Montreal Jazz Festival: Days 7-9, July 7-9, 2009

John Kelman By

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Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-9

Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae
Charlie Haden Family and Friends / Bill Frisell Quartet
Van Der Graaf Generator / Ornette Coleman
Festival International de Jazz de Montreal
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
July 7-9 2009

Every year the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (FIJM) hosts a number of free outdoor concerts, Grand Soirés, that go beyond the already outstanding day-to-day programming at the festival's seven outdoor stages. In past years, performances including Pat Metheny's final show of The Way Up tour in 2005, Seun Kuti's Afrobeat performance at the 2007 FIJM and rapper Bran Van 3000's booty-shaking spectaclea at the 2008 edition brought in crowds in excess of 100,000. The opening event of this year's 30th anniversary FIJM saw the legendary Stevie Wonder attract well over 200,000 people to the festival's newly relocated Scene GM stage. Festival International de Jazz de Montreal / Place du Festival

This year the Scene GM stage, on the new Place des Festivals grounds is augmented by Scene Rio Tinto Alcan stage, at the old Scene GM location on the perpendicular St. Catherine Street. With two large stages possessing the capacity to put on larger-than-life shows and draw large crowds, instead of the old model of three big events—one the opening evening, one on the transitional mid-festival day and one on the closing evening—there are no less than nine shows taking place on seven days of 13 days this year (12 days, really, with the 13th being the Wonder show the night before the official festival began). Ranging from Patrick Watson and Ben Harper to Jesse Cook and a live performance to celebrate the release of the movie, Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae, there's a little something for everyone, and an opportunity to experience a festival that should be the model for festivals worldwide when it comes to crowd control.

While most festivals utilize fences, private security companies and even the police to manage large crowds at outdoor events, FIJM uses, as Vice-President/CEO André Menard said, "yellow ropes and mostly young women with yellow shirts and red flashlights." With the city of Montreal embracing its festival like no other, even with what seems like minimal security there has never been a problem at the festival—although there are security cameras throughout the grounds in the unlikely possibility of trouble. Instead, even when there's over 100,000 people on the Place des Festivals grounds—drinking and, in the case of the Rocksteady show, a little more—it's party time, with everyone there to experience the sounds along with being with people who have come for the same reason: to enjoy good music and have nothing less than a great time. Chapter Index
  1. July 7: Le Grand Soirée: Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae
  2. July 8: Charlie Haden Family and Friends
  3. July 8: Bill Frisell Quartet
  4. July 9: Ornette Coleman Press Conference and an Unexpected Passing
  5. July 9: Van Der Graaf Generator
  6. July 9: Ornette Coleman
  7. Festival Wrap-Up

July 7: Le Grand Soirée: Rocksteady—The Roots of Reggae

The day was cloudy, and rain not only threatened: it came down about 90 minutes before the large troupe putting on the Rocksteady show hit the stage. But as the skies cleared after about 15 minutes and the grounds dried, the crowd began pouring in until least 100,000 people were on hand by the time the show began at 9:00 PM.

The beer flowed freely, and smell of ganja pervaded much of the grounds; this was, after all, a rocksteady show, the musical progenitor to reggae. Large plumes of smoke could be seen rising above the crowd throughout the Place du Festivals grounds, and it was a little intoxicating just being there. But when the large group took the stage for Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae, beginning with Leroy Sibbles singing the get-the-party-started classic, "People Rocksteady," the few people sitting down around the grounds were up in an instant, grooving to a crack band that included guitars, bass, drums, percussion, keyboards, horns and backup singers for the stars of the show, Sibbles, Stranger Cole, The Tamlins, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt (two of reggae legend Bob Marley's Three Little Birds). Festival International de Jazz de Montreal / Rocksteady / Leroy Sibbles
Rocksteady, featuring Leroy Sibbles

Upbeat and lively, even when Griffiths and Mowatt delivered a soulful version of the Vincent Ford classic, made famous by Marley, "No Woman, No Cry," it was taken to an even higher level when percussionist Bongo Herman took center stage, not asking, but demanding that everyone in the crowd with a lighter, a camera or a cell phone light it up in tribute to the late Michael Jackson, who was buried that day in Hollywood's Westwood Park Memorial Cemetery. It was a powerful moment, as thousands of people created small lights that, collectively, lit up the grounds.

But the moment passed and it was back to partying, as the ensemble delivered hit after hit—often songs that so iconic that it was possible to remember all the words, even without hearing them for decades. From Leroy Sibbles' "Equal Rights" to Stranger Cole's "Koo Doo Doo," Judy Mowatt's "Silent River" and Hopeton Lewis' "Take It Easy," the crowd was treated to a Jamaican history lesson told in music and lyrics. The singers also introduced many of the songs, contextualizing them with their own experiences and making them truly vivid and real.

Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae, the documentary which traces the late-'60s emergence of a music that blends ska, R&B and soul into a trendsetting predecessor for reggae's appearance a few years later, is also being shown in Montreal, running from July 4 through July 12, with some screenings featuring French subtitles, others not. And what better way to celebrate the world premiere of a landmark film which covers the socio-political problems that took place in Jamaica following its secession from Great Britain in 1962, creating—as so often happens—a unique musical response, than to put on a captivating live performance with some of the genre's remaining leading lights? Festival International de Jazz de Montreal / Rocksteady / Leroy Sibbles
Rocksteady, featuring Bongo Herman

It was a memorable evening filled with iconic songs that have become part of the soundtrack to human history. But for most people in the audience, it was simply a chance to party and dance. And party they did, hard, and for nearly three hours.


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