open mic series live music St-Henri

Photo by Marion Laberge

Renegade open mic series feeds a need for live music in Montreal

It’s on in Saint-Henri every Sunday this summer, until they’re shut down.

On July 18, residents of Saint-Henri were able to witness something that has been in high demand in Montreal and across the globe ever since the pandemic reared its ugly head: live music.

The Sir George-Étienne Cartier Square was populated by close to 200 people looking to support and listen to neighbourhood musicians at the first of many “renegade” open mic series hosted by musician and one of the bartenders/host of Bar de Courcelle’s pre-pandemic open mic, Frisco Lee

Like many venues, Bar de Courcelle has not been able to host live music inside the bar due to COVID regulations — specifically limited capacity and having to seat everyone.

Montreal live music open mic Saint-henri
Renegade open mic series feeds a need for live music in Montreal. Photo by by Esther Spiegelman

“It’s just not feasible right now,” Lee says. “Courcelle is a great bar on its own and it’s always been very music-centric. Live entertainment is a staple of what we do and it’s essential and there’s a lack of that so we decided to do something about it.” 

There was folk, blues, gospel, jazz and good old rock ’n’ roll in the park and people for the most part adhered to social distancing — as seen in the drone footage of the show by Esther Spiegelman.

“The park is beautiful and I can tell you that it looks even more beautiful with a bunch of people hanging out as a community and getting to see the local talent,” Lee says.

Artists such as callahan, Erik Fines (who co-hosted with Lee), Lea Keeley, Smoke Spell, Ultrafox and many more serenaded the park from 4:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.

The open mic series almost found a home in the location where the Montreal Folk Fest takes place on the Lachine Canal, but it didn’t pan out. 

“We had a meeting with the organization and they said Folk Fest wasn’t happening because they could only have like 2,500 people capacity. They’re used to like 15,000 a day so it was not going to happen for them, but they were still open to doing something for the artistic community,” Lee says.

Imagine it: Montreal’s Folk Fest partnering with a low-lit chic dive bar to bring back music to the city. It could have been glorious, but fate unfortunately wasn’t on their side so they decided to go for a more DIY-grassroots approach and use the park. 

The scene at Sir George-Étienne Cartier Square in Saint-Henri. Video by Esther Spiegelman

And they plan to do it again every Sunday in the summer until they’re shut down — which could be a reality since the open mic series is running without a permit (but not for lack of trying). 

Lee and the other organizer Adrian Micholuk applied for a permit back in March but were told mid-May that the request was a little “too complicated.”

“Also that it was a little too late which kind of struck us as odd because we are completely self-sufficient. We take care of everything and don’t even need access to electricity and we had started the request pretty early,” Lee says. “There could have been some ambiguity about alcohol, but we don’t sell alcohol on the site. It’s a park, so if you have a picnic you are entitled to bring your own.”

Last year Lee hosted the open mic in the same park for 10 weeks, but was shut down earlier and earlier due to noise complaints. 

“It’s true that we run the risk of getting shut down because of noise complaints, but the police have always been very kind to us and we will approach it in the same way if it’s a problem this time around,” Lee says. “It’s not like we’re pointing the PA at any buildings. Unless there’s a noise complaint, we aren’t in violation of anything.” ■

For more about the ongoing St-Henri open mic series, please visit the Facebook group page.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.