NYC Loves MTL’s Festival Scene

Posted on April 16th, 2013 by .

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Montréal is a wonderful city to explore on foot, and one of my favorite places to start is the Quartier des Spectacles. Home to more than 80 cultural venues, including spaces for theater, film, live bands, and more, the Quarter is a great place to get a big-picture view of what’s happening in the city. Inside the landmark Le 2-22 building, I check out the animated art installation by Moment Factory at La Vitrine Culturelle. Ribbons of text and light stream in from different directions, mimicking the swirl of the city’s cultural offerings, while an interactive touch screen and kiosk serves as a ticket center and plugged-in information exchange for culture hounds like me…

Though the height of the festival season is in the spring and summer, the city calendar is packed with events all year long. Montréal en Lumière, one of the largest winter festivals in the world, puts art, food, and dazzling evening light shows center stage. The main event  is Nuit Blanche, when the city (and the metro) runs at full speed all night. Nearly 200 activities, most of them free, showcase every branch of creative endeavor. Art Souterrain, a public art exhibition, is one of the highlights; it’s held in the underground pedestrian mall linking more than a dozen downtown landmarks, from the Place des Arts to the Palais des Congrès. Live performance pieces bring an urban immediacy and excitement to the art installations, with the city hurrying about its business all around us. What an amazing night!

Music is everywhere in Montréal; in nightclubs and spilling out onto sidewalks, there’s a rhythm that pulls you along. This is especially true in the Mile End area, the epicenter of the city’s energetic music scene, where I hopped from venue to venue getting a sample of different acts and genres. It all reaches a crescendo when the 11th annual POP Montréal festival gets underway in September. I can’t wait to come back for a taste of local bands and star performers like Arcade Fire, which got its start here.

When it comes to jazz, L’Astral is among the most revered venues in the city, showcasing the most sought-after artists. The large performance space is home base for the Montréal International Jazz Festival—the largest jazz fest in the world. Musicians and ensembles pack hundreds of city venues, bringing the streets of the Quarter and the city to life with the sounds of more than 3,000 performers.

I enjoyed exploring the Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT), a sleek and modern event space for digital artists and tech professionals who share a devotion to advancing digital culture. The domed hall plays host to special 360-degree movie presentations, music performances, and dance events. This was the scene of a fabulous launch party for Cult Mtl, an edgy new English language culture blog and magazine. The energy and versatility of the space is truly inspiring; it’s a natural setting for two electronica-themed music festivals in May: MUTEK and Elektra.

The Montréal Electronique Groove, or MEG Montréal Festival, opens in late July with electropop groups from all over the world, paving the way in August for Osheaga, a two-day concert in Montréal’s Jean-Drapeau Park that will be one of the hottest tickets in North America this summer. Expected headliners include Phoenix, The Lumineers, Hot Chip, Mumford & Sons, New Order, Two Door Cinema Club, and many, many more.

I love an early morning walk in Old Montréal before the city stirs to life. Behind these 18th- and 19th-century storefronts, some of the city’s brightest creative minds are hard at work. There is a palpable vibe running through the halls of the new Centre Phi artistic complex, near the more established DHC/ART gallery. Opened in 2012 by arts patron Phoebe Greenberg, the Centre Phi complex contains studios, galleries, and large halls that can be transformed into screening and performance venues. Centre Phi also partners with several annual film festivals that feed the city’s cinephile appetite.

In mid-March, the International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA) presents movies about art and artists, and in October the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma opens with an international program of over 300 films. August brings the Montréal World Film Festival, a globally competitive showcase that attracts entries from more than 80 countries. The tourist crowds, cafes, and outdoor restaurants of Old Montréal are a natural draw for street performers, whose energy echoes some of the phenomenal acts I saw at TOHU. From the French tohu-bohu, or “hustle and bustle,” TOHU is a performance venue located next to the world-famous Cirque du Soleil. Every July, TOHU hosts the Montréal Complètement Cirque, a circus arts festival that sends tumblers, jugglers, and clowns fanning out across the city, transforming street corners into big-tent attractions. Those drawn to more fastpaced action can join tens of thousands of racing fans at the Montréal Formula 1 Grand Prix this June. And the explosive International des Feux Loto-Québec fireworks competition will animate the night sky all summer long— putting the best of Montréal in a truly spectacular light.

Chrysanthe Tenentes makes her home in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. By day, she is a freelance web consultant and Contributing Editor of, a website she co-owns. At night, she can be found exploring the city’s best restaurants, galleries, and emerging talents on the cultural scene.

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