Montreal Jazz Festival: free shows and indoor concerts that’ll make surviving the crowds totally worthwhile

Overwhelmed by the gargantuan array of acts about to hit Montreal at the 36th edition of the Festival International de Jazz? So are we. In the best way possible of course! Over the years, the Jazz Fest has stretched “jazz” to mean everything from hip hop to folk, but always keeping many outstanding jazz and blues performances. Not only has this maintained the festival’s size and popularity, but also increased it. And hey– no one’s complaining.  This year, the festival welcomes over 200 shows: some free, some pricey, some jazzy, and some.. less so. What we can say is that the event programmers are musical omnivores with an intelligent (and passionate) appetite. In the list below, we tried to offer up some variety between the festival’s strong points: accessibility, quality, and diversity.


Montreal Jazz Festival - Montreal Jazz Fest

Indie music lovers all over the city are currently rejoicing: Beirut headlines the festival this year by performing for the (almost) ceremonial free outdoor opening concert! Join the hipster masses and feel brass instruments, accordion, and lullaby vocals sweep you off your feet and into a fantasmagorical dream world.With genre labels such as “baroque pop” and “balkan folk”, it’s easy to see how Beirut’s performance is sure to be a one of a kind event.


Montreal Jazz Festival - Montreal Jazz Fest
Betty Bonifassi

Betty Bonassi is a sultry voiced Montreal native who sings with contagious heart, courage, and soul. Her powerful voice maintains a mystery of sorts, like an itch that is never satisfied (or an ear that must keep on listening). The musical arrangements surrounding her vocals are a glorious, polyamorous marriage between rock, electronic music, and blues. She’s an all around yes, and her Jazz Fest performance promises to be a memorably haunting experience.


Montreal Jazz Festival - Montreal Jazz Fest
Photo: The Franklin Electric

The Franklin Electric have been quite busy for the past few years. This Montreal based folk band opened for Bran Van 3000 at L’Olympia in 2012 and left everyone asking, who are these guys?! They’ve since moved on to performing at M for Montreal, touring with Half Moon Run, and have been featured at festivals all over the country. On the way, they’ve continued to wow spectators with their raw energy, brassy sound, and crisp vocals.


Montreal Jazz Festival - Montreal Jazz Fest
Photo: Pokey Lafarge

If you’ve ever wondered what Pee Wee Herman would resemble if he was to become a jazz musician, Pokey Lafarge is the answer. This may only be a half truth, as it limits itself to his physical appearance, but Pokey’s still a trip to watch. The singer songwriter is also an American history buff, and his music reflects it: everything from his facial expressions to his instruments uphold a western swing era. Catch his show for some auditory time travel like never before.


Montreal Jazz Festival - Montreal Jazz Fest
Photo: Michael Kaeshammer

Boogie-woogie and stride pianist Michael Kaeshammer (pronounced case-hammer) is known for his breadth of musical inspirations and talents. His arrangements and compositions offer everything from to a classic crisp sound to a playground for your ears. This ever evolving artist has consistently wowed crowds with for these reasons, which explain why  Kaeshammer show is something you won’t want to miss out on.


Photo: The Sheepdogs
Photo: The Sheepdogs

Three-time juno winners The Sheepdogs are Saskatchewan’s rock darlings. A band that broke through media barriers by winning a Rolling Stone competition and going on to be featured on multiple late night shows,  they join The Black Keys in bringing 70’s rock to the present, and delighting new generations with deep riffs that resonate through your being.


Photo: Sondre Lerche
Photo: Sondre Lerche

Norwegian singer songwriter Sondre Lerche caught people’s eye by way of being featured in a few indie movies. And his music does just that– it makes listeners feel like their life is a series of quirky authentic aesthetically pleasing events, with a sweet but painfully realistic end. Jazz Fest programmers are excited about this youngin, and  you should be too (especially cause this one’s totally.. FREE).


Photo: The Reverand Peyton's Big Damn Band
Photo: The Reverand Peyton’s Big Damn Band

With a name like that, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band pretty much promises the year’s free outdoor musical party. This family band (a wife, husband, and cousin) performs hillbilly blues rooted in contagious punk rock energy. It’s a promising show that makes the outdoor crowded streets feel more appropriate than ever.


Photo: West Trainz
Photo: West Trainz

This unique musical delight is one that you absolutely cannot miss: a musical performance that has as its mission to blend railroad sounds with jazz, it’s performed on musical sculptures (that resemble a mish mashed trains and instruments). It’s the kind of show you’ll be pulling out of your conversational repertoire for years to come. And keeping with railroad culture, this one’s another free outdoor performance.


Montreal Jazz Festival - Montreal Jazz Fest
Photo: Sugar Brown

This word reversal of a popular household food item is just as sweet as its inversion. That’s in part because Sugar Brown’s Jazz Fest performance will be something of a rarity. This musician learned the ropes alongside Chicago Blues veterans, but this old style of blues imbues the freshest kind of tracks: right off his debut album. Come bask in his raw to refined sound and be part of musical history with brand new 50’s blues.

11. ALA.NI

Montreal Jazz Festival - Montreal Jazz Fest
Photo: Festival International de Jazz de Montreal’s vocals are of that warm, irresistibly silky variety. She’s been called a modern Billy Holiday, and the Jazz Fest programmers are really excited to have her be part of the festival “right before she joins the big leagues”. Make your way to see what might be one of her last affordable performances.


Montreal Jazz Festival - Montreal Jazz Fest
Photo: Dramatik Avec Un Cas

Jazzmatik makes its way onto this list by way of a few key elements, primarily the fact that local hip hop legend Dramatik has found a way to meld his Quebecois hip hop identity with New Orleans brass, achieving both a marriage of genres and cultural identities. The result? A fresh sound for Dramatik, and a testament to the beautiful flexibility of all things worthwhile.


Montreal Jazz Festival - Montreal Jazz Fest
Photo: Nancy Jazz Pulsations

Putting the “International” in International Jazz Fest, Swiss blues band Hell’s Kitchen grace our festival for the first time. Their sound is the good kind of rusty, the rural, and promises to make listeners feel like they’ve stumbled into a quasi-intimate block party. The 0$ price tag also helps maintain this authentic backyard band feel.


Montreal Jazz Festival - Montreal Jazz Fest
Photo: The Wanton Bishops

The story goes that these two met during a street fight.  The perfect marriage of blues and rock, this Lebanese duo’s sound converts battle into surrender of musical genres, and we couldn’t be happier. For those who are convinced by the occasional name drop: they’ve opened for acts such as pop queen Lana Del Rey and rock legends Guns ‘N Roses. And on June 27, you can catch ’em for free.


Montreal Jazz Festival - Montreal Jazz Fest
Photo: The Barr Brothers

The Barr Brothers may be from Boston, but their story debuts in Montreal. After a series of events, the Brothers laid their musical foundations here and were even part of Osheaga’s beginnings in 2011. Since then they’ve been part of Montreal’s musical darlings and contributing to the folk music scene all over. Come join in on this local love story free of charge on June 30th.