FME 2023

From Montreal to Abitibi and FME 2023: A road trippin’ travel guide

“This year, Elisapie, les Louanges, N NAO, la Sécurité, Imposs, Laurence-Anne, Fouki and even hardcore legends B.A.R.F are a solid draw to the annual music festival.” 

As Labour Day rolls around each year, so does Cult MTL’s custom of suggesting our readers pack their bags and head north on a road trip.

Our proposed destination: the region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the city of Rouyn-Noranda and Festival de Musique Émergente, which presents its 21st edition from Thursday, Aug. 31 through Sunday, Sept. 3. 

Over four days and nights, FME presents a fantastic, diverse mix of notables from Quebec’s music scene and introduces a wide variety of upcoming talent from home and abroad. 

To understand what distinguishes FME from the vast majority of annual plug-and-play festivals we’re used to in Montreal and our immediate outskirts — and one of the biggest reasons we’re so keen on it – you’d really have to experience it firsthand.

That said, what differentiates FME from the competition (and what contributes to each edition being a completely different experience from the last) is the locale of Rouyn-Noranda. 

The small city has a truly vast cultural scene, all year round. Rouyn-Noranda is home to an impressive collection of distinctly attractive venues, outdoor performance spaces and other hidden gems that make for a great escape in terms of giving music fans a built-in tourist experience while enjoying live music from early in the day until well into the night. 

But the most intangible charm at FME is the love that goes into making it a memorable affair, year after year.

“We live in a region that was developed later than many of Quebec’s other regions,” explained Claudine Gagné, director of digital content at Tourisme Abitibi-Témiscamingue

“It’s young, there’s a lot of work opportunities, and we work hard to create what we have here, whether it’s our festivals, art centers, or theatre performances.”

An enthusiasm for FME shared by the citizens of Rouyn-Noranda and its regular visitors, alongside the dedication of the festival’s organizers and programmers, adds an extra layer of authenticity to a festival experience with an identity all of its own.

“Community and citizen participation is the heartbeat of it all. (FME is) not something that we are saddled with. Our people make it happen, whether they’re festival volunteers who participate, or business owners who decorate just because they want to,” said Gagné.

Traditionally, Cult MTL previews a suggested list of artists performing, but there’s so much to discover just by being at FME that it seems beside the point in this case. 

This year, Elisapie, les Louanges, N NAO, la Sécurité, Imposs, Laurence-Anne, Fouki, even hardcore legends B.A.R.F and many more familiar names are a solid draw, no doubt. 

And a list describing some of the more curiosity-piquing bands booked by festival co-curators and Montreal-based tastemakers Mothland might make for interesting reading.

But in truth, a great part of the fun at FME is learning one’s way around the corners of Rouyn-Noranda, dipping in and out of its many venues and secret pop-up locations, and hanging around the nearly-non-stop block party taking place in the center of it all.

While finding a hotel room in the very center of the action may take some doing if planning late in the game, Gagné offered that accommodations nearby are easily arranged with a little grit and determination. 

For the outdoor adventurer types, nearby campsites are plentiful. Camper vans are a common site around Lac Osisko. Nearby, Lac Noranda and Kiwanis Beach may also be attractive options. 

Gagné suggests checking the city of Rouyn-Noranda website or this page at Tourisme Abitibi-Témiscamingue to learn more about what’s allowed in terms of camping. 

Additionally, she points to this guide to help plan a road trip from Montreal to Abitibi. 

Another guide, Gagné said, is designed to help visitors organize a sightseeing trip during their stay. She believes that the best way to experience more of what the region has to offer would be to arrive a day or two before FME and enjoy the calm before the storm.

Speaking of which, a full list of events, schedules, and prices for festival passport bracelets and individual show tickets is available on the FME website.
From Montreal to Abitibi and FME 2023: A road trippin’ travel guide

And while there are free events — including no-charge surprise shows that take place in hidden corners announced throughout the weekend — access to the festival’s main outdoor stage requires a bracelet.

Based on firsthand experience, once you’re in the town proper, getting from point A to point B to point C and back should never take more than 15 minutes on foot. It’s not a huge place, by any means. 

Taxis and Ubers are available, but a good pair of shoes and some wherewithal is probably the best prep tip to follow if you want to get the most from your venue-hopping endeavours.

The first time you realize you waited longer for a cab than it would have taken to walk where you were going, you’ll thank us. Or bring your bike, if you’re okay locking it outside festival grounds. 

Gagné, who worked for FME in 2014, is as much a fan of the fest as she is a spokesperson for the region. And again, she said, the festival’s success as a year-round boost for tourism, and for the many other arts and culture initiatives that the region wears on its sleeve, is about the people.

“I’ve seen many visitors come to visit Abitibi-Témiscamingue to experience FME, and then revisit us because they made friends here. It has the effect of attracting people to come back and experience more,” Gagné says.

“This festival is part of our way of life and our well-being. If we can share our own cultural offerings, we’re proud to, which makes it even better.” ■

The 21st edition of the Festival de Musique Émergente takes place from Thursday, Aug. 31 to Sunday, Sept 3. For more on FME, please visit their website.

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