The success of Arcade Fire has drawn enormous attention to Montreal in recent years, but the city’s heady blend of French and English influences has long cultivated left-field music talent, from Leonard Cohen to A-Trak. The raucous nightlife and Old World vibes have also made Quebec’s cultural capital a highlight for touring acts. “Our bands always say it’s their favorite stop,” Glassnote Records head of touring Zach Hundley says. The show opportunities increase drastically when Montreal’s remarkably busy festival season kicks in. The world-famous International Jazz Festival took over downtown this month, but the Osheaga Festival (osheaga.com) — set on the tranquil Ile Ste Helene, just off the city’s main island—rules the first weekend of August. This year the Evenko-produced event includes Beck, Phoenix, Frank Ocean and local sensation Sam Roberts Band, whose namesake says, “The festival site is magical, with the city skyline across the river as a backdrop.” But be sure to leave time to explore the walkable city’s distinct neighborhoods. Capitol A&R rep Mollie Moore enjoys taking in the “stone walkways, small lanes and old churches” of atmospheric Old Montreal. Caila Thompson-Hannant (aka electro act Mozart’s Sister) shouts out Pointe St. Charles and St. Henri, “sweet spots for both punk shows and super-high-end cuisine.” Trendy hood the Plateau, in the shadow of beautiful Mont Royal, “can look a bit like Brooklyn,” Evenko VP of concerts and events Nick Farkas admits, but he says the affordable rents attract creatives. The adjacent Mile End district, home to Arcade Fire, is the local indie music hub; Alex Ortiz of We Are Wolves loves its “clash of cultures, from yuppies to hipsters to old immigrants.”
STAY ??The glamorous Hotel le St.-James (hotellestjames.com) is a magnet for superstars like Bono and Madonna. They book its spectacular penthouse, but all the rooms are swish, and its XO restaurant is one of the most highly regarded in the city. For something more mod, the W Montreal (wmontrealhotel.com) has sleek rooms and the surreally designed Wunderbar, which pulls top DJ talent. During the festival, a collection of McGill University residences are converted to the funky, low-cost Osheaga Accommodations (osheaga.com); stays include special perks like artist meet-and-greets.
EAT ??Celebrity chef Chuck Hughes does a band catering tent at Osheaga; Universal regional director Sophie Barbe calls his innovative Garde Manger (crownsalts.com/gardemanger) restaurant “a must-try.” Singer Torquil Campbell of local darlings Stars hits L’Express (restaurantlexpress.ca) for classic bistro fare, but also loves the antique lunch counter at Depanneur le Pick Up (depanneurlepickup.com): “It’s suffocatingly hip,” he admits, “but it’s really good.” Evenko business development exec Brent Steer recommends “the tacos at Grumman 78 [grumman78.com], in an old industrial garage.” Moore says Snack N’ Blues (5260 St. Laurent Blvd.) is great “after you’ve hit the bars and have the munchies. It’s basically Willy Wonka’s factory for music lovers.”
PLAY ??For hanging with rock’n’rollers, Laurence Nerbonne of Gallic folk band Hotel Morphee recommends Taverne Saint-Sacrement (saint-sacrement.com): “It has a warm ambience, and there are always a bunch of musicians there.” Campbell “will always have a special feeling for Sala Rossa [casadelpopolo.com] in the Plateau, run by people who care about music.” And Liam O’Neill of local psych-rock band Suuns says its sister venue, Casa del Popolo, “is a great place to drink, party and dance.” Brad Oberhofer, whose namesake band will appear at Osheaga, loves Cabaret du Mile-End’s (lemileend.org) wildly eclectic programming, despite some harrowing memories: “When we played [there], it caught on fire and everyone had to evacuate.” But the Montreal music scene’s spontaneous spirit may best be exemplified by the live shows of hometown heroes Arcade Fire: “We’ve played some great shows at the Corona Theatre (theatrecoronavirginmobile.com),” drummer Jeremy Gara says, “but also in basements, lofts and a parking lot in Longueuil.”