Showtime in the Old Port

Merry Montreal and the future of New Year’s in the Old Port

The Merry Montreal team is on a mission to make the Old Port party the biggest NYE show in town, but that’s only the start of an ambitious plan.

Merry Montreal
Les Soeurs Boulay

If you’ve ever been to New York City between Christmas and New Year’s Day, you’ve probably noticed that Manhattan gets filthy with tourists — you’re one of them, after all. Line-ups abound at every store, museum, landmark-tour and refrigerated skating rink, and the Times Square New Year’s Eve experience — a giddy mash of hundreds of thousands of totally sober strangers and nearly as many cops — is probably the largest mass of humanity one can witness outside an epic sports event, battlefield or natural disaster.

Merry Montreal
Alex Nevsky

By contrast, Montreal is a ghost town around this time of year, with family gatherings and frigid temperatures keeping us indoors, if we’re even in town. New Year’s Eve is the one day in this hibernation period when most of us venture out, at least for a meal, maybe a show, probably a party. But if someone staged an outdoor event with enough entertainment to draw the masses, even on the coldest of nights, would Montrealers turn up?

We don’t need to wait till tonight’s Old Port show is underway to know that the answer is yes. Place Jacques Cartier has long been the site of a family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration, drawing thousands of locals with live music and fireworks. And Igloofest has taught us that the younger crowd is more than willing to brave the cold for outdoor dance parties. The team at Merry Montreal (aka Montréal en Fêtes) is aiming to bridge the gap between the traditional Old Port party and a younger demographic that’s in it for the music.

“It’s hard to have a New Year’s Eve show that will please everyone,” says Martin Durocher, the creative director at Bite Size Entertainment, which produces Merry Montreal. He explains that his organization’s inaugural stab at NYE last year was a success, but it was also a transition from the events of previous years, featuring a band (albeit a cool band, the Lost Fingers) reinterpreting some festive classics — traditionally, the NYE entertainment had consisted of Top 40 cover bands and musicians playing old-timey music. This year, they’ve booked Alex Nevsky, Bernard Adamus and les Soeurs Boulay, three solid local francophone acts with appeal across demographics, as well as DJs and hosts to keep it lively from 7 p.m. to the countdown to midnight fireworks and beyond.

Merry Montreal
Showtime in the Old Port

“I think the choices we’ve made clearly state where we’re going with this event,” says Durocher. “We really want the event to be known by Montrealers. We have a vision of making Montreal a very cool and attractive place to come during the holiday season, but we need Montrealers to be ambassadors of the event and talk about it.”

The Merry Montreal team hopes to attract 50,000 to 60,000 revellers, if not tonight then in the years to come. They’re aiming for a huge events marking the 375th anniversary of the city in 2016.

“It’s a budget challenge of course, but in the future we hope to have international acts mixing with the local flavour and draw in tourists from everywhere.” ■

The Merry Montreal New Year’s Eve party in the Old Port, featuring Bernard Adamus, les Soeurs Boulay, Alex Nevsky and DJs Ines Talbi and Abeille, begins at 7 p.m. See more details here.

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