After spending Friday in downtown Montréal embracing the charms of this city, we took le Métro and headed out to the Festival Folk sur le Canal.  There were a few acts on this line-up over the next two days that we knew we wanted to see, and several ‘unknowns’ (to us) who would earn two new fans from PA when they hit the stage.  Arriving about 15 minutes prior to showtime, not even a few last minute sprinkles of rain would become a spoiler for what proved to be a fantastic event.

Opening the show was Montreal native BEYRIES, who treated us to a wonderful live performance of tracks from her “Landing” album over the course of two sets.  Switching back and forth between keyboards and acoustic guitar, Amélie Beyries performed each track with unbridled passion, and quickly earned the full attention of those in attendance.  Hitting home-runs early with “The Pursuit of Happiness” and “Right,” BEYRIES would take time to deliver an emotion filled set with the likes of “You Are,” “Soldier,” and “Son.”  And while Amélie conversed with the crowd in her native French, her songs were delivered in perfect English (although “J’aurai cent ans” would be included within the set too).  The opening act always has the toughest challenge in generating the buzz and excitement, and BEYRIES definitely delivered. Amélie and her on-stage percussionist/vocalist were an absolute delight, and we wish to thank them for taking the time to chat with us in between sets (and for ‘Vive la Pennsylvanie’, or words to that effect).  We certainly look forward to another opportunity to see BEYRIES at a future event.

The biggest draw to this event for us on the Saturday was the opportunity to see Sarah Harmer, who has been quiet for a while now.  Sarah was one of the very first artists that we discovered in our earlier days of Canadian music, yet we had waited this long to catch up with her live. With news of fresh material in the pipeline, Sarah used her time to promote one of her new compositions during a set that featured many well-known hits.  With just her trusty acoustic guitar, Sarah revisited tracks from her four studio albums, as well as offering the crowd two songs by request to close her set.

Although most of the popular hits came from the earlier releases (“You Were Here” and “All Of Our Names”), Sarah delighted us with at least one track from “Oh Little Fire” (Late Bloomer) and from “All Of Our Names” (Pendulums).  Her “I’m A Mountain” album was a well represented offering (I Am Aglow, Oleander and Escarpment Blues), as was the debut release “You Were Here” (The Hideout).  The two requests to close the set would be drawn from this album, (by my own request – thanks Sarah) “Basement Apartment,” and followed with a great rendition of “Lodestar.”  Sarah Harmer is both a gifted singer and songwriter, and the crowd showed their appreciation for this unique opportunity to enjoy her music at this festival.  We can only hope that with the new album in the works, such opportunities will become plentiful later on down the line.

Across these two days of being in attendance, we found three other acts in particular that quickly had us heading to the front of the stage to check them out.  The first was the Québec folk outfit Les Poules à Colin, a five-piece collection of young and talented musicians who beautifully fused their own brand of Celtic music with traditional folk influences, and even added the occasional hints of jazz to their repertoire.  Another act was The Mae Trio, visiting from Australia and commanding our attention the moment they broke into song.  With a contemporary sound (albeit with a modern twist), the trio were a true highlight of the event, offering up pitch-perfect harmonies and stellar musicianship.  We had never encountered this act before, but after their short set, we definitely crave a lot more of these girls in the near future.

Rounding out the selection, and the most notable of the three, was Canadian artist Steve Poltz, the self-proclaimed “98 pounder, raconteur, mischief-maker and songer singwriter” (as per his Twitter profile).  His profile is certainly accurate, as Steve would turn his set into an improvised act that incorporated plenty of fun, frolics and audience participation.  There was audience member Peter, who Steve used as light-hearted fodder for a song (at least, Peter’s hair was the fodder – but all in good fun and spirits).  Naturally there was a fun take on US politics and the President.  There were requests that everybody get naked, and attend a party in the hotel room that he hadn’t checked into yet.  And there were belly laughs provided with numerous jokes, observations, and the fact that he had his own merchandise and wanted to rip off the Folk Festival by eliminating the middle man.  How could you not purchase his new CD after singing along to his anthem “I want all my friends to be happy?”  Definitely another artist etched onto our radar who we will catch up with again soon.

If I had to quickly summarize our first experience at the Festival Folk sur le Canal, it would be easy and straight to the point.  This was a wonderful event in a fine location, with great volunteers, vendors, food choices and selection of musical artists.  And best of all, admission is free.  Please check it out next year, and please purchase a bracelet (or a VIP ticket) to contribute to the costs of keeping this event running.  We would love to return for the experience again, and strongly encourage you to do the same.

~ M

Visit the Festival Folk sur le Canal website.