Notre-Dame-de-Grace (NDG) has been my "hometown" for most of my life, so naturally I wanted to check out a bluegrass band called Notre Dame de Grass on the opening night of the Jazz Festival, June 29. Despite the somewhat cool weather that evening, the band drew a happy, toe-tapping crowd.
Again the weather threatened, and occasionally followed through with rain. We stood close to the reviewing stand at Ste. Catherine St. West and McGill College, and watched as the first "mas" participants performed in front of the stage and passed by. For some reason, I found it all pretty unexciting. This is no criticism of the musicians or the dancers, who braved some nasty weather in costumes that don't do well in rain. They were certainly energetic. Maybe I'm just getting old. (In fact, there's no maybe about it.) But my dissatisfaction comes from more than that.
I knew it was possible that what was to come would be more exciting. (The Global News' report on the event was more comprehensive, and featured interviews, so obviously the opinion I'm offering is just that—an opinion, and a highly subjective one at that.) I thought maybe it was the crowd control barricades that lined the street, clearly separating the "spectators" from the "spectacle," that bothered me. And maybe it was that the spectacle included numerous Montreal cops making a show of their presence, some riding their bicycles around in lazy figure eights in the area in front of the reviewing stand, looking like circus clowns in their protest garb.
I don't think that Carifiesta will ever again be what it used to be; and for many people (mostly those who don't know what it was) that's okay. But back in the mid-1980s, although people came from all over the city, the Caribbean, and the world, it was an NDG event. It fostered a sense of involvement with our neighbours and a sense of pride in our diverse community.
The day of Carifête, as it was called then, was almost unfailingly hot and sunny. At least that's how I remember it. Flatbed trucks carried bands, both local and internationally-known (like Kinky Foxx, whose bassist, Leslie Booker, was a neighbour of mine in those days). The fantastically-costumed dancers and revellers who filled the spaces between the trucks always welcomed ordinary folks who wanted to "jump up" with them. The happy parade would wend its way westward along Sherbrooke Street to Trenholme Park, where vendors from Toronto, Nova Scotia, New York City, and parts in between and beyond would be waiting with roties and soft drinks and Bob Marley paraphernalia. Those were some fine days.
When the decision was made to move the Carifête downtown to Boulevard René-Lévesque (sometime around 1990, I think), my life was also changing directions. Looking back, it feels as if the changes signified the end of an era. I went to one Carifête on René-Lévesque and felt alienated. There was something surreal about the way the colours and sounds of Life reverberated from the barren grey facades of highrise office towers.