However far apart Canadian cities are, a band – even a duo – has at least one other person along for the ride to share in the joys and frustrations of performance. But a one-man-band is an altogether different story. The solo musician spends many solitary hours traveling alone, eating alone, sleeping alone, and then playing to audiences alone. What sounds dismally lonely to some is liberating, exhilarating, and fuel for creative fires to others. Though often slotted to the role of opening act, one man bands can be every bit as grand and as captivating as any other group of musicians performing. They range from sonic to stripped down, from folk to punk to blues to club to klezmer. We in Montreal are again just a little too lucky to have a festival now in its third year dedicated to these brave souls: The One Man Band Festival.
According to festival founder and chief organizer Jon Cohen, a one-man band festival is important. “It’s necessary because it provides a forum for a not very well known or celebrated form of art and gives this underlying message that there is a community of artists who can do this. It provides a community of solo artists. There’s nothing else quite like this in North America,” he says.
Furthermore, he believes the festival sends a positive message to artists and to people that are having difficulty managing or creating with other people. “It provides a solution, a much needed solution for the conundrum that is the music industry today,” he says. “How do you make it work with almost no budget, no money, and a lot of obstacles?”
This year’s festival features over 50 one man (and one woman, to be politically correct) bands, coming from as far away as Japan and the Philippines (Joee & I). Many of the names will sound familiar as they come through Montreal regularly (or live here): Jenny Omnichord, Wax Mannequin (who we interviewed before HERE), Chris Velan, Laura Barrett, Bloodshot Bill, and Tony Ezzy. There’s no denying their star power and charisma.
Shows are grouped to highlight the variety of One Man Bands out there. Showcases include “Folk, Fables, and Fairies,” “Musical Phenoms Variety,” “Solo electro dance beat masters,” “Swampy primitive garage.” If nothing else, you get the point that each “band” generally crosses musical genres freely. There are some free events as well – notably a free outdoor show at Place des Arts with Andre Daneau, Pete Moser Fomb, and Eric Royers One Man Band on Friday May 16 at Place des Arts at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. A 5 à 7 at the Café Matina on Bernard. on May 17th with Desmond Garcia, Tadi Cirus, and Sam Walker. And on Sunday, at the Terrace McAuslan on the Canal are Kim Barlow, Desmond Garcia, J. Allen, Gull, Mountain Mark, and other special guests.
Some of the ones worth checking out (and this is by no means the limit on what’s good about this festival):
Pearson Sound is David Kennedy, a busy UK producer and musician who performs and DJs worldwide. Kennedy stays on the move, sharing his complex but tight electronica at different festivals. His music is hard to characterize. Some tracks are beat focused, led by drums into clubby bass. Others are soundscapes of synths and electronica. Pearson Sound plays with Lexis and Compton Chic at Sala Rossa on May 15. 10 p.m.$15/25
Want to stay up all night to get lucky? If you can’t party with Daft Punk, might as well track down Rich Aucoin who brings the party with him wherever he goes. He is electro-pop with all the fun of a gay pride parade. There’s something quasi-religious about his ability to rouse the crowd into exuberent dancing to his synthy jams with confetti falling down like rain. Rich Aucoin plays with Xania and Digit Missile:Command at Sala Rossa on May 16. 8 p.m. $16/18.
Also making use of boss loops is 2013 Boss Loop-station Comptition Champion Chersea from Port Coquitlam. With her platinum blonde hair, she uses these instruments to recreate an older sound of the 1900s, the 1940s, and 1950s. What stands out is her voice –instantly likeable with its mellow ease and warmth. Whether pulling out a trumpet or adding an 8-bit sound, Chersea is not one to miss. Aside from that, Chersea has just released a new EP, Grey Matter. Chersea plays with Twin voices, Dinah Thorpe, and Ari Swan at Casa Del Popolo on May 16. 8 p.m. $10.
Chicago’s The Lonesome Organist (Jeremy Jacobson) personifies the sheer nuttiness and freneticism of one man band-ism. He straps an accordion to his chest, plays drums with one hand, synth with another. As he tap dances, plays harmonica, jingles bells with his feet, he manages to draw on music of all genres: klezmer, calypso, Appalachia, and blues rock. The Lonesome Organist plays with Gull, Shotgun Jimmie, and Molly Gene One Whoaman Band at Casa Del Popolo on May 17 at 8 p.m. $12/14.
Also keep an eye out for McRorie. “I love this guy,” says Cohen. “He was a one man band who was big in the 80s and 90s. He’s got drums on his feet and two keyboards that he plays at the same time and does originals and covers. He was fairly well known and appeared on all the talk shows. Celine Dion kissed him on national television. He told her she should fire her band and just hire him. Then he played one of her songs by himself and she sang with him. Apart from that, he just sounds amazing and looks amazing. He hasn’t been in Montreal in at least a decade.” If that’s not an incentive to check him out, I don’t know what else is.
The One Man Band Festival takes place from May 15-May 18. Click HERE for details.