Montreal is a dynamic city that allows Americans to enjoy the hospitality of our neighbors to the north and get a taste of Europe. A mere 6 hour ride from New York City, Montreal's charms are many-- museums, clubs, restaurants, shopping, festivals. For the past 20 years, our family has been visiting Montreal during its International Jazz Festival. The festival started in 1980 running from July 2 to July 10th. It is now, in 2012, in its 32nd year of operation and continues to schedule music for about two straight weeks.
For the past two years, we have been fortunate to be at the festival for the finale. In 2011, we saw the B-52s and in 2012, Chromeo. For my young children, this year's final act was far more interesting. The B-52s music was not quite their taste nor was the show overly stylized. It had sounds of the 80s and an audience that valued that era. On the other hand this year's final act, Chromeo, was more interesting to my teens. While Chromeo's music utilized a lot of synthesizers, they are known as an electrofunk group, I enjoyed the performance as I got to see two shows for free. In the crowd of thousands, to my good luck I stood near 5 or 6 young men who danced to the music. They had style and synchronized their dance moves to the music. The dancers are Montreal residents and this is their band. They knew the words and clearly the rhythms. A beautiful sight. With the open air dynamics, big screens, warm breeze and a Montreal fan base, the atmosphere throbbed to a strong beat of fun and enthusiasm. All this for free on a gorgeous summer night.
What really impressed me again this year is how well managed and organized this event is each year. The night of the finale, there were other open air concerts. As we maneuvered our way through the crowd to get to my husband, there were festival personnel creating clear paths of travel. There were hordes of people in the main venue area but past that, one could walk. The attendees were there to enjoy the music so teens and young adults were not obnoxiously rowdy. Everyone was there to enjoy the last night of the concert.
This year took on an added native feel as we rented an apartment than our usual hotel stay. It afforded us the opportunity to live amongst native city dwellers and shop at the local grocers. With teens that eat huge meals, eating in allowed our budget more room to buy art work. Summer in Montreal is a worthy visit. This year as we drove down Sherbrooke Street, to the flat, we passed the Montreal Museum of Fine Art's street exhibit—yellow reflectors staggered downhill on a side street. Eye catching and provocative the right mix to have a discussion on art with my teens. The museum itself has an interesting collection including Dali's Chess set. Unsettling to view for the first time but memorable for its macabre nature—Dali's fingers were used to mold the chess pieces. A donation is all that is needed to spend a wonderful 2- 3 hours touring the exhibits. In keeping with the theme of music, the museum offers a free audio guide that provides music that corresponds to the art being viewed. Soothing and another facet to the experience of touring this fine establishment.
Montreal's Chinatown is another fun destination but having visited for over two decades, it is sad to see that it shrinks each year but not to despair as it evolves into Asiatown. Considering the population of Canada this should nor be surprising but let us get back on track and cover the rest of a week-end in Montreal.
Old Montreal epitomizes old world charm with cobbled streets, ornate old buildings and the focal point Notre Dame Basilica. In years past, it was free to enter but now, expect to pay a fee. There are the standard tourist transport of horse drawn carriage rides or the buses that allow one to stop on rejoin at designated stops. There are pockets of vendors selling goods like maple syrup, jewelry, art and the like. These are usually local artist and will negotiate their prices. A piece of jewelry is always a nice memento. The Basilica is in Old Montreal and an easy walk from Chinatown. In fact the locations mentioned throughout this piece, are all in walking distance with fun cafes or restaurants to eat a meal or grab a drink and refresh oneself before continuing the walk. Have cash as for most Americans we are not used to 13.5% added on for tax even on a scone and coffee. Also bears noting that a small coffee is truly small and again not we Americans are used to with our Dunkin Donut and StarBucks sized drinks.
Shopping abounds in lovely downtown. Holt Renfrew is a block from the museum and offers upscale wares like Tiffany, Hugo Boss and the like. Ogilvy on St. Catherine also offers high end shopping. There are of course the usual shopping draws of Sephora,The bay, The Gap but take some time to explore Canadian clothing designers. A treasure awaits purchase.
However let me return to the basis of this essay-- the International Montreal Jazz Festival. With its paid and free choices, it offers the music aficionado to novice, variety and creative musical acts. In between the free outdoor shows are street performers from fire eaters to magicians to acrobats. Through it all are crowds moving around calmly. To see young stroller bound children dancing to the music at 11 pm, to older couples dancing cheek to cheek to the music, to young lovers holding hands swaying to the music, it is all about peaceful, enjoyable, fun at this non profit event. There are tents throughout to purchase a T-shirt or mug and the like. The best feature the ability to buy a CD of the band just seen on stage. Affordable music at under $25.00. Beer and water is sold while standing by the open air stage when young vendors thread through the crowd. There are also kiosks that offer crepes to sculpted mangoes to the usual fare of hotdogs throughout the area along with chain restaurants like Baton Rouge or Eggspectations. A walk down St. Catherine street and turning off onto side streets offers a different range of restaurants. In fact leave the museum and travel down Crescent for a nice variety of eateries.
Reader, put it on your “bucket list” as it is well worth the time.