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Folk in Quebec

Oscar Isaac, in the endearing loser Llewyn Davis’s shoes, from the last film by the Coens, says: «If it’s never been new and it’s never been old, then it’s a folk song». This sentence; as much true today as it was in the beginning of the 60s that Inside Llewyn Davis relate; leaves us with a few questions: What novelty is there to deliver into a so very marked style, from so many years ago, and with so many songs, bands and albums in its legacy? What’s the point in making folk nowadays? Or in new bands emerging and creating more folk songs and folk albums? And, in having a folk music festival in 2014?

The answer is the same that makes 9,000 people create, share and listen to music of this and other genres: passion. The same that these days, makes someone grab a washboard, a banjo, or a harmonica, to create music that’s new and stimulating at the same time that it sinks in tradition and its roots. That same reason that motivated 2,500 people to come to the Festival International du Folk Sale, which took place in Saint Rose du Nord, somewhere in a corner north of Quebec, in the end of June.

Lost in the bottomless woods, facing an incredible fjord, this little town of around 150 people, an approximate 6 hours drive away from Montreal, holds for three years now, one of the most authentic festivals of the Canadian summer. This last occasion, around 30 bands headlined by Canailles and Mononc Serge, from Quebec, and the New Yorkers World Inferno Friendship Society, made everyone dance non-stop and lifted their spirits throughout the four days. Most bands, from the more famous to the less renowned ones, gave it all on stage and counted on a dedicated audience, no matter if it was six p.m. or three in the morning.

The headliners, the well-known Canailles, were the ones in charge of closing the event, well into the small hours of that Sunday. Their dose of energetic folk made the attendees forget the exhaustion accumulated during three days of camping together with few hours of sleep. The songs from their recent LP Ronds-points as well as those from their previous Manager du bois were specially rejoiced. Before them, the irreverent aforementioned Mononc Serge had not disappointed anyone either, a veteran of the Quebec folk scene who has been battling it out since the early 90s. Armed with his double bass, he spread sarcasm and critical classics all over the place.

The international touch came from World Inferno Friendship Society that contributed with their mixture of accelerated soul, ska and punk to make everybody dance without feasible rest. Their feasting attitude prevailed over their smart suits and their witticism about rednecks which, in the beginning, made them look like pompous snobs in a garage. The previous day, the veteran, more austere and combative punk of the Belgian René Binamé had also been much acclaimed, while the incessant rockabilly of Bloodshot Bill served as the soundtrack for the sunrise.

Quebec Redneck Bluegrass Project, Prospère Faucher, and the Railroad Choir had to deal with a less favourable time and stage, but they came out with flying colours with their more powerful versions of folk, while Robert Fusil, with his Chiens Fous, delivered a more traditional folk, but knew how to give it the necessary force to captivate the audience. And although many performances were accompanied by fireworks, the case of Tintamare, a young band from Montreal, deserves special mention, being the ones that best knew how to combine their music with the pyrotechnics.

Furthermore, along those four days, there were circle spectacles and workshops, burlesque acts, political talks, and even a whale singing workshop... No chance to get bored! And those present, we all left with one feeling: music surrounded us during the whole festival thanks to the 350 artists (10% of the attendance) and to many of the attendees, for anywhere there was someone willing to spice the atmosphere up with a guitar, a violin or a mouth organ. A small festival fed with passion for good music that allowed everyone to have a blast.

Translation by Irene Soto.

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