The first week of July brings us to the Montreal Jazz Festival. We do not mind missing the promiscuous display of red white and blue at home, and are ecstatic to be going rogue.In the upscale province of Justin Trudeau, musical surprises abound with over 500 concerts over 11 days — jazz, blues, rock, reggae, world music, and electronica. Yes, that’s Melissa Etheridge headlining with the amazing Joss Stone.
Imagine thousands of peaceful music fans in the heart of downtown on the Place des Festivals, closed to traffic. From intimate venues to enormous open-air events, the festival brings an unforgettable array of music and joie de vivre!Along with learning the words to O Canada, favorite performances include:
- Brisa Roché delivers a mix of pop, electronica and soul with unfettered artistic freedom — jazzy tunes in a punk spirit. Lovely Brisa.
- Allison Au Quartet multi-talented Toronto saxophonist combines youthful jazz and classical, pop, long with R&B, hip-hop and world music — a festival favorite this year.
- A-Wa features three Israeli sisters, Tair, Liron and Tagel, who mix Yemenite dance, hip-hop, and electronica rhythms to magical effect. Take the trip — you’ll love it.
- John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey make July 4th a holiday to remember with an intimate, romantic homage to artists Joni Mitchell and Paul McCartney. Maddie Pizzarelli, age 19, supplies back-up vocals and wit, and not an eye is dry. Dreamy.
- Pokey LaFarge reinvents timeless American music in performances that hark back early jazz, ragtime, blues and swing. Bring it, Poky. We love you.
- Across the crowded site is Josh Redman, supplying straight-up jazz with a Latin beat. Guest artists Danilo Perez, Adam Cruz and the great Ben Street on drums bring it home. Inspired, bold and experimental, these guys are Still Dreaming.
- Guy Bélanger’s tribute to Bob Walsh is a vibrant memorial to the late bluesman. Guy is here every night and, best of all, this year he’s free.
- Johnny Max Band — these five guys can draw a crowd to the dance floor like no one else with their incendiary New Orleans sound.
- Extreme Blues Review with Jim Zeller is better than ever with blazing harmonica licks and fierce improvisation.
- King Crimson! The monarch of rock reinvents himself with diverse and accomplished collaborators like the iconic Robert Fripp and eight inspired drummers — such a beautiful noise!
Free For All
There are hundreds of free concerts. Betty Bonifassi sings the blues with guts and grace. Pokey LaFarge is riled up and better than ever — I couldn’t be prouder of Riot In The Streets and Something In The Water. Around midnight, Guy Belanger’s harmonica wails across the Place des Festivals, drawing me through the sea of people like a magnet. So much magic, so little time.
We dormez bien in the heart of Montreal at Trylon Apartments on picturesque rue Sainte-Famille. Our studio has sweeping views of the city, a cozy place to call home after a day of music and sun. Here on the 22nd floor, we sit on our small deck and count the stars — or if it’s a particularly late night, watch the sun come up.
Breakfast favorites include quirky La Crepe 2 Go on Bleury, a small space with big flavors. Nearby, our boulangerie on Sherbrooke has beautiful breads, bagels, and croissants. Try a baguette, sliced – a Montreal courtesy.
On Place des Festivals, we always enjoy Nyk’s, a charming and informal city classic with windows open to the street, Montreal-style. We share a few messy skewers à la crevette and local brews — small or large, red or blonde. No serious decisions, here.An upscale new addition to the Place des Festivals is city stalwart, Blumenthal. With plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, confident and assured cooking, crazy-good poutine and tartare de saumon, we do not have to be coaxed. Spiced nuts — yes.Lac Brome duck salad with fresh farm egg is locally sourced, beautiful. We continue with pieuvre grillée, grilled octopus, with lentils and curry butter. Gorgeous. Each dish, down to the smallest garden pea, knocks our socks off.
We prolong the magic with a bright passion-fruit tart, two forks, please. The Lady Liberty torch of browned meringue adds irresistible irony. The brasserie menu is French, accessible and delicieux — highly recommended. Reserve a table and arrive hungry.
We amble 20 lazy minutes down Sherbrooke to the Musee des Beaux-Arts for the electrifying exhibition, Revolution, perfect for these complex and daunting times.
The sprawling museum is a gem. Designed by Montreal’s own Moshe Safdie, the space is expansive and filled with light. This is Safdie at his most suave — another soaring space designed by one of the most inspired and inspiring human beings I have ever met.
As always, all this art makes us hungry. We cruise rue Crescent, one of Montreal’s great dining districts, for a meal at L’Academie, which we remember from its earlier heyday as informal BYO culinary school. We share a plate of moules frites in creamy leek and wine sauce. Yummy fries. Best of all, it’s still BYO. Bring your Musée de Beaux Arts ticket stub and receive 15% off.
Don’t miss our favorite Montreal neighborhood, Griffintown. Historically a working-class stronghold, this rapidly gentrifying hunk of Montreal still feels accessible, within reach.
We sun ourselves in sling chairs along the Lachine Canal as local families chatter in French. We doze, dreaming of Canadian citizenship. Look out, Justin Trudeau.
Looking for Leonard
Last but not least, we pay our respects to Montreal’s favorite son, Leonard Cohen — beloved songwriter, world-class poet and reluctant performer. We have our tools: map, biography, and press release, to help us find the ultimate tribute to the late great one.We ask around. Locals insist that we look behind Moishes in the Plateau, Leonard’s old hangout. Voila! This craggy and moving portrait towers over the parking lot in back. There are dumpsters and graffiti, too, but I don’t think Leonard would mind a bit.
So long Leonard, and au revoir Montreal — à bientôt. •