May 27, 2024

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Despite fire and rain, the music shows no sign of stopping anytime soon in Montreal international Jazz festival 2023: Video, Photos

About one minute before John Scofield was scheduled to perform at Montreal’s Monument-National theater on Friday night, an alarm sounded. After some hesitation, the crowd flooded out of the theater and onto the street.

It wasn’t long before three fire trucks and an ambulance arrived. A few minutes later, without much explanation, the audience was invited back inside the theater and took their seats. And while there was apparently no fire in sight, when Scofield, joined by drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Vicente Archer took the stage, the real burning began.

The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is one of the largest in the world. It takes place over ten days throughout downtown Montreal, offering a unique combination of ticketed and free shows in a wide variety of styles and formats, from emerging local talent to the world’s most beloved and celebrated artists. It’s a mix that makes the Montreal experience so memorable.

Just around the corner from Monument-National, saxophonist Walter Smith III and guitarist Matthew Stevens played a set from their IN COMMON project.

Outdoors, free and open to a standing only crowd, the musicians were clearly feeling the energy. Backstage, Smith reflected on the experience of playing for such an enthusiastic festival crowd.

Festival International De Jazz De Montreal 2023 Tickets - Montréal, QC |  Bandsintown

He said, “It makes you play more because they love it and you’re feeling that. So you lose a little bit of your self control and your standards go out the window.”

Smith also noted that touring this year is feeling a little different than it did before the pandemic. “It seems like everywhere you go everything is sold out,” he said.

A few blocks away, the nearly 2,500 extremely eager Snarky Puppy fans gathered at the MTELUS club proved that point. The band’s founder Michael League says he also feels a renewed spirit in what it means to perform and engage with an audience.

“This band has played a lot of concerts – over 2000 gigs,” he told me. “I don’t think any musician that’s on tour now looks at it the same as they did before covid. I think people became aware that music is medicinal and totally essential to many individuals’ happiness.”

Michael League and Snarky Puppy have played over two thousand gigs, but rising star Julius Rodriguez is on his first tour as a headliner this summer. A last-minute rainstorm delayed the 24 year old’s set on Saturday night.

“We got here and they said it’s raining, it’s not safe to be on stage… and then it started pouring,” he said.

When his show was finally able to start, Rodriguez repaid the audience for their patience by surprising them with a duet featuring singer Samara Joy, whose own festival debut took place in Montreal just one year ago. She went on to win a Grammy for Best New Artist.

Later Saturday night, the legendary producer DJ Premier played with his Badder Band to an outdoor crowd of thousands who were undeterred by an intermittent rainstorm. Playing a set that included many of his most famous tracks, he reminded the audience of that classic hip hop mantra, repeating “Don’t Stop!” from the stage.

The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal continues through this weekend, but despite fire and rain, the music shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

 John Scofield performing with his trio at the Montreal International Jazz Festival

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