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Image: crowds at a concert watch a trumpeter play
Hundreds of concerts that spotlight legendary jazz musicians, such as Miles Davis and Tony Bennett, are thrown during the 13-day Montreal International Jazz Festival. Photograph courtesy Jean-Francois Leblanc/Festival Internacional de Jazz de Montréal

Montreal Festivals

In TRAVELER magazine’s September issue, writer Taras Grescoe invites you to travel with him through his hometown, Montreal, a bustling city filled with activity. Montreal comes to life especially during the summer and fall, when world-recognized festivals thrive and welcome tourists and locals alike. “Most of Montreal’s large cultural events have some element that is available to the public at no charge—a tribute to the vital role the arts play in the lives of Montrealers,” says Lucinda Chodan, entertainment editor for Montreal’s The Gazette. Here, Chodan and Matthew Hays, associate editor and film critic for Montreal’s The Mirror, talk to us about ten of Montreal’s top festivals. (Dates given are for festivals that occur after September 1, 2001.)

Montreal International Jazz Festival
June 26-July 7, 2002
Considered one of the largest jazz celebrations in the world, the Montreal International Jazz Festival has attracted legendary musicians since its inception in 1979. Attendees this year heard tunes by a musical cast that included Miles Davis, Tony Bennett, and the artist formerly known as Prince. Some critics chastise festival planners for straying from traditional jazz venues, while others laud the eclectic twists they say have saved the yearly event from becoming boring and predictable. Hundreds of concerts are staged indoors and outdoors, featuring everything from blues and acoustic folk to electronica and jazz. “The whole event is like a giant block party, staged for hundreds and hundreds of your friends and neighbors,” notes Chodan. Held downtown at the Place des Arts. Admission for some shows. 888 515 0515 (U.S. and Canada); +1 514 871 1881 (Canada).

World Film Festival
August 23-September 3, 2001 and August 22-September 2, 2002
You won’t likely see Julia Roberts or Brad Pitt at the World Film Festival. Unlike the Cannes Film Festival in France, this celebration doesn’t cater to celebrity. Rather, 400 independently made international films with original plots are featured. Planners relish in masterminding experiences like the one presented to 1991’s attendees. Back then, some 300,000 people watched as the first feature film ever made in Guinea-Bissau, Blanc d’Ébéne, was projected on a large screen. Each year a specific country is featured; this year, expect a large concentration of German films. Held downtown in theaters throughout the city. Admission. +1 514 848 3883

Just for Laughs
July 11-21, 2002
Comedy legends such as Roseanne Barr, Jim Carrey, and Jerry Seinfeld have been snapped by paparazzi while slinging their funniest lines here. Not just notable Hollywood comedians, however, take the stage. The annual bilingual event conducted in French and English has earned a reputation in the cutthroat comedic industry for its uncanny knack of revealing fresh talent—before that talent makes it big. (Carrey and Seinfeld were virtually unknown before performing at Just for Laughs). Prospective comedians spin original jokes in hopes of lucking out like Kevin James and Christopher Titus did, when they gave their debut performances. Both scored television gigs from talent scouts in the audience. The festival next year is expected to be the greatest ever in celebration of Just for Laughs’ 20th anniversary; plans are in the works to sway past big-name performers to return. Held in the Latin Quarter. Admission for some performances. 888 244 3155 (U.S. and Canada).

Montreal Chamber Music Festival
June 2002, dates undetermined at press time—check Web site in April
Some 8,000 spectators gather atop Mount Royal for far-reaching views of Montreal’s cityscape and Vermont’s Green Mountains—while renowned chamber ensembles and musicians, such as Hamerin, Lowenthar, and James Ehmes, harmonize. Twenty-four concerts are arranged into a 15-day venue. Shows are also held in historical sites, such as Chapelle Notre Dame de-Bon-Secours each year. “Most music series concentrate on the ‘who,’ the performers,” remarks Arthur Kaptainis, music critic for Montreal’s The Gazette. “This festival adds to that by giving people ‘the where,’ Mount Royal, ‘the when,’ June, a time when there is a recess from winter activity and summer is beginning, and the ‘why’, a theme that changes yearly.” Main event held at Mount Royal; smaller concerts are given at historic sites throughout Montreal. Admission for some concerts. +1 514 489 7444

Blue Metropolis
April 3-April 7, 2002
Over the last four years, Blue Metropolis has become a popular stomping ground for highly revered American and European authors, such as Michael Ondaatje, Annie Ernaux, and Norman Mailer. Mailer, who won the festival’s $10,000 international literary prize last April, read excerpts from an unfinished work. By tradition, the festival focuses the celebration on an ethnic group of writers each year; next April the spotlight will be cast upon European writers. A French writer is expected to create the greatest stir. The unabashed Catherine Millet, who hasn’t yet earned the degree of notoriety overseas that she has in France, will speak about her latest work, La Vie Sexuelle de Catherine M., a nonfiction account that details her sexual liaisons with strange men. The kicker: an appearance by Jacques Henric, Millet’s novelist husband who remained married to her during her sexual conquests. Henric will present his literary rite of passage, Lé Gendes de Catherine M., in which he features his photographs of Millet nude in public places. Admission. +1 514 932 1112

Le Mondial Saq
Beginning of July 2002, consult Web site for updated dates
Pyromaniacs, take note. Le Mondial Saq celebrates fire in its most explosive form throughout the month of July. Teams of pyro-musical experts from countries throughout the world compete to shoot off the most dazzling spectacle of fireworks coordinated with jazz, rock, or contemporary music. (First, second, and third place winners take home gold, silver, and bronze medals.) Smart spectators avoid the admission cost charged by Le Ronde—a theme park that sprawls across an island in the St. Lawrence River and hosts the festival each year—in favor of one of the prime vantage points throughout the city. Elizabeth La Pointe, who joined the organization this year, recommends the Jacques Cartier bridge, which closes during the fireworks exhibits for an optimal view. “You’ll have to plan on a long stay to see all the contenders in the competition,” says Chodan, “but that’s not a hardship during the Montreal summer.” Held at Le Ronde. Admission. +1 514 872 7156

Divers/Cité
July 27-August 5, 2002
One of the biggest bashes of the summer is thrown in hopes of erasing homophobia, sexism, and racism. The parade, by many accounts, is the largest in a city that prides itself on assembling colorful marches on a grand scale. Gay and lesbian groups, such as the Lesbian Moms Association, march alongside over-the-top floats, featuring dazzling costumes, booming musical performances, and flashy dancers. Big-name corporations join in as well. Last year Coca-Cola floated through the parade with a percussion band and dancers decked out in red and white, jiving to a drum beat. The procession travels west to east, crossing downtown on René-Levesque. Performances under the stars include “Slexx: A City in Motion,” which spotlights Montreal’s newest dance performers; a Cabaret made up of well-known local performers; and Latin Night or “Cachondo,” which features Latino drag queens and dancers, much like you’d see during Carnival in Rio. Locations undetermined at press time; click to Divers/Cité’s site next June. +1 514 285 4011

Festival International de Nouvelle Danse
September 19-October 6, 2001
Montreal, an internationally recognized mecca for experimental dancers, breaks from its busy routine to stage new and experienced talent who have mastered the art of non-balletic and traditional forms of dance. Performers this year include modern dancer Trisha Brown, contemporary dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, and modern dancer Jerome Bell. This year’s festival will be the biggest ever—three weeks of professional dancing, rather than two in celebration of the festival’s tenth anniversary. In the works is a finale sure to dazzle, though organizers are keeping details under wraps. Look for a work masterminded by 500 artists, 53 choreographers, and 120 community members. Held throughout Montreal; Admission; +1 514 287 1423

Carifiesta
July 1-6, 2002
You won’t find a more colorful parade than the one that emanates from the junior carnival at Carifiesta. Montreal’s diverse collection of ethnic communities, including Haitian, African, and Caribbean, march in costumes representative of traditional dress from their respective countries. Parade runs from René-Levesque to Parc Champ de Mars. Prior to the parade, children 2-16 years old gather for a costume competition and dance performances. A king and queen, picked according to best costume, march along in front of an audience of 200,000. Organizers aim to increase the scope of the Caribbean cultures represented by inviting participants from some 132 Caribbean parades that march throughout the world. Held at Blue Bonnet. Admission for carnival and queen and king competition. +1 514 735 2232

—Compiled by Heather Morgan

Heather Morgan is a TRAVELER magazine associate researcher and is the online editor.