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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Who’s NOT going to Stevie Wonder?

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Sous les parapluies

“Who’s going to Stevie Wonder tonight?” I asked my Facebook-universe yesterday. And I got only one reply: “Who’s not going to Stevie Wonder?”

Arriving for the concert 2.5 hours early, I was able to snag a spot on the virgin paving stones of the Quartier des Spectacles plaza, within a tip-toe view of the stage.

Pas Grave. Not being much of a pop-culture afficionado, I went more to be immersed in a sea of Montrealers than for a glimpse of Stevie Wonder.

Packing our public spaces with crowds and tunes is part of the defining Montreal experience. I regularly meet people whe remember the same Rockfest concerts (Grimskunk?) or Ile Ste-Helene shows as me over the decades.

Last night’s crowd was a mix of cultures, classes and languages that I never doubted exists on this island, yet have rarely seen assembled for a single event. I guess it takes something both free and priceless to bring people from every background and income-bracket together. Thanks Jazz Festival.

Then there was the rain, cold hard rain. Perfect. Nothing like a little adversity to foster bonding with total strangers. The square was a wall-to-wall surface of overlapping umbrellas and beneath them a sea of people huddled with anticipation. A kind woman draped a corner of her rain poncho over our umbrella, to extend our little waterproof shelter.

The umbrellas came down reluctantly as Jazz Festival founder, André Ménard took the stage. People quickly realized that, as much as they wanted to stay dry, nobody was going to see anything if everyone kept their umbrella up. Everyone was going to have to take one for the team.  And everyone did.

To be honest, the sound was so-so from where we were (although apparently it was audible all the way to Mile End). But Stevie Wonder had the crowd singing along through the show, and he didn’t spare us any octave-leaps or tricky syncopation. Much to my surprise, my fellow Montrealers are a pretty awesome choir (I tried to capture it on video, but my camera isn’t cut out for this and I don’t suppose it quite lives up to the live experience).

Nothing quite like raising your voice with with hundred thousand or so of your fellow city-dwellers.

And, while I’m on this crowd-induced high, I just want to add that it’s great to live in a place where so many of us can gather safely and peacefully (the media estimated the crowd at 200,000). It’s an assumption that we often make when we talk about public space but really, it’s not something to take for granted. So on that note, happy Canada day.



  1. I didn’t go, although I’m of the generation that grew up with “Little Stevie Wonder” and see him as a far more significant musician than that would-be white guy who died some days ago. No longer interested in standing for hours or being somewhere I can’t go for a pee.

    Glad it went off so well.

    Bonne fête du déménagement!

  2. Alanah, we arrived 4 hours early and were just ahead of you next to the little white sound tent. I made a video almost identical to yours and like yours, it didn’t quite capture the moment. I think that Stevie was amazed that we kept up with everything he hit us with!

    I was a little surprised that they switched the main stage from the Ste. Cath side to the new plaza. It’s fantastic, but it doesn’t seem to have the same capacity as the Esplanade. Nice move broadcasting it via screens and speakers over the rest of the site though.

    The fireworks caught us completely by surprise. We would have missed them entirely had we not stopped to grab a few more beers by the metro (we could only watch as the beer guys passed tantalizingly close yet too far throughout the show). I wonder if they may have been used as a method of easing crowd dispersal?

    A great debut for both the festival and QDS. Ben Harper will make a great closing night bookend!

  3. Il était quétaine quand j’avais 16 ans, il n’a pas changé.

    Et ce n’est pas du jazz.

  4. For crying out loud, la moitié du festival du jazz n’est pas du “vrai” jazz. And thank goodness. I, for one, would be a lot musically poorer if the main criteria for this festival were “jazz” in its more technical sense.

    Jazz, in any case, means having open ears and an open mind.

  5. One thing I forgot to mention: the STM extended service by an hour because the show ran until almost 1 am. That was nice of them!

  6. Oh, Alain, Alain, Alain. Of course, ce n’est pas du Jazz. Neither is Paul Simon. Neither is Bob Dylan. And? Is it si grave que ça? Do you realize that the MTl Jazz Fest is a music festival that prominently features Jazz? If a certain percentage of it is Rock or Groove or lounge, is it si grave que ça? Ça reste the most important Jazz festival in the world, doesn’t it?

    Come to think of it, does the word “jazz” mean the same thing to a south-American or a north-African person? Uh, no.

    But hey, I still like you!

  7. I saw Stevie Wonder headline for The Rolling Stones. It was at the Forum in 1972. Those moments are hard to relive, but I enjoy this website for bringing a touch of Montreal to Vancouver.

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