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.
The 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!
While 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.
Montreal 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.
This 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.” •