A big thank you to Michel Riopel and to the organisers of this truly spectacular tenth anniversary celebration of what is one of the friendliest and most welcoming mid-winter festivals around. This is the 10th year that the tiny hamlet of St-Bernard-de-Michaudville, about 20 minutes from St-Hyacinthe, has hosted this festival of traditional Québécois music.
This year, the festival added a Thursday night show to its regular Friday-Saturday-Sunday programming, which normally includes two evening shows, a Saturday afternoon confiture (jam session) and a Sunday afternoon dance. This is a very relaxed festival, with the evening concerts being the main events. The Saturday jam is the earliest you need to get up, and that starts at 1pm.
We arrived moments before the start of the Thursday night show, which featured Genticorum, Réveillons!, and Nicholas Pellerin et les Grands Hurleurs. It was a pretty full house, with a number of little ones dancing around, and a happy, singing crowd. During the Réveillons! set, the stage was renamed in honour of the hometown heroes, the Berthiaume famile (many of whom were present, both on stage and in the audience). David and Jean-François (Berthiaume, of Réveillons!) were the official hosts for the weekend, welcoming to the stage some of the many local singers in between acts.
Genticorum were particularly sharp, having just recorded their live album, which is expected to be released at the end of March. Réveillons! were particular crowd-pleasers, choosing a repertoire of songs in which the audience joined in lustily. Nicholas Pellerin and his Grands Hurleurs, Simon and Simon, ended the evening wonderfully, with a fiery set.
Friday night’s set started out with Outaouais-area group La Tuque Bleue, a group of young friends and relations who quickly got the crowd jumping with their high energy and excitement. So they were already in the right mood for Les Chauffeurs à Pieds, who wound the crowd up even further. Technically brilliant and steeped in tradition, this band could easily be (and often are) headliners at folk festivals.
The cornerstone of the evening was Hommage aux Aînés, a group of friends from the village of St-Côme in the heart of the Lanaudière region, home to the call-and-response song and heart of the Québécois folk revival. On stage together for the last time, they poured out their hearts for the audience for over an hour, before doing an “encore” that lasted even longer than the original set. It was a memorable and fitting farewell for a group that has long played such an important role in maintaining the high standards and vivacity of the chanson-à-répondre song form.
« Et on était là !! »
The Saturday afternoon session in the gymnasium of the nearby elementary school was everything that Québécois music should be — joyful chaos and community. Local players were joined by the festival attendees and band members, and a number of local singers contributed many songs from the area. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that the festival chose to highlight M. Richer, «Ti-Bonhomme», well-known singer and wellspring of traditional songs. He sang at the session, but was also asked to sing on stage every night of the festival, including with Hommage aux Aîinés. He was even made to sing before being allowed to accept the 50/50 raffle money he coincidentally won on the final night!
After sampling some of the excellent local cuisine, we returned to the church for the Saturday evening show, which began with Tu m’en diras tant !, who blend Irish music with Québécois turluttes and chansons à répondre. For their encore performance, they were joined on stage by a vast majority of the performers that were on the bill for the weekend.
They were followed by De Temps Antan, who immediately brought the crowd to its feet. Somehow, they continued to crank up the energy as the set went on. Although they always put on a good show, this set in particular was remarkable. A friend of ours, who hadn’t heard them before, stated matter-of-factly that his head had just exploded.
The anchor for the evening and for the weekend was Québécois super-group Le Vent du Nord. Their mixture of high-energy tunes and poignant, close harmonies remind us yet again of why this group —like many of the others on this memorable programme — is an ambassador to the world of Québécois music and culture.
We were sadly unable to stay for the Sunday dance, featuring Éric Tarte and les Chauffeurs à Pieds, but it’s safe to say that this was an altogether epic festival and well worth a trip to the farmlands southeast of Montréal.