I just got back from a great weekend relaxing with my family in Montreal and catching shows at the city's most famous event. Although the festival's almost as old as I am, this was the first time I've been and once I found my way around I was quite impressed.
As I wrote last week, the festival's green focus seems to be limited to transit and recycling/waste reduction. The labeling of the recycling bins was about the best I've seen. These bins really catch the eye, unlike the more common plank with a hole over a 55-gallon drum that I've seen at other festivals. There was no shortage of either trash bins or recycling bins, and I saw very little litter, although that probably has as much to do with the culture of the city and the demographic that attends a free jazz fest as the number of trash bins. Let's just say that while there was Heineken (and nothing but Heineken) everywhere, this wasn't a hard-partying crowd.
While I was in the gift shop waiting out one of several thunderstorms that plagued the weekend, I spotted some interesting but expensive vinyl messenger bags and vinyl-backed notebooks. It took me a while to figure it out, but these items are made from old vinyl banners. I'm not sure if the banners were actually used in previous Jazz Fests or not, but it's one way to mitigate the nastiness of vinyl. Oddly, there was no real info about the products touting green features or telling the story of their reuse. I also spotted some interesting handbags made from old 45s and LPs, another creative reuse of vinyl.
The festival grounds are amazingly well served by public transit, which almost everyone uses. I don't know if it was a conscious choice by the organizers to locate the festival here 29 years ago, but if so, they were very forward thinking. As gas prices continue to rise, hopefully we'll see festivals and concerts relocating to areas that are better served by mass transit.
Montreal is also a very bike-friendly city, and festival organizers provided the most bike-friendly accommodations that I've seen anywhere, with large, well-lit fenced-in bike storage areas set up around the perimeter of the festival zone. It would be absolutely fantastic to see this kind of attention paid to bikers at other city festivals and concerts (see my post about a bike friendly State Radio event here.). Lollapalooza, Bumbershoot, and Austin City Limits, I'm talking to you!
Other than the waste-reduction (not elimination) efforts, offsets provided by sponsor Rio Tinto Alcan, and the tranportation goodness, though, there was none of the other green stuff festival fans have rapidly come to expect. No composting, no rideshare board, no green pavilion or notably green parterships, no biodegradable cups and plates, no free water or promotion of reusable water bottles, and perhaps most shockingly for an area surrounded by farms, no local or organic food.
But while we're speaking about food, it's important to note that Montreal takes its French heritage seriously and the festival food was something of a marvel for those of us who are used to fried dough and six dollar hot dogs. So I'm going to take this opportunity to plead--no, I'm going to get down on my knees and beg--that U.S. festival organizers take a trip to Montreal next year to examine the food. Crepes, fresh fruit, decent sandwiches, $4 hamburgers that taste like real burgers...It's going to be hard to go back to burned chicken kebobs and $5 pizza slices at future festivals.
The long and short of it is that this is a festival that is somewhat green without even trying, which is great. But with a little more effort, organizers could do something really special. It would be great to see them come out swinging for the green fences when they celebrate their 30th anniversary next year. One final note of kudos--for whatever reason, these were among the cleanest festival toilets I've ever seen. Nicely done, Montreal!
As for the music, it was decent, but the free sets didn't feature the stunning performances I've come to expect from musical showcases like Bonnaroo and Langerado. Of course, with the exception of the $50 I dropped on a Hank Jones/Brad Mehldau show, it was entirely free, so I won't complain. I saw perfectly adequate sets by a handful of acts and was pleasantly surprised to see two great soul acts. On Friday, we were able to get within spitting distance of Martha High and the Shaolin Temple Defenders and on Saturday night after Jones/Mehldau, we caught most of the Charlie Walker and the Dynamites set. Walker is one of my favorites and I'm glad I caught him in Montreal since it looks like I'll miss him at Rothbury later this week. If you're going to Rothbury, don't make the same mistake! Sadly, the rest of the audience seemed unmoved by the soul awesomeness coming from the stage, something I thought would be impossible. These acts really need a more intimate venue to really shine, I guess. But the "never-heard-of-'em" highlight of the weekend definitely goes to the French (from France) Kaly Live Dub, who make fantastic electronica sounding dub with real instruments. We walked right up to the front row as they were announcing the band and were treated to a great set. Unfortunately for you, it looks like they're headed back across the pond this week, but mark them in your myspace calendars and keep an eye out for next time.
The Jones/Mehldau set was phenomenal, made even more so by the excellence of the venue, Theatre Jean-Duceppe, a comfortable and intimate gem with absolutely stunning acoustics. From our seats at the centre of Row P, I was getting seriously annoyed by a constant humming sound that seemed to accompany Jones. During the applause, I mentioned it to my girlfriend, who clued me in to the fact that it was actually Jones himself humming along to the tunes. I could hear him clear as day, just as I could hear his foot tapping and almost make out their off-mic whispers when they were deciding which songs to play next. It was a stunning show, one we can only hope sees the light of day as a CD in the future.
I left you with video of Mehldau last time, so here's some Kaly Live Dub to take it away. Enjoy!