Online jazz fest better than nothing, but VP wants ‘real’ festival next year

Online jazz fest better than nothing, but VP wants ‘real’ festival next year

MONTREAL — This year’s edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival may have given music fans a glimpse into how they’ll be attending performances for the next little while.

After cancelling what would have been the 41st edition of the festival in April, the festival held online shows through Facebook from Saturday until Tuesday evening. The performances can be seen on the festival’s website until July 30.

Vice-president of programming Laurent Saulnier said he wasn’t sure about hosting a digital edition of the festival as it wouldn’t compare to a real event.

But he said he’s now realized that an alternative version is better than nothing at all.

“It was just impossible to spend a summer without the jazz festival,” Saulnier said in an interview.

The digital event featured performers ranging from pianist Jean-Michel Blais, Fredy V. and the Foundation, Charlotte Cardin, Jeremy Dutcher, Naya Ali, and more. There was also a re-aired 2004 performance featuring Montreal pianists Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones.

Montrealer Caleb Owusu had made plans to attend his first-ever jazz fest, but figured he would have to wait once the event was initially cancelled. He discovered the festival would make its way online through a friend’s social media post and enjoyed performances, but said he would have loved to have seen the shows in person.

“I think (with) everybody sitting at home having to watch concerts online, I think that’s the new kind of FOMO, fear of missing out. You wish you were there in the audience in the room, watching them live,” Owusu said.

This year’s performances took place in an empty L’Astral theatre in downtown Montreal while following a number of public health guidelines.

Ali, a Montreal-based rapper who was born in Ethiopia, said only she and a DJ were allowed in.

“When you walk in, they take your temperature. You’ve got to wear a mask before your performance. You’ve got to sanitize your hands,” Ali said.

Saulnier said an average of nearly 4,000 viewers watched the streams each day up until Tuesday’s finale. But performers like Blais lamented not having the crowd inside the venue for their performances.

“You’re playing in front of one, two, three-thousand people, but you’re also alone. So you don’t have the feedback (from the crowd). It’s just very weird, to be honest. But I think we can, somehow, get used to it,” Blais said.

Frederic Varre, the frontman of the seven-piece ensemble group Fredy V. and the Foundation, said the band performed as a quartet due to the restrictions.

Fortunately, the band was able to decide amicably who would be performing at L’Astral, Varre said.

“It was a beautiful conversation of selflessness and people just putting their egos aside and letting the music take the decision, especially in this post-COVID world where we all have to make sacrifices,” Varre said.

“It’s not business as usual so we can’t act like it’s business as usual.”

While the jazz festival was able to find an alternative way to run, the wider Montreal music scene is seeing some struggles.

Local venues such as La Vitrola announced they would be closing permanently, while its sister venue Casa Del Popolo will return as a bar and restaurant.

But artists like Ali remain optimistic that they can return to performing on stage in front of crowds by the end of the calendar year.

“We’re still gauging the situation but just seeing how things are going right now. I think it’s a possibility in the very near future,” Ali said.

Livestreams and pre-recorded shows may be the reality for right now, but Saulnier hopes they won’t be for long.

“To be real honest, I hope that, pretty soon, we’ll go to any concert venue to see a live show with a lot of people,” he said.

“I know that it won’t be in the next few weeks, but let’s hope we will have a real Jazz fest in 2021. That’s the goal for everybody.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2020.

Julian McKenzie, The Canadian Press

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