Festival du Bois celebrates French-Canadian music and culture à la cabane

It's free, the videos are available on demand, and the executive and artistic producer, Johanne Dumas, is promising a whole lot of fun

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      There’s a very funny scene in one of the videos that will be presented as part of this year’s Festival du Bois.

      It shows the host of this celebration of French-Canadian culture, Monique Polloni, speaking from her home with Yann Falquet, the acoustic guitarist in the traditional Québécois band Genticorum.

      Falquet is sitting in front of the fireplace and he reveals that he’s in quarantine. That’s because he has recently returned from the United States.

      Then the musician cheerfully mentions that everything is good in his “cabane”—and he even has a friend. At that point, he holds up a big piece of firewood, causing Polloni to erupt in laughter.

      But it doesn’t end there. Falquet turns his camera toward a window, where Genticorum’s flautist, Nicholas Williams, is seen cavorting outside in winter clothes, waving at Polloni and Falquet.

      It’s a ridiculous scene and a reminder of the comedy so prevalent in La Belle Province.

      Genticorum's sense of humour, as well as its musicianship, will be on display in its video at Festival du Bois.
      Guy Tremblay

      Billed as Festival à la Cabane

      So it goes with this year’s Festival du Bois, which is being offered entirely for free online.

      This year, it’s being billed as Festival à la Cabane, with performers sharing their music, dance, and upbeat chatter with the audience from their homes.

      The executive and artistic director of the nonprofit Société francophone de Maillardville, Johanne Dumas, told the Straight by phone that videos of the performers will be available for free on demand from April 16 to 30. This means that there’s no need to be in front of your computer at a specific time to catch a specific act.

      “We wanted, really, to have people watch it at their leisure,” Dumas said. “You want to watch it? Rewatch it? That’s okay. Just have fun for two weeks.”

      B.C. rising star Jocelyn Pettit sings, plays guitar and the fiddle, and is an accomplished stepdancer.
      Audrey Thizy

      A cross-country celebration

      The festival’s various musical acts come from four provinces. Dumas explained that this was her rule for Festival du Bois when it was held live in Mackin Park in the historic French-Canadian enclave of Maillardville in Coquitlam.

      The pandemic has forced the change to a virtual setting.

      But this hasn’t squashed the joyful spirit of a celebration that’s as much about audience interaction as it is about traditional French-Canadian fiddle and accordion music.

      In the videos, the host asks musicians what they’ve been doing in their “two square metres”—a playful twist on square dances that are a traditional aspect of Québécois culture.

      “Also, what we’re doing is asking every artist participating at Festival du Bois what have they been doing in their cabane,” Dumas said.

      She added that the funniest video was made by Le Winston Band, a Montreal-based zydeco group that intersperses Cajun and rock music with its French-Canadian sounds. And next year, when Festival du Bois returns to hosting live performances, she promised that Le Winston Band will be in the lineup.

      Innu singer-songwriter Florant Vollant has released four solo albums after being part of Kashtin, one of Canada's most important First Nations groups.
      Jean-Charles Barre

      Juno winner performs

      Another Quebec-based act at this year’s event is the Juno Award–winning Innu folk-country musician Florent Vollant, who is half of the Kashtin duo. His latest album is Mitsha Meshkenu (The High Road), which includes Tex-Mex influences.

      Another musician from Quebec is Joseph Edgar, who originally hailed from New Brunswick. According to Dumas, Edgar’s Acadian rhythms are well suited to a “spectacle en salle”, i.e., an indoor show in a small venue.

      “Having this event online gave us the opportunity to be able to share that,” she said.

      Jocelyne Baribeau is one of several successful francophone musicians to emerge from Manitoba.
      Kristen Sawatzky

      The festival will also feature Manitoba’s Jocelyne Baribeau, who was francophone artist of the year at the 2016 Western Canadian Music Awards.

      Also appearing will be the Prince Edward Island singing-songwriting duo of Sirène et Matelot, with Patricia Richard and Lennie Gallant. The latter are both Acadians.

      “Lennie is so great,” Dumas declared. “He’s always reinventing himself.”

      Fiddle sensation Pierre Schryer will perform at Festival du Bois with guitarist-vocalist Andy Hillhouse.
      Hunter Ramey

      B.C. is well represented

      There’s also a healthy serving of B.C. musicians at this year’s Festival du Bois, including fiddle star Pierre Schryer, who will perform Irish traditional and Québécois folk music with guitarist-vocalist Andy Hillhouse.

      Other B.C. musicians are up-and-coming fiddler and singer-composer Jocelyn Pettit, who's performed with the Chieftains, and transplanted Brittany native and French electropop songwriter Loig Morin.

      That’s not all. Dumas pointed out that Festival du Bois will include plenty of children’s programming, including Monseiur André (André Thériault) in the sugar shack, as well as accordionist Roger Dallaire, Isabelle la Wonderful, and Frenchie the Clown.

      Dumas added that Seattle-based Sue Truman will show kids of all ages how to make “crankies”. And if you don’t know what a crankie is, you’ll have to turn on your computer and go to festivaldubois.com to find the answer.

      Isabelle la Wonderful will charm the children who tune in to Festival du Bois.