Montreal Jazz Fest Reviews, Pt. 3: Making moments matter

“I saw families, friends, couples, tourists and happy loners appreciating the simple joy of being together in the heart of a welcoming city that I often take for granted. Festival season or otherwise, Montreal truly is an incredible place to live a good life.”

Sometime during the first few days of Jazz Fest, our sharp-eyed Cult MTL photographer Cindy Lopez, a lifelong festival devotee, noticed something pretty special. 

Every day, she said, she’d seen the same woman, front and centre at the barrier in front of the main stage Place des Festivals, enjoying the daily programming and presumably waiting for each night’s headliner. 

Montreal Jazz Fest Festival 2023
Montreal Jazz Fest crowd, 2023. Photos by Cindy Lopez

This wasn’t the first year my colleague had noticed the woman, either. Over the next few days, when possible, I’d take a peek to see if the lady was back for more. And every day, there she was.

On Saturday, during a moment of relative early evening calm, before the 43rd edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival threw its traditional closing concert and block party blowout, I decided to approach the woman, whom I found chatting with two of the stage security guards.

I felt bad interrupting their conversation, but I introduced myself and asked her about her dedication to this daily ritual. 

The slight, later-middle-aged woman, who identified herself only as “Mariela,” was a bit shy. But she had a lightness and sparkle about her that spoke more than words. 

And if anything, I thought maybe Front Row Mariela found my question a little silly. 

She decided to indulge me briefly, and here I’ll quote her answer by memory to the best of my ability.

“I come here because music makes me happy!”

Rain or shine? She affirmed, and her two security guard friends nodded vigorously in confirmation.

“I’m here because it’s a good feeling,” Mariela continues. “The connection I feel to the music and with the musicians on stage is powerful.” 

She turned, gesturing across the Place des Festivals with one sweeping arm.

“All of the people come together for the music and the moment.”

It really is that simple. 

So if you read this, Mariela, and you thought my questions were a little silly, in retrospect, I’d have to agree with you.

Here’s our third and final recap of highlights from this year’s Jazz Fest.

Thursday, July 6

Montreal Jazz Fest festival review reviews Budos Band
The Budos Band at the Montreal Jazz Fest 2023

On the muggiest, sweatiest day of the festival so far, Staten Island, New York’s roughneck sons of funk and soul, ‘60s psychedelia and ‘70s Sabbath riffage brought their trademark rattle and hiss to Club Soda for two hours of brass, bass and beats that cemented the Budos Band as Daptone’s most dangerous weapon when the label signed them in the mid-aughts.

The group makes music that draws elements from the ancestral cradle of Ethiopia delivered with the relentless intensity of the skies over the Danakil Desert.

Their on-stage aesthetic, however, evokes the darkest corner of the dingiest all-American biker bar imaginable. 

But don’t be fooled. These Budos are good boys. They’re just a little misunderstood, though friendly as the day is long, and talented as fuck to boot.

For two straight hours, they hoisted beers with the crowd, pummeled us with jam after jam as we danced, treated their Jazz Fest stage as an honour and treated the sold-out audience as their guests. And with the AC cranked as far up as I’ve ever felt it at the venue, everyone there got out alive.

As for the brothers Budos, I’d like to imagine that when the show was over, they jumped on their hogs with their ol’ladies clutching tight, revved off into the night and found a train to rob. But from what I understand they just hauled ass to FEQ and did it all over again for the Quebec City fans the next day. 

Friday, July 7

On Thursday night, the Budos Band gave us their horn-soaked cover of “Immigrant Song” as an encore. And later, I was drawn toward the Rogers Stage when I heard “Whole Lotta Love” being belted out righteously by Lulu Hughes.

And alas, that was all the Zep my fest experience would get to handle. But by all first-hand accounts, a sold-out date between Alison Krauss and Robert Plant and Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier was as magical as one would expect. 

Montreal Jazz Fest festival review reviews BADBADNOTGOOD
BADBADNOTGOOD at the Montreal Jazz Fest 2023

But one silver lining of not getting to be there was that I didn’t miss the introduction to Friday night’s outdoor headliners BADBADNOTGOOD. As the band was introduced, the PA over Place des Festival got cranked all the way to 11 and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” blasted the huge audience to our senses. A somewhat inexplicable but entirely welcome way to bring out the band.

And actually, maybe it’s not so perplexing. After a decade-plus of bringing a millennial edge to modern jazz and introducing style elements that test its foundations, the Toronto group hit the stage with an energy suggesting that maybe, after all these years, the bright-minded young jazz students who blew up on YouTube overnight in 2011 have finally grown up and decided they just want to be a goddamn rock ’n’ roll band, after all. 

Or maybe that was just how they were feeling at Jazz Fest on Friday. Whatever the case, they gave the massive crowd something to remember. 

Montreal Jazz Fest review reviews Klô Pelgag
Klô Pelgag at the Montreal Jazz Fest 2023

Over at Club Montreal TD, the largest crowd I’ve personally seen gathered there was already congregating for FELP and his 11 p.m. curtain call.

Performing his brand new Bonsound debut, HELP, in its entirety for the first and possibly only time, with album guests like Hubert Lenoir, Laurence-Anne and les Louanges onboard to bring it to life, producer and multi-instrumental composer Félix Petit and friends took a gamble and played a winning hand.

Saturday, July 8

Montreal Jazz Fest festival review reviews the Brooks
The Brooks at the Montreal Jazz Fest 2023

Scheduled closing headliner Macy Gray’s concert was quietly cancelled several days prior for undisclosed reasons. Maybe she was worried that the Canada-smog would damage her delicate flower of a voice. Who knows?

The lack of star power didn’t deter the traditional closing night crowd from turning out en masse, nor did a third consecutive day of punishing heat. 

And the love given and received by Gray’s replacement, Montreal-based funk globetrotters the Brooks, who took on the duty of seeing Jazz Fest to a spectacular finale, was evidence enough that Montreal is more interested in celebration than celebrity when all is said and done.

And by the way: who doesn’t love funk? 

Funk is the only genre I can think of where all you’ve gotta do is offer it (“Do you want the funk?) inquire about it (“Do you have that funk?”) or flat out tell people they’re about to get it (“We about to give you that funk!”) and a crowd of any size is just gonna go along in good faith and dance, head bob or even just stand there smiling approvingly.

After watching the first part of the Brooks’ show, I decided to stroll casually around the entire Quartier des Spectacle and people-watch, appreciating a final opportunity to really enjoy the festival for its festivity at critical mass. 

I saw families, friends, couples old and young, tourists, happy loners, people eating indulgently and drinking a little too much, talking, laughing, dancing and appreciating the simple joy of being together in the heart of a happy, safe, welcoming city that I often take for granted. Festival season or otherwise, Montreal truly is an incredible place to live a good life.

As Brooks frontman Alan Prater had declared to the vast audience only moments before: “The coolest place anywhere in the world tonight is right here.”

After nine nights of running to report from stage to stage and concert to concert, just taking an intentional look around to appreciate being part of something bigger hit home. Which, as we all know, is where the heart is.

As my new friend Front Row Mariela summed up so succinctly, at Jazz Fest, people come together, both for the music and the moment. 

And this year’s edition once again gave the people exactly what we needed. ■

The Montreal International Jazz Festival will return in 2024. For more, please visit the festival’s website.

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