It’s not an easy trip to the Festival de musique émergente en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (FME), which is exactly why every hardcore Quebec music fan ought to do it at least once.
Montrealers are especially used to not travelling far to see music, whether it’s a short metro hop to Parc Jean-Drapeau or a venue in their neighbourhood. On the other hand, FME is either a plane ride away or an epic seven-hour drive with few rest stops.
“The distance makes us a bit exotic,” says cofounder Jenny Thibault. “Those who come are passionate about it, so there’s an added intensity to every show, in every venue. They’re happy to be there and involved. At a certain point we’re able to capture this passion and that’s what makes regional festivals special. Here it’s not as accessible, so to be here, you have to want to be there and that feels different than a show you can leave whenever.”
Sure enough, the Quebec music industry has responded to this welcoming festival in a small, far away locale. It’s basically a year-end rager for music types who’ve spent the whole summer playing gigs across the province. It’s a chance for everyone to meet in one place, have some barbecue and play some shows.
Since day one, the town of 41,000 has embraced the fest as well. They’re now 15 years in and show no signs of slowing.
“The first year went so well we decided to do it again and double it in size,” recalls Thibault. “By the third year we had maybe 50 bands. It grew exponentially. At that point we knew we had something.
“The whole community gets involved in the festival at some point. It’s the biggest event of the year in Rouyn-Noranda, so all the hotels are sold out, the restaurants are full and we have around 300 volunteers. There are shows everywhere in the city. Everyone knows someone who is involved in some way.”
This year, the festival has reached out to include an even larger part of the region. The Pikogan is a reserve in the area that’s part of the Abitibiwinni First Nation. Following FME’s collaboration with the Pikogan for their Pow Wow last June, the Pikogan will present a music and art show at this year’s FME.
“There are seven aboriginal communities in the region. They’re part of our lives,” says Thibault. “I hope this is the start of an annual exchange of arts.”
It’s also something of a nice coincidence that this year’s music headliner is one of Canada’s most famous First Nation groups, A Tribe Called Red. (Thibault says the fest has been trying to book them for years.)
Also set to perform: A Place to Bury Strangers, Alaclair Ensemble, Franklin Electric, Andy Shauf, Duchess Says, Pierre Kwenders and Jean-Michel Blais. And for the locals there’s Rouyn-Noranda’s own Philippe B, and the fest is bringing back their on-the-water stage with a tribute to the region’s most decorated songwriter, Richard Desjardins.
The fact that the fest is towards the end of summer helps, but Thibault is happy to note that despite the long drive from Montreal, there’s never been any major issues on the road for anyone to and from FME.
“We’re lucky that nothing has happened on the roads in 15 years,” she says. “It’s always a concern for us, but knock on wood we’ve been okay so far.” ■
FME is on from Aug. 31–Sept. 3 in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec. For more info visit the festival’s website.