The 38th edition of the Festival Franco-Ontarien, held from June 13 to June 16, has ended on a high note with three days of fun in the sun and live francophone music enjoyed by a crowd of around 20,000 people, 5000 more than in 2012. Themed around the 4ooth anniversary of Champlain’s passage in the region, this year’s Franco, as it’s called for short, offered a winning formula combining youth-friendly shows and activities along with a variety of performances and animations to please the older public.
The annual festival, which celebrates Francophone music and culture, especially Ontario’s Francophone community, was once again held at Major Hill Park, an ideal location compared to the previous one situated in front of the Ottawa City Hall where festival-goers felt somewhat constrained. The open park concept at Major Hill allows for a nice balance between the stage, crowd, food vendors, VIP section, kids zone and buskers.
Mother Nature turned up for the entire duration of the festival, to the organizers’ relief, and so did the crowd who got to cool off with complimentary freezies courtesy of Air Canada, a nice touch from the major sponsor. It was certainly encouraging to see this many people attending, considering past years have been rough financially. Then again, ever since Groupe Simoncic (the production company that runs the festival) took over the Franco, people have been coming in large numbers to hear live Francophone music at an event that proves to be accessible and family-friendly year after year.
For the 2013 edition, members of the public had the opportunity to discover emerging talent from the National Capital Region and beyond and to sing along to their favorite songs from veterans of Francophone music. There were also returning artists like the Remesha-Drums, Swing and Damien Robitaille, local favorites who’ve performed at the Franco on several occasions.
The only down-side to point out is the lack of originality and variety with respect to this year’s half-time shows, which are meant to entertain the crowd while the main stage is preparing for following acts. This year, organizers partnered with a local dance school who presented a variety of amateur choreographies, most of which were mediocre and cute at best. Instead of pumping the crowd, these dance performances ended up creating a lull when they should’ve been warming up the audience for upcoming acts. What’s more, the same performances were presented on both Saturday and Sunday, which proved to be dull for festival-goers attending all three days.
To kick off this year’s installment, festival organizers presented a colorful night dedicated to the 400th Anniversary of Champlain’s passage with a special l’Echo d’un peuple presentation and a “kitchen party” complete with a lively performance from legends of Quebec folklore, La Bottine souriante who were joined on stage by Swing.
As for Friday, June 14, Billy Love Band, an emerging local rock group from the Outaouais region, opened the evening by introducing the public to material from their first EP titled Au Delà du Pain aux Bananes. Lead by singer-songwriter and violinist William Lamoureux, also member of local group La Cavale, the Billy Love Band offered a respectful set to a receptive audience.
Following Billy Love Band, local favorite Damien Robitaille took to the stage with his group of musicians to the delight of many fans who had gathered at Major Hill Park to see the Franco-Ontarian singer-songwriter perform live. Robitaille has a charming personality and great stage presence which makes him enjoyable to watch. A definite crooner, he also threw in a good dose a humor throughout his set which included the songs Serpents et échelles, Porc-épic, Ta maman m’amadoue, Mot de passe, La danse du drapeau, and Mètres de mon être among others.
The night concluded with a special performance by veteran Francophone group Les Colocs, who premiered Les Colocs pour la vie, a reunion show that will be taking them across the province of Quebec this summer. The guys from the now-defunct folk/rock/reggae/blues group were joined on stage by special guests Loco Locass, Elage Diouf, Mara Tremblay, Seb Plante of Les Respectables, and Marc Déry who took advantage of the occasion to celebrate Les Colocs’ musical legacy. The set list included the popular hits La rue principale, Julie, Bon’yeu, and Tassé vous de d’la among many others from the repertoire.
The final day of the festival was clearly geared towards a younger audience, a bold move from the organizers which proved to be successful. La Bronze, a Montreal-based electro/rock/pop group whose founding member and lead singer-songwriter, Nadia Essadiqi, is originally from Gatineau, kicked things off with an energetic and engaging performance combining music and choreographed dance. The set list included a couple of covers along with the tracks Tes cheveux de feu and La course nue dans les prés from the group’s self-titled EP. It was a captivating, refreshing and intriguing show and it definitely sparked the crowd’s curiosity despite being a bit progressive for many.
The evening continued with Coeur de Pirate, whose presence attracted an impressive crowd of fans. Sitting behind her piano for the majority of the set, singer-songwriter Béatrice Martin, humbly admitted to giving her first group performance in a year as she’s been on a solo tour for the past months. True to Coeur de Pirate’s mellow style, the set started off rather smoothly, and picked up towards the end to finish on a solid note with the hit single Comme des enfants, that the audience happily sang along to.
To conclude the annual festival, Misteur Valaire headlined the final night in front of a primarily young crowd gathered to dance and groove to the sounds of the eclectic electro-jazz group. Presenting new material from their upcoming album to be released in September, Misteur Valaire started their performance with Bellevue Avenue, the title-track off of the group’s latest project. They gave an energetic show to a fun audience and concluded their hour-set with the popular Ave Mucho.
It’s safe to say that festival organizers can be pleased with this year’s turn out while taking note of the good and not-so-good moves for future years. There’s not doubt that the 2013 Festival Franco-Ontarien will go down as a memorable edition for every one in attendance.