Nearly a decade ago, two random strangers met on a train ride and struck up a conversation decent enough to warrant an exchange of contact information. Over the next several months, they kept in touch, gradually building the idea of starting a music festival in the midst of Montreal’s burgeoning music scene.
These two strangers were Daniel Seligman and Peter Rowan, two of Pop Montreal’s creators along with Noelle Sorbara. Seligman was 25 at the time, a fresh McGill graduate who had begun to work with his brother’s band Stars after the release of their first record. With his foot in the musical door, it wasn’t a far stretch to be tossing ideas around with Rowan, whose 20 years’ seniority on Seligman and involvement in the Halifax Pop Explosion was testament to his experience. They proceeded to bring together a group of individuals committed to their cause and after roughly seven months, produced the first edition of Pop Montreal. This despite Seligman’s admitted naivetÃ©, or perhaps because of it.
To what does Pop Montreal owe its success?
There was a niche for this kind of festival in Montreal when we started it. We’ve continued to build it from the ground up, working with artists and different community members to keep it original, fresh, and fun.
What is the objective of the festival?
One objective is to showcase emerging bands. Another objective is to shine a spotlight on some bands that may have been forgotten, or maybe mainstream, commercial culture hasn’t really accepted them. The other one is to just have a really great time, provide concerts with some amazing music and bring people together. It’s really about discovery; about bands discovering new bands and artists who live in Montreal finally seeing some of their heroes that they grew up listening to.
What makes this festival different than the others?
It’s a similar kind of format to several festivals that happen around North America. There’s a huge festival in New York called CMJ, there’s one in Austin called South by Southwest, there are two in Toronto, North by Northeast and CMW. They’re mainly industry showcase festivals so you have a lot of bands, like young emerging underground bands, playing and looking to be discovered by media, record labels, etc. We try a similar format but instead of being about the industry we try to be more about the musicians and the fans, supporting culture. We try to be a great host for bands to feel comfortable so they don’t necessarily feel this spotlight on them to perform and can just focus on just having a good time.
Are you conscious of your carbon footprint?
We’re a pretty green festival. We don’t build stages, we don’t have concession stands, we don’t have porta-potties all over the place, and we don’t have excess garbage. We’re working within the fabric of the city. We recycle everything we use, so we do our best to be environmentally conscious.
What part of the festival are you most proud of?
The way that we’re able to bring people together to support the community of artists in Montreal. We’re all very young organizers so it’s a lot of young people working together on a huge undertaking. It’s an amazing experience.
What makes you the most anxious about the festival?
A few problems that have arisen this year in terms of losing venues. One bar owner sold his bar two weeks ago and we just found out about it so we have to move one of the venues to a new location. It’s a little stressful but that’s part of the undertaking. There’s always things that arise. We just kind of take things as they go and hope to do our best to keep everything organized and moving forward.
What have been some of your favourite performances of the past?
There’s been a lot of really great ones. Burt Bacharach two years ago was amazing. Last year Buffy Sainte-Marie and Think About Life were really great, and the Gonzales performance at the National Theatre five years ago was really great too. Every year there’s so many things that happen, it’s impossible to see everything but it’s all good stuff.
What is your best advice to a first-timer?
Don’t try to see everything. Pick a few things every night. Go go one show and then see what’s happening and follow the flow of the evening. This year we have a pass called the POP Hopper, so if you buy a ticket to a show, for an additional $10 you can get a pass to see any show that night of the festival. You can kind of “pop” in to different venues and check things out. That way you can’t really have too many expectations and you can discover things as they happen. Also, every night of the festival we’re doing a late night loft series at Little Burgundy POP Loft is l’Espace RÃ©union, 6660 Hutchison. Starting at midnight we’ll have shows, so you can go to a few shows earlier in the evening and end up there.
Fun Festival Facts:
Year festival began: 2002
Number of performers for 2010: over 300
Number of attendees: around 50 000
Price of ticket: from $5 to $35
Average price: $15
Style of music: indie-punk-world-local-international
Number of venues: over 50
Number of volunteers: 300