Festival Diapason Turns Ste. Rose into Music Hub

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We often say in a cute and affectionate way that it is what’s inside that matters. In a sense, we could use this highly used phrase to describe the fashion in which Laval’s Festival Diapason was presented to its visitors. At first glance, the setting looks like a highly anticipated music festival with Guantanamo-esque security. Circling the grounds are five-foot high fences that go as far as the biking path that borders the river, keeping away cyclists who are asking themselves what’s going on two foot away from them. As you head into the site, you’re greeted by two police officers but as soon as you get past the guards, you feel very welcomed by the event volunteers who all wore red t-shirts.

I went to Festival Diapason on Friday night, which was the second day of the festival, but the unofficial opening day as one of the biggest bands recruited by the organizers, Alvvays, was playing on the main stage.

Blood and Glass, a band formed by lead singer Lisa Moore, were the first to hit the stage, 40 minutes later than expected, in front of a really small crowd. The few that saw Lisa Moore were surely amazed by her voice. Because she was wearing a long dress, the little steps she took from her keyboard on the right of the stage to the middle resembled the moves of a music-box ballerina. The performance was really impressive, a musical experience from start to finish. Moore’s whispers at the end of songs gave the impression that she was telling you a story.

Next were the sweet guitar sounds of Alex Calder. Calder plays a style that some will compare to Mac Demarco’s and his now independent former counterpart, Peter Sagar (Homeshake), but Calder’s music is the closest of the three to pop. Playing without Tom, one of the band members, who was hit by a car while on tour, Calder still impresses with how he manages to use his guitar in a highly melodic way while singing with a very high pitched voice from times to times. Calder’s music is really unique and needs to be heard.

The third band of the night was The Muscadettes. The Ambridge sisters, two sisters who grew up in San Francisco but are now based in Montreal, brought much needed energy to the crowd with their surf-pop and their guitar play. In a time where girl bands are becoming more and more popular, The Muscadettes have a chance to thrive in Montreal where this kind of music is nearly unheard of. Their song Pearl & Oyster could really well be the intro of a teen drama with its soaring pace and the fact that the singers sound younger than they really are. For all of those who want to get a taste of the ’60s, The Muscadettes are a must.

Second to last was Kandle and the Krooks. Kandle’s groove is at times at the crossroads between folk and country, but you can hear some rock as well. Demon, one of the band’s most popular songs, echoes Charlie Winston’s Dusty Men. The song was the last of their set and as soon at it took of and Kandle suggested that everyone got up (from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., people sat down in the grass, far from the stage), the vibe was the best I had seen since I arrived. If the goal was to light up the crowd before Alvvays, the use of Kandle as the last opening act was very adequate.

Alvvays put on a great show, as they always do. Led by lead vocalist Molly Rankin, the Toronto-based group sang for about 45 minutes, including an encore, the only band to do one the whole evening. The self-titled first album was a great success and was on top of the college charts in August 2014, so it was no surprise that the people who came to see them were between the age of 18 and 30. The band played most of the songs from their first album and also added some new tunes like Underneath Us. Described by guitarist Alec O’Hanley as hillbillies, Molly Rankin and Kerri MacLellan really have a neat relationship on stage. Kerri, who plays the keyboard, often looks at her childhood friend from Cape Breton, Molly, to give her a signal. You can without a doubt hear that Molly is a Maritimer when she sings which makes their songs unique. Weirdly, Molly’s voice parallels the one of Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell who is Scottish. Since a lot of people came specifically to watch Alvvays, we sang along from start to finish as hits like Adult Diversion, Archie, Marry me and Dives were played. Alvvay’s songs talk about love, drinking and having fun, three things you will want to do after listening to a couple of their compositions.

Festival Diapason is a hidden gem and I believe it will stay that way for a couple of years. The location is relatively far from downtown Montreal (Ste. Rose), something I mentioned to Alex Calder and Alec O’Hanley after their respective shows, (40 minutes bus ride from Cartier; 30 from Côte-Vertu) and there wasn’t much invested in publicity. Even though the festival wasn’t very publicized, the organizers must have invested a ton this year in bringing great artists and not charging anything, so I think it’s the duty of everyone who went this year to talk about what this Festival is all about: great music in a great setting.

Check out the website for Festival Diapason HERE.