Montreal. Conduct a personal pub crawl through the city’s abundant wine bars and microbreweries, like Benelux on Sherbrooke, Cheval Blanc on Ontario St., Brutopia on Crescent St., L’amere a Boire and Le Saint Bock on Saint-Denis, and Les Soeurs Grises in the Old Port. Or try a magical, mystical sip of absinthe at the Bar Sarah B., named for the divine Sarah Bernhardt, at the lovely and historic Hotel Intercontinental.

33-DSCN563711-DSCN5492This year we’ve rented an upscale apartment five-minutes from Place des Arts. I trust Montreal’s sprawling open-air markets — Atwater and Jean Talon — will supply more than enough colorful, fresh produce, crusty breads, local duck and fine wines for residents, musicians and jazz fans to sip, savor and explore.

So join me on Planet Jazz in my favorite North American city for the biggest and best of Montreal’s year-round festivals. As the late, great B.B. King said, “It’s the best in the world.” •



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