Published on October 19th, 2017 | by Stacey McLaughlin0
Our intrepid reporter, Stacey Mclaughlin, heads to FME, an emerging music festival in the Northern Quebec city of Rouyn-Noranda. It’s a music festival diary, folks!
FME is an emerging music festival held in the Northern Quebec city of Rouyn-Noranda. To give the average westerner a sense of perspective, it is almost parallel with Timmins, ON. The purpose of the festival is to promote new and original music and provide exposure for Canadian bands both nationally and internationally. But what does this mean for you, and why might you want to go all the way there when we have lots of music festivals in the prairies?
While it might not be as close as some of the other festivals you might be familiar with on the prairies, the three flights from Saskatoon to Rouyn-Noranda (that took about 11 hours total) more than made up for themselves. From the moment I got there I could tell this place was different. Our lively driver picked us up from the airport to register for the festival, and then took us to the hotel. There was a mix up with our hotel reservation, but the attendant at the counter did everything she could to make it right, and to make sure we didn’t feel put out by the situation. It’s those times where people go the extra mile to make you feel at ease in a tense situation, when you’ve been traveling all day that make a big impression.
One great feature of FME is that they are a very app driven festival. It allows you to check not only the times of shows on the app, but it will also give you alerts to exclusive pop up shows that happen all over the city at restaurants and other unique venues all weekend. One time it forced us to change our supper plans because a pop up show was happening at the tapas bar we were going to go to, however, another time there was one happening at the bar right next to the place we were already eating at; and since they share a patio, we heard the whole show. It’s a really neat, interactive feature – especially if you love discovering new bands on the fly.
Another very fun feature at FME was the concept of the bock cups. You paid $3 for a plastic cup, and that’s what you got your drinks in. Beer or liquor, and if you used their paperless payment system with them you got a small discount. They had three different coloured cups with artist designed logos on them, and as long as your alcohol was in the cup you could walk around the festival with them.
While FME is first and foremost a music festival, there are always a lot of interesting things going on in conjunction with the festival. One of the presentations I really enjoyed was Makwa, a unique show presented by FME and Pow-wow Abitibiwimi. It started at the centre of the city with some dancers and then we all followed as a large group to Lake Osisko where there were drums, more dancers, and an Elder who told a story of the Anicinabe culture. The whole event was very inclusive, respectful, and positive.
The tourism industry in Rouyn-Nouranda is very talented and they help coordinate excursions for FME. We took advantage of the tour of a nearby gold mine in nearby Val D’or. Gold and Copper Mining were the primary industries in that area and once they slowed down, the communities turned to cultural festivals such as FME to generate tourism. Our tourism rep Anne Marie was a delightful conversationalist, and she was so full of knowledge on the area, I was delighted to have her as our guide. On the tour itself we ended up going 300 feet underground, having lunch in the mine, and learning more about gold mining than I ever thought I would! After we got back to town Anne Marie pointed us in the direction of a lovely souvenir shop so we could look for something to bring home for our friends.
The place she recommended was called Magasin Generale Dumulon and it was the first general store in Rouyn-Nouranda. It was perfect, in addition to being visually interesting, we also found exactly what we were looking for to purchase. If you want to take a scenic walk around Lake Osiko, there are walking trails, or there is a bike and boat (canoe and pedal) rental right next door to the general store if that interests you.
One thing I learned from this festival is that festival fatigue is a real thing. The night of the powwow we also watched a few shows and I was really starting to feel it. Fortunately, the brilliance of the main area is that they set up so many seating areas, from little artificial lawns to tree stumps placed here and there, there are a lot of places to crash and take a break. Take advantage of this if you ever become tired at FME, nothing quite like recharging on a tree stump or a “lawn” between shows.
One more thing — even if you are super young and think you’re invincible, stretching is a great idea! I noticed that my back and legs were a little stiff about the second day because we were walking a lot more than usual (this is a very walking intensive festival) so I made sure to do a few stretches before bed. My back felt great due to all of the stretching I did the night before, but my feet and ankles were noticeably sore because I didn’t think to stretch them. So, stretch everything, you’ll be happy you did.
What’s it really like in Northern Quebec? (As in, what if I don’t speak French well – or at all?)
In the west there is the pervasive attitude that Quebec is full of stuck up people who are going to be mean to us because we can’t speak French. I would like to go on record as saying this couldn’t be further from the truth. The people were so friendly and accommodating, it was just wonderful there. Even with limited French it was very easy navigating stores if you know that ‘en sac’ means in a bag and that ‘on debit’ translates well and ‘merci’ goes a long way. Most store employees seem to appreciate the effort and will use what English skills they have in return. To be honest, most people there spoke better English than I spoke French. I think we need to get over our paranoia that we will not get along, and just try. If for nothing, read the next section on food and drink, it might convince you to believe me about this.
Food & Drink
Once our hotel situation was straightened out, we walked to the local IGA for some hotel room groceries, including beer. We tried to not cry over how much cheaper the beer is in Quebec than it is in Saskatchewan. Then we went for poutine at Chez Morasse. This isn’t a chain so you are just going to have to go to Rouyn-Nouranda, but trust me it is worth it. I had been hearing about their pogotine for almost 2 years, which is basically poutine with chopped up and deep fried corn dogs on top. But because of the extra volume of people due to FME they had a limited menu, so I was denied. Very sad, now I have to go back to Quebec for more poutine. I had their l’abitibienne instead, which was just an unholy combination of gravy, ground beef, cheese curds, onions, mushrooms, and green peppers – and so good.
Other places you need to go that we definitely don’t have here include the absolutely charming brew pub Le Trefle Noir. They serve outstanding locally sourced cuisine in addition to their own fantastic microbrews. We went with a tasting flight. The service was great, the drinks were amazing, the food was heavenly.
Also, another must try is La Cochottier, a tapas bar where we had the most amazing beer that was infused with tea. That might sound odd, but it was very, very tasty. I had poutine with rabbit, blueberry gravy, bacon, and goat cheese (because does it get more Quebecois than that?) and we both had pot au chocolat for dessert. Best dessert of the year – so decadent.
We also checked out a few regular bars that I would recommend. First one was “Bar Des Chums” and was cash only where we enjoyed two gigantic Molson X’s that were such a bargain (also, why do we not have those here?). The second bar was called ‘Diable Rond’ (yes that’s Round Devil – and their logo was very whimsical) which had billiards and played the best rock music, and had a much wider beer selection. Both very fun places, please check them out if you want to see the Quebecois version of a cozy small town-feel bar.
Of course, there were shows, more shows than anyone could possibly ever see – but oh my goodness did people try. This one guy we took the shuttle from the airport with was at many of the same shows as us, but also always running to another one, and another one, and I had to appreciate his stamina, but I also had to appreciate that you can only pack so much into a day. My best advice is, use your app, pick a few must see shows, and let yourself be surprised by finding some new favourites.
Our first night there we went to the Agora des Arts for Andy Shauf’s show. It was my third time seeing him and he was as ephemeral and as flawless as always – it’s like listening to his record but more intimate. We ducked out at 11 to run across the street for A Tribe Called Red who were playing at the main stage and the feeling there was absolutely electric. This group is amazing at what they do, so I didn’t want to miss a chance to see them either. They are taking traditional music and blending it with modern music and the end result is so accessible. It was good to see. It was also very cold outside! After a warm summer in the prairies it was a bit of a shock to the system so I was happy for the very danceable music to keep warm with! The venue itself was also equipped with food and drink and souvenir vendors and was very happy and welcoming. We were very done by the end of the night and had easily been awake for about 23 hours by the time we finally got to sleep.
The next day, after a long sleep, I managed to catch the band Duchess Says play an incredible set at a BBQ pool party. I was completely won over by lead singer Annie-Claude Deschênes’ incredible stage presence and the band’s catchy synthy rock and roll beats. The record label hosting the BBQ served Japadog-style hot dogs and the band was simply amazing. The scenery was also just stunning – it was here that I really gained a new appreciation for why they call it le belle province.
Later that evening we saw another show at Agora des Arts, and I was very pleasantly blown away by the one person show of Emily Wells. I would describe her style as synthy, moody, multi-instrumental, and I would definitely see her again! After that we caught a few songs each of Elephant Stone and A Place to Bury Strangers at the Petit Théâtre du Vieux Noranda – and that’s when the afore mentioned festival fatigue kicked in, so beware.
Some other great shows we saw included one at this intriguing venue called Scène Évolu-Son, which my partner likened to the Bang Bang Bar for fans of Twin Peaks, where we saw a very reference appropriate band, Le Couleur. There I found yet another band I immediately wanted to load onto my Google playlist. They are sort of an electro-pop disco band combined with real percussion and they have multiple synths and a very engaging and energetic vocalist. After that we packed our bags for our impending set of 3 flights home that would be leaving bright and early the next morning. But before we flew away we squeezed in three metal shows at the Petit Théâtre du Vieux Noranda, a bit of each set of Abysmal Dawn, Incantation, and black metal band Marduk – which was quite the experience to say the least.
Go to FME to discover new music, stay for the stunning scenery, hassle free fun, and food and drink that will make you think about moving there maybe just a little bit.