Our city is home to over 100 festivals year round. We don’t just hibernate come winter but come summer we take to the streets, the parks and public squares to soak up every last bit of culture in the sun. The majority of these events are squeezed into the warmer months leaving the impression on visitors that nobody works during our dog days, and with reason.
Each year in Spring I grab the old agenda and compile a list of every single party Montréal is hosting, both to keep my customers informed with what’s happening and for my own enjoyment. The problem; and there could be worse ones to have, is there are sometimes six or more festivals worth checking out on a single evening and planning is crucial. I find myself racing the streets by bike to catch what I can. The upside; the programming often has two or three times the amount of indoor shows one pays for, outside, for free, which means culture is accessible to all and not just those who have the means.
This year I decided to share my favourites, in order from when they kick off. Here’s to hoping mother nature doesn’t bite us in the ass once more before they begin but after this weekend it seems like sweet sweet summer is not too too far away. Enjoy!
Chromatic May 19-22, 2016
This Spring festival, for me, is the kick starter for the kick ass months that follow. This year marks the 7th go for Chromatic and for the first time they will be taking over Hangar 16 in the Old Port. Why? More space, more art. An initiative by Massivart, it is a mix of installation art, innovation and interactive pieces. The exhibition brings together over a hundred, both local and international artists to our young and creative city. Last year they crossed the Atlantic for the first time as Paris held their own version of the event and this edition we’re hosting an invitee city: Toronto. Not to miss is la Nuit Chromatic where all of the above is mixed with DJs and a few too many drinks. Memories of me on top of a friend’s shoulders trying to outdo another group’s large size puzzle-piece tower during an interactive build-it-yourself game are vague, but damn did we have fun last year.
FTA-Festival TransAmériques May 26-June 8, 2016
The FTA hosts international performers as a get together of solid contemporary dance and theatre. There are also workshops and debates, they incorporate choreographers and writers on a multicultural and multilingual platform representative of Montréal. This year marks the 10th edition of the gathering and each year I am taken back by their innovative style and programming. My last year’s highlight was a viewing of the NoShow, a performance where the audience anonymously paid between 0 to 123$ to watch a show where the amount of members on stage depended on how much the public pooled with “ticket sales”. Official programming is set to come out within the next two weeks.
Mondial de la Bière June 8-12, 2016
I remember my first experience at the Mondial like it was yesterday. I was 17 and illegally made my way into the country’s largest beer festival. I had my tasting tickets in hand and when I walked through the doors of the building I felt like a kid in a beer festival. I still do. This is Mondial’s 23rd year running and they are back to the Palais des Congrès on a weekend in early June to showcase Quebec’s macro microbrewery scene. International and (often too few for my liking) south of the border breweries also take part. My suggestion is to head over on Wednesday. The Friday/Saturday night crowd is often too many drinkers as opposed to beer drinkers and there’s some big car race in town that weekend that brings a clientèle to the city I avoid like the plague. Some of the rarer finds can run out after a day or two. Don’t forget to drink water, I always do.
MURAL Festival June 9-19, 2016
These kids are doing something right. The city is becoming an open air art gallery and MURAL is definitely to thank for that. Since it’s launch in 2013 the support for the festival has exploded into an impressive 11 days of live production, conferences, sidewalk sales, street closures, food and party. With 50 murals completed last year I am overly anxious for this June’s line up. I was talking to André Bathalon, co-founder, at the headquarters about their progress not long ago. He told me that at first they had to convince building owners to allow the artists access to their brick canvases. Now building owners are chasing after them and the fact that it is no longer just Saint-Laurent Boulevard but now Clark and Saint-Dominique streets that have been given new works, is a sign that bigger is better and MURAL is here to stay. Move over Wynwood.
Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE de Montréal June 9-19, 2016
Weird is good. The FRINGE fest is weird as hell and enjoyable at unconventional (or free) prices. Artists are chosen based on a lottery system, the censorship has sailed far far away and ALL of the profits go to the artists. Each year I enjoy buying tickets to shows I know NOTHING about and going in with the open arms attitude. Even on nights I am less impressed with what I saw, the experience is always well worth it. You can also take advantage of an evening of teasers where all artists have a few minutes to convince us why we should prioritize their moments to shine at the beginning of the festival. A tradition not to be messed is the Drag Races at the FRINGE headquarters, Parc des Amériques, where first time drags compete against the legends from Montréal’s Cabaret Mado, The awkward moments in high heals are priceless.
Montreal Folk Festival on the Canal June 15-19, 2016
The name says is all. In the southwest of the city along Canada’s old industrial corridor, this family friendly festival reminds me of feel good brunch with friends at home. They started with a one day event in 2008 and now are nearing the 10,000 participant mark with over five days of roots, folk and blues. The fest now has paid indoor shows to compliment their free outdoor concerts and operates as a non-for-profit collaborating with lovely and well treated volunteers and aims to help boost the borough as a go-to destination.
FIMA: Festival International Montréal en Arts June 29-July 3, 2016
The stretch of Ste-Catherine Street East in Montréal’s Gay Village is a pedestrian promenade thanks to AiresLibres each summer from the beginning of May until September. The terrasses replace car parking and the 1km walkway (and sometimes more like a runway) truly becomes a destination street; a perfect example of how giving the roads back to the people is a good thing for every aspect of urban living. At the end of June FIMA’s tents and kiosks pop up to host Québec’s largest outdoor art gallery along the “BoulevArt”. Visitors can visit the pop up galleries one by one meeting the artists responsible for the works. No going through an agent here. There are also short film screenings, live painting and multimedia performances to add to the action of their 17th edition.
L’International des Feux Loto-Québec July 2-30, 2016
Yes, I’m serious. This is one of my fondest memories of times with my late father. Us racing in his a Camaro to find the perfect vantage point to catch the sky blow up at 10:00pm for a half hour on summer nights. Each firework night I leave whoever I’m with to bike down to my spot under the bridge to keep the tradition alive. The competition dates back to 1985 and has become the largest and most prestigious event of this kind on the planet. These are pyrotechnic displays synchronized with music and at the end of each edition awards are handed out to the top three countries. My spot; the corner of Notre-Dame and de Lorimier parking lot. The space is slightly elevated meaning you get to catch the smaller ones closer to the base. There are weirdos like me who tailgate there every night, official music included and don’t mind me using the tops of their cars as a resting spot for my beers. This year I’m applying to become an official judge. Yes, I’m serious.
Zoofest July 7-30, 2016
I describe Zoofest as the Just for Laugh’s drunk and absurd lesser-known brother. The festival has been running since 2009 and has continued to bring together the best, both emerging and well known, in comedy, theatre, burlesque, storytelling and magic. The shows are more rough around the edges in comparison to the JFL and are often hosted in smaller and more intimate venues. Last year’s Zoopasses were selling for about 50 bucks giving you access to all the shows during the three weeks of festivities. My first experience with the fest was in 2012. A friend asked to me to join her to catch a female comedian from the States. Her name? Amy Schumer. That July night changed my life.
Montréal Complètement Cirque July 7-17, 2016
I’m surprised how long it took for a Circus festival to kick off in Montréal. Considering the number of troops, schools and headquarters located on the island it only makes sense we call ourselves a premier world circus destination with an event like this to match. Complètement Cirque started in 2010 as a collaboration of six of our circus arts organizations. The indoor shows are poetic, they are pieces of moving theatre backed by phenomenal human strength. The outdoor free shows take over St. Denis street for the Circus Minutes where many students from TOHU entertain the crowds repetitively each day of the festival. These kids work their asses off, and it shows, those red tights look like body paint and I kind of never complain… I had the chance to catch acrobatic acts in Verdun last summer, the Les Quartiers series brought troops to all four corners of the city, making this no longer just a downtown event.
Festival Nuits d’Afrique July 12-24, 2016
This is the festival I probably drop the most amount of calories at. The Nuits d’Afrique has had me dancing to world music from the days of my early childhood when my Peruvian mother and I used to shake it at the Place Emilie-Gamelin. This year marks their 30th anniversary with more outdoor shows than ever at the Parterre du Quartier des Spectacles alongside the Timbuktu Market selling arts and crafts and fashion from different African, Caribbean and Latin American nations. Small venues such as the Fairmount Theatre and the old school Club Balattou (also 30 years old) host different events and concerts during the festival. Bring on the Habib Koité, I love Nuits d’Afrique.
Fierté Montréal Pride August 8-14, 2016
Last year for the first time I had the opportunity to march in the parade and it will probably go down as one of my fondest memories, ever. The amount of love in the air on that hot August afternoon had me smiling during the entire three hours and the emotional moment of silence on René-Levesque boulevard sent chills down my spine. 2015 was the 25th anniversary of the unfortunate Sex Garage raids, sometimes viewed as Montréal’s Stonewall and in 2017 Canada Pride will be held in the city in association with the Society of the Celebration of Montréal’s 375th Anniversary. There is more than just the largest parade in the city, the festival includes outdoor cinema, workshops and conferences, ceremonies, walking tours (run by yours truly) and of course parties like the free outdoor Méga T-Dance that makes Sunday the new Friday and the following Monday a great day to call in sick…
POP Montréal September 21-25, 2016
Since 2002 the non-for-profit indie music festival has grown into so much more than just music. We live in a city renown for it’s artistic talent and it’s platforms such as POP that add to this vitality. I follow around my best friend, and music guru, to shows I know nothing about other than she recommends them in an attempt to pop ’til we drop year after year and add a good amount of what we saw to my playlist. Off-festival events such as the Puces Pop artisan get-togethers are held and for the last two years they have been bringing life to the northern limits of the Mile-End with the Marché des Possibles, where food trucks meet performances meet arts and crafts and clothing sales and groups of good looking people enjoying it all on the picnic tables and surrounding grassy areas of the park. Last year as part of FILM POP I got to check out the interior of the Cinéma L’Amour for the first time, for a screening of Showgirls, naturally.