The sun was high in the sky and the temperature was just right in the Old Port of Montreal during the weekend of July 15th -17th for the Second Annual Montreal International Reggae Festival. The 3 day event held in the historic district was as beautiful as the cityscape facing the venue.
Sounds cascading from the stage were fat, warm and pervasive; rolling over the concert grounds, spilling onto the cobbled streets and bouncing off the stone walls of the city. Montreal, known for its myriad of summer festivals had no problems entertaining the estimated 25,000 people attending the event over the weekend.
Although the West Indian community at large and reggae followers across Canada have experienced concerts from many of the participating artists it is rare to have this many acts together in the same venue. During the weekend spectators had the opportunity to see 50+ artists including DJ's, full bands, and solo artists!
This years stage featured Reggae heavyweights Gregory Isaacs, John Holt, Chaka Demus and Pliers, Yellowman, Sugar Minott, Morgan Heritage and Shinehead to name a few. Along with many other established, and emerging artists the mixture of old and new prompted attendance from an equally diverse audience.
The spectators at the Festival spanned all cultures and all ages; children rocking in their strollers with their parents dancing nearby, and 20 something revelers grooving alongside old time reggae lovers. To say the event was affordable would be an understatement with advanced ticket prices of $30 for the Friday and $40 each Saturday and Sunday. Those who intended to be in and out of the festival over the weekend had the option of purchasing an advance weekend passes for $80.00. Keep in mind that the price to see some of these artists in solo concerts would average $40.00.
The organizer of the event: The Montreal International Reggae Festival Inc. was established as a non-profit organization in 2003 as a platform to promote local, national and International Reggae artists and music. "Unity" was the theme for the three day festival, a carry over from last year's inaugural event and a gigantic banner reading "United Against Violence" blazed over the concert grounds for all to see. This theme comes as a poignant reminder to a musical genre seemingly laden with bad press. A theme Yellowman can relate to all to well as an Albino who grew up in Jamaica, "I know what violence is like and what it contain and what it can do. I'm glad that the roots is coming back."
Reggae music from dancehall to dub has for years played an influential role in music worldwide. Its original struggle to gain acceptance outside of its Jamaican home has now been left behind and it is now interesting to hear other musical genres from rock to banghra and mainstream groups such as NoDoubt and the Black Eyed Peas borrowing from and lending to the reggae voice.
Like most "folk based" music, reggae gained popularity in Jamaica as social commentary. In the context of the times many of the artists discussed the corruptions of the political systems that placed Jamaicans in a constant state of unrest. The music commented on anything from politics to love, and the infectious rhythms came to be the voice of Jamaica. As society evolved on the island, the music changed to emulate the voice of the common man. As Chaka Demus, one of Saturday's headliners says, "Music teaches. Sometimes you feel sad, you have to make people listen to the words and let people feel. If you're feeling down, we try to lift you up, and if you happy now and you go home and you feel down, you're going to sing."
Whether the topics are personal or universal the rebellious theme of reggae music has always been a unifying thread amongst many reggae artists. Traditionally international coverage had the habit of intertwining sensational elements such as violence and drugs when discussing reggae. As it has gained worldwide acceptance it is interesting to note that years later the same music has come to represent the voice of peace and unity at home in Jamaica as well as abroad.
With the addition of a larger stage, more powerful sound system and more visual effects the Montreal International Reggae Festival is well on its way to becoming the premiere roots rock reggae event in Canada. This year's event was also simulcast via the internet and allowing reggae lovers from around the world that could not make it to Montreal the option to log on and for $25.00, view the weekend's entire musical offerings.
Few concerts of this magnitude are without glitches and this festival was no exception. Many of the acts seemed to have their sets cut short due to time constraints. Some technical glitches such as microphone sound dropouts plagued the event, frustrating some of the performers from time to time. While the venue set on the Montreal waterfront had beautiful vistas, the gravel of the grounds left many longing for grass to rest on. That being said, the vibe was chill and there was not just music for the attendees of the festival. Vendors selling arts and crafts, sculptures, clothes and music mingled with the delectable aromas emanating from the food stalls offering traditional island fare.
Positivity, unity and good music were the main offerings over the 3 days. In the age of $100.00 headliner mega concerts this event is a ridiculously inexpensive no brainer for reggae enthusiasts or for novices looking for an introduction to the reggae scene.
Given the proper time, support and involvement the Montreal International Reggae Festival could become one of the must see summer events in the city.
More information and future updates are available from the website www.montrealreggaefestival.com.
Writer: Quaison Nangle