While the current supply of music festivals in Quebec probably surpasses demand, the Festival en Chanson de Petite-Vallée keeps attracting some of the best and most relevant musical talents the francophone world has to offer.
The festival might warm hearts with the proximity between the crowd and the audience (there’s barely a green room here) or the less is more approach of its programming, which frequently has a maximum of three concerts per day. In the meantime, Petite-Vallée, a Gaspésie town of 140 residents about nine hours away from Montreal, doesn’t transform itself due to the influx of concert-goers — as outsiders, we adapt ourselves to the town.
The charm of the area has to do with the fact that its main site is a couple of footsteps away from the Saint-Lawrence River’s Estuary and that the ocean becomes a headliner, alongside this year’s line-up of Salomé Leclerc, Roméo Elvis and Lydia Képinski, who played on Friday, July 5.
Salomé Leclerc keeps coming back to Petite-Vallée, whether via songwriting residencies, for fun or to share songs from her latest album, Les choses extérieures. With dynamic musicality and moving guitar playing, these songs melted into the scenery. Backed by José Major, sharing keyboard and drum duties, Philippe Brault on baritone guitar and double bass and Audrey Michelle Simard on backing vocals and percussions, the tonal game of Leclerc’s band was precise and opened up new avenues to her material.
The urgency of Leclerc’s “L’icône du naufrage” was traded for a laid-back approach, while “Nos révolutions” rocked Petite-Valée’s tent. After a standing ovation, the beautiful “Ton équilibre” and the newfound-groove of “Partir ensemble” marked the end of a stellar performance.
Later in the evening, Radio Elvis invited the reserved crowd to stand up. It took some time, but the French band sold their lyrical pop with a rock delivery to Petite-Vallée with the help of a hyped up drummer, a watchful lead singer and a series of solid songs that deserved full attention, and a willingness to let ourselves get carried away by them. The band sings “Ralenti un peu” in “Les moissons” but as the set progressed, they kept picking up the pace until a majestic new wave finale.
Lydia Képinski’s band is already on stage preparing the ambiance and crescendo of Les routes indolores. The long and winding roads of Petite-Vallée are not painless, but Képinski took these, leading across the room to travel throughout Premier juin’s creative universe and inventive chanson between some electronic-inspired soaring, transforming the tent into a dancefloor. Képinski waited until the end to unleash her debut album’s title song, which blows us away like the few courageous’ soul’s tents next to the ocean. We needed a couple of minutes before we even dare to leave Petite-Vallée: this huge song is the culmination of both this set and this trip. ■