To be fair going in here, there is no better way to find out what the Montreal International Jazz Festival has to offer than to hit the streets and hear what’s good.
Going out without expectations is really fun, and while I can’t speak to much of the early day outdoor programming, walking on to Place des Festivals on a nice summer evening at around quittin’ time is a great vibe. Those late-day sun rays on downtown Montreal shine lovely for a limited time only. as locals know only too well, and the sights and sounds of the fest are reciprocally magnified by the city’s natural beauty.
And while visitors to the city always appreciate a helping hand, y’all came to party and don’t need to be told where the fun can be found from the ground level, though if you found this guide you’re in good hands.
Funnily enough, there’s a tendency for city dwellers to avoid downtown like the plague during festival season, and while not judging that, I can’t help but think some folks just aren’t too sure where to go to be part of the crowd instead of hiding from it.
With that in mind, here are some tips on free shows shows both outdoor and indoor, as well as paid affairs, late night options leaning less towards jazz or blues in any traditional sense, per se, with an accent on fun, funky, and in some cases, iconic. While you can find where the jazz is at here, these choices bring the noise like Public Enemy did at Metropolis in 2008 for the 20th anniversary of It Takes a Nation of…fuck, I’m old.
Have fun, party people.
Wednesday, June 28
In tandem with the city’s 375th anniversary, jazz fest kicks off with a line-up of Montreal talent so undeniable, rich and diverse that it honestly makes me proud, and I’m a cynical asshole.
Half Moon Run, Coeur de Pirate, Milk & Bone, the Franklin Electric, Plants and Animals and the Urban Science Brass Band take over both the TD and Rio Tinto stages from 5 p.m., Black Tiger Sex Machine take the Metropolis (59 Ste-Catherine E.), High Klassified and Dead Obies beatfreak VNCE Carter and make l’Astral (305 Ste-Catherine W.) wobble, and Pierre Kwenders shakes shit up at the outdoor Place Heineken stage.
Even the indoor shows are free on this opening night, but you’ll have to check yourself for times and specific stages on this one, sorry — I’m just gonna go wander around, I suggest the same for you.
9:30 p.m. Local get-down-and-boogie outfit the Brooks, fronted by soulman Alan Prater, pop up all over the fest, kicking off the fest in intimate quarters with a mix of their own jive, and their incredible tribute to Prince. They do it again July 5 (Diese Onze, 4115-A St-Denis, free)
10 p.m. Certified Organic Quarter run their infamous organ jam, known to touch organs you never knew you even had, nightly throughout the fest at the always suds-y Brutopia, west of the main fest site. (1219 Crescent, free)
Thursday, June 29
5 p.m. The Urban Science Brass Band march for the gospel of hip hop daily throughout the fest around Place des Festivals, and I wish to witness each and every experience.
8 p.m. Modern jazz sherpa Robert Glasper and his reformed Experiment band present their 2016 oeuvre ArtScience at Place des Arts’ Theatre Maisoneuve ($42.25–$53.25, tax and service included)
9 p.m./11 p.m. The Souljazz Orchestra return to stomp the main stage for a surefire dance fiasco (TD Stage, Place des Festivals)
10 p.m. Montreal-based producer AfrotroniX won’t be someone you happened to catch randomly ever again after this. Check back for an interview with him and find out why he’s one degree of separation from greatness on Wednesday (Hyundai/CBC stage, Esplanade Clark, corner Clark et De Montigny, free)
11:59 p.m. Speakeasy Electroswing do their damn thing tonight, again tomorrow and once more July 5, for an afterhours limb-shaker at l’Astral (305 Ste-Catherine W., free)
Meanwhile live electro house quarter Afrikana Soul Sister begin three nights of grooves at le Savoy du Metropolis (59 Ste-Catherine E., free)
Friday, June 30
8 p.m. Bob Dylan plays the Bell Centre. He’s probably gonna die soon. Don’t sleep. ($62.50–$137.50 including tax and service, 1909 Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montréal)
8:30 p.m. Quebec chanteuse Charlotte Cardin’s three Metropolis dates are sold out but where there’s a will, there’s a way. She doesn’t even have an album out yet and these shows are complet. (59 Ste-Catherine E.)
10 p.m. FACE-T & Solid Ground bring reggae riddims alive at the Hyundai/CBC Stage, (Esplanade Clark, corner Clark et De Montigny, free)
Saturday, July 1
7:30 p.m. Beatscape crafting pioneers Thievery Corporation bring the magic to Salle Wilfrid Pelletier for what will surely be an unforgettable aural experience to fans of the DC legends (175 Ste-Catherine W., $62.25–$88.75, tax and service included)
10 p.m. Tonight and tomorrow, Haitian-born Montreal funkateer Fwonte brings everything his brilliant No Wanga 1&2 recordings have to life at the Hyundai/CBC Stage (Esplanade Clark, corner Clark and De Montigny, free)
Sunday, July 2
10 p.m. Montreal rock legends Men Without Hats doff their caps at Club Soda (1225 St-Laurent, $33.25–$35.25, tax and service included)
Monday, July 3
8:30 p.m. Double-heading on the ones and twos, Kid Koala’s Vinyl Vaudeville set promises an orgy of kookiness, with France’s Wax Tailor bringing the second act to the nethersphere (Metropolis, 59 St. Catherine E., $39.25 and up)
Tuesday, July 4
8:30 p.m. Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires bring that Daptone touch to the Metropolis with openers the Brooks. (59 Ste-Catherine E., $42–$45 tax and service included)
Wednesday, July 5
*8:30 p.m. NYC’s Joey Bada$$ returns to town for the first time in a minute, on the heels of his remarkably politically bent sophomore proper, AllAmerikkkanBada$$. Expect him armed and ready to caprute the Métropolis (59 Ste-Catherine E., $43–$48)
Thursday, July 6
7:30 p.m. Soul lovers of the world unite. The nostalgia factor for many as the the O’Jays and the Four Tops serenade Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier will be high, and so will the urge to get up and dance. Fun for all ages, to be sure. (175 Ste-Catherine W., $88.75–$118.75)
11:59 p.m. Music Is My Sanctuary proves Jazz Is the Teacher as Lexis keeps it swaying, tonight and again tomorrow, at l’Astral. (305 Ste-Catherine W., free)
Likewise for the next three nights, the Urban Science band flash their live hip hop chops till last call at the Savoy du Métropolis. (59 Ste-Catherine E., July 6–8)
Saturday, July 8
9:30 p.m. The funny thing is, the free outdoor festival closer will have the thousands upon thousands of enthused revellers as any year, and the headliner could be just about anybody and everyone would have a ball.
Well, by about 9;34 p.m. or so tonight, Anderson .Paak won’t be “just about anybody” anymore to many gathered at the TD stage to dance the festival into the night. This town has no idea what it’s in for as the singer/composer/producer-arranger/multi-instrumental/born entertainer and his astronomically slinky band, the Free Nationals get us so high we might never come down. Montreal is about to witness a rising star perform arguably the most important headlining show of his career yet. This is one crowd you’d be silly to avoid. ■
For the complete Jazz Fest program, look here.
See our round-up of the festival’s jazz-show highlights here.