Dispatches from Festival Mémoire et Racines – Day 2 (Saturday)
Under the light of the waning full moon on Saturday night, the band Genticorum finished up the main stage performances for the night. Presenting music from their new CD, Avant L’Orage, (before the storm), the band played with incredible musicianship. Beautiful tunes, artfully arranged were such a pleasure to hear live and in person from these three really talented musicians. There is delicate sensitivity in the tunes they composed for this recording, and they did a masterful job of building the electricity in the live performance, just like the feeling you get when a tempest is about to begin. The trio was very obviously delighted to be headlining the festival and closing the Scène Gilles Cantin on Saturday night.
The overarching theme of Genticorum’s new album is love, but as we know, all love songs end somehow in tragedy – hence, the title: ‘before the storm.’
Genticorum’s performance included invited guest musicians: Seamus Egan and Leonard Podolak on banjos, Marie-Pierre Lecault, Alexis Chartrand and Nicolas Babineau on fiddles, and two members of Low Lily on bass and fiddle. The effect was electrifying. Nine musicians on stage during the finale, and then for their encore, Genticorum invited all five members of the a cappella singing group Musique à Bouches to join them, ending the evening with a wonderful call and response song about food at a party. Talk about fun!
Earlier in the day, we had wonderful performances from a wide variety of artists.
Trio Liseron, made up of three recent graduates from the Joliette CEGEP folk music college, presented their show, which included some lovely compositions of their own as well as some traditional music. It was fantastic to hear this new generation using fiddle, guitar and banjo to bring a fresh interpretation to the music. Their mentor and instructor from the college, Eric Favreau, looked on with pride.
Matt Gordon and Leonard Podolak knocked our socks off again on a workshop stage with their Appalachian old time music, and they conducted an impromptu Hambone lesson for the audience members, teaching us all to do their “snowblower” technique of hand/body percussion. Way cool.
The Fretless made two appearances today on both the workshop and main stages. They absolutely wowed their audiences with their string quartet arrangements of traditional music. With three violins, a cello and a viola that was passed around, the four musicians played together like they were one organism, nothing short of virtuoso musicianship. The Fretless has an approach that just may be unique on the folk music circuit today. They were only upstaged a little bit on the workshop stage when a cute toddler in the climbing stage tried to join them.
Low Lily, with four members from Vermont, presented their take on Appalachian music. This was very sweet old time fiddle and song, expertly played and sung. Their workshop stage was beside the Assomption River, leading to a wonderful atmosphere in which to hear this music: tunes and songs from all over the Appalachian mountain range, from West Virginia and Tennessee all the way up to Newfoundland. There was a lovely blending of male and female voices and gorgeous fiddling. The standing ovation Low Lily received at the end of their set confirmed the great love that the Québecois have for Appalachian music.
The great stalwarts of Québecois music and folklore, Reveillons, gave us a great blast of tunes and rousing call-and-response songs in their workshop stage set today. Members of this band are pretty much icons in the Québec folklore community today, and the audience showed their appreciation. The band was definitely upstaged today though by a little boy who, at six months of age, was walking while holding to the edge of the low stage. Transfixed by the rhythms and the foot percussion, he was very upset at his mother not permitting him to play the cymbal set on the foot percussion board!
Musique å Bouche, five hearty male voices, presented their a cappella performance on the main stage, Scène Gilles Cantin. Foot percussion augmented the voices, giving a strong rhythmic presence to the voices, which sang in five part harmony. Very cool. There were interpretations and adaptations of songs from other Celtic traditions along with very crowd-pleasing call-and-response songs that the audience eagerly joined in to sing.
The Seamus Egan project also took to the main stage. Four very talented musicians played a variety of instruments, giving great rhythmic power to the Irish songs and tunes in their repertoire. There was a beautiful delicacy in the arrangements, using harmonium, banjo, male and female voices, accordion, guitar and low whistle. This band really nailed their performance. We were especially impressed when they invited Matt Gordon to join them and dance his Appalachian flatfooting style of stepdance to an especially engaging piece of Irish music with a wonderful groove.
No festival mainstage can do changeovers instantly. The necessary break was very ably filled this evening by the duo Chartrand/Babineau, two young fiddlers from the Lanaudière region. Alexis Chartrand and Nicolas Babineau have been playing together since they were teenagers and have great musical communication. In their short tweener set they were joined by stepdancer Mélisande Tremblay-Bourassa, who gave a dramatic dance performance.
A side note: Accomplished young fiddler Alexis Chartrand is currently the artist in residence for the City of Joliette – great recognition for this highly talented young man. City of Joliette, good on you for creating this position. What a forward-thinking municipality.
The Burden Folk Band were next up on the main stage. This six piece orchestra presented songs from Eastern Europe: Romania, Ukraine and Hungary, sung in those languages. There were oddly metered tunes full of rhythm with unusual melodies and sounds. What looked to us like a viola was alternately struck and plucked, rather than being bowed, and a cylindrical wooden object made a sound like a rain stick. The violin in the band was unusual as well, with a very short neck and very wide peg box without the usual scroll head. The violinist also used his bow to play a saw and was very precise with his intonation on the tune. That must be the very epitome of the fretless instrument. We would have loved to have heard an explanation of all the unusual instruments. However, the band spent all of its time making its very interesting and engaging music.
After Genticorum finished its finale on the main stage, we wandered into the dance hall. Dozens of square dance sets were in full swing, and the caller, Ghislan Jutras, had really worked up a sweat. You have no idea how dance callers in Québec are constantly moving and dancing on stage as they call until you actually see them in action. They often stepdance while calling and call throughout the dance using no notes. Calling is a performance as well. The band tonight, Robert Legault and les Mercenaires du Terroir, were in fine form, using every bit of energy they had to make the experience on the dance floor exciting and enervating.
Outside the dance hall, with the main stage shutting down for the night, we began to hear more music. Singing was happening under the side stage tents and around the glowing fireplaces in the centre of the square. Jam sessions were breaking out in the bar terraces and people were conversing, old friends coming together. The waning full moon cast a lovely glow on the proceedings. Midnight was fast approaching, and a line of people were departing for the campsite and nearby hotels, but you could tell that the night was still young for so many people there. Making music could well continue until dawn if the night continued to be warm.
More music is to come at Festival Mémoire et Racines tomorrow (Sunday), but oh, the choices we must make. We simply cannot be in the audience at multiple workshop stages at the same time. Darn.