Local Rhythms – Montreal, Where Music Is Free

Gas is four bucks a gallon, and the Canadian loonie is close to even with our dollar, but I’m driving to Montreal.  Because for the next 10 days, the music is free.

It’s the 29th Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, and if you live in New England but haven’t yet experienced this eclectic street party, you really should join me.

Don’t be fooled by the “jazz” moniker – the 200-plus performers run the gamut from Afro-pop to Zydeco.   Shows are scattered across the massive Place des Arts in the heart of the city; I tried to tally up the total number of venues – 15, 20?

It’s hard to say, but every day there’s something happening from noon until well past midnight.  The trick is getting organized so as to not miss the top acts.

On the festival’s opening night, the nationally televised tribute to Leonard Cohen, featuring Katie Melua, Madeline Peyroux, Chris Botti and several more, will draw a huge crowd.   Cohen’s also playing one of the many ticketed Festival Montreal shows – Steely Dan, Return to Forever and Woody Allen are among the others – but why pay when you can enjoy so much for free?

Besides, the best thing about Jazz Fest is discovering new talents.  So while I’m stoked to see Trixie Whitely, who impressed me so much a couple of months ago at the Bellows Falls tribute to her father Chris, I’m even more excited about Back Door Slam, a British acoustic trio that sounds like a cross between Dave Matthews and Robert Johnson.

The South American world beat of Ecos de Portoalegre is another on my list of must-sees, but if the past is any indication – this will be my fifth festival in 9 years – the week’s best band will be a complete surprise, or a tie among several.

Festival de Jazz de Montreal is also very child-friendly; that’s one of its’ best features.  There are several kid-centered music exhibits, face painting and fun food.  Last year, the festival introduced a free “blues camp” for 13 to 17 year old musicians selected from auditions in April. These talented youngsters will play a show on the festival’s final night, July 6.

Think of it – the Paris of North America is but a short car ride away.  Montreal is an amazing city; thrown in a few hundred hours of great music and nothing – not pump shock nor careening currency exchange rates – can keep me away.

There are a few cool events if you decide to stay Stateside:

Thursday: Tammy Jackson, Newbury Harbor Gazebo – Thanks to Mother Nature, I haven’t had to water my garden much in the last few days. But the rain has made outdoor shows a bit dodgy. Whatever the elements have in store, this popular country singer and her rockin’ band will give it their all, playing everything from “Mony, Mony” to “Harper Valley P.T.A.”

Friday: Bobby K and the Peace, Salt hill – Citing Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dave Matthews and Tupac as influences, you know this combo is out of the ordinary.  They’ve dubbed their music “folk-hop,” and this Vermont trio gets the crowd involved when they play. Salt hill will temporarily suspend their no-cover policy for a good cause on Saturday, when NYC’s Zach Fisher performs a a benefit show for Global Health Cares.

Saturday: Willie Edwards Band, Canoe Club – Usually, this Hanover restaurant mixes the music with other elements like good food, cozy ambience and a bar featuring 40 or so craft beers on tap. Tonight, the tunes get turned up to eleven; there’s a 10 PM start time and (gasp!) tables cleared away for dancing.  I want to be there when the reverberations shake that old canoe from the wall.

Sunday: Pardy Benefit Show, Claremont Moose – Roadhouse, Flashback, Tinderbox and Come Sunrise gather to raise money to assist the family of Robert and Cody Pardy, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their Charlestown home on June 2.  Friends and fellow musicians are invited to attend the event, which is open to the public.  Organizer Joe Peters encourages musicians to bring their gear if they want to jam.

Monday: Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Quechee Polo Grounds – It’s that time again, when the VSO tours the state, playing music for picnicking families at various ski resorts (but this year, not Ascutney).    This year’s program includes selections from “Guys and Dolls,” “Oklahoma,” “Sleeping Beauty” and the Fourth of July’s version of “Free Bird” – Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” complete with cannon shots and a sky lit up with fireworks.

Wednesday: Rich Meijer, Elixir – The Gully Boy guitarist takes a solo turn in White River Junction.  Elixir, by the way, is gearing up for the River City Blues Festival, to be held July 8-12th, featuring Michael Payton, Ricker Winsor, Johnny Bishop and his band Johnny B and the Goodes, and inimitable harp man James Montgomery.