Singing the praises of a musical legend: Even clear weather made a guest appearance last night as musicians and thousands of fans packed the Place des Arts esplanade to honour Paul Simon at the jazz festival's tribute concert. Among the performers were Colin James, Holly Cole and Elvis Costello.
"Hello, darkness, my old friend," came the sonorous voice of Leonard Cohen over the heads of the Ste. Catherine St. masses.
And hello, miraculously clear night sky, and tens of thousands of friends old and young. The masses turned their collars to the damp, and the Tribute to Paul Simon concert was on.
The fury of yesterday's late-afternoon deluge had turned everyone associated with the Festival into a meteorological oddsmaker. Or a worrier.
Or a prayer.
The Ste. Catherine /PdA esplanade site had become an impromptu Umbrella City as the 9:30 showtime approached, with faces popping out from under and peering up anxiously at the skies.
But as Cohen's recorded tribute-reading of The Sound of Silence spoke for the communion between troubadour-statesmen, the festival's world-class run of luck held.
Whatever voodoo bones, juju or gris-gris event programmer Andre Menard has under his
jazzfest laminates, the gods smiled on him and his monumentally ambitious mid-festival blowout.
As Colin James emerged onstage to kick off the live music, the only thunder was in the resounding drums of The Obvious Child. Which was fitting, since the weather had gotten too much press. Fans had gathered not to prognosticate but to celebrate the pervasive legacy, and cross-generational appeal of Paul Simon. From Bookends through his pilgrimages to ends of the earth, he's been a representative of civilization in songwriting. More than a dozen performers from as many pop disciplines had literally come to sing his praises.
And the feeling in the crowd? They loved him like a rock.
Mannie and Sharna Young are Montrealers from N.D.G. "We're Paul Simon lovers," they said before the show.
"And the artists who are playing tonight are fabulous. We're from the era, we had every one of their albums. And still do. There was no doubt over coming. We're not afraid of the rain. We've got umbrellas."
Sahar Ghoshab is 17 years old. "I learned about Paul Simon from friends and parents of that generation and hearing it played in the house. I love the jazzfest in general, but was really attracted to this show."
And, it must be admitted, to Sam Roberts. "He brings a younger feel to the event." Weather? "Nothing could stop me. Montreal is the place to be in summer."
Beth Cumming is from Rawdon. "I wanted to bring my two daughters to the jazzfest," she said, riding herd on Madison, 10, and Mackenzie, 5. "They're country girls. I'm a city girl. I wanted them to see what their mother used to do.
"We pretty much came into town with this show in mind. It's free, it's Paul Simon songs, it's got Holly Cole and Bedouin Soundclash. Come on!"
James poured his energy into the irresistible Cecilia. He was succeeded by Holly Cole, seemingly born to sing Kodachrome.
Each successive performer in the kaleidoscope lineup fairly beamed to belt out a songbook seemingly encoded in our communal DNA.
Elvis Costello would declaim "Peace Like A River" and welcome "Monsieur Allen Toussaint" for "American Tune."
Zachary Richard would Take Me to the Mardi Gras and mock the weather with a Fat Tuesday umbrella.
Michel Rivard soared in America and a duet with Ariane Moffatt on The Boxer (and really, there should be an extra singer's chevron for the bravery in taking on the rampant melody of The Boxer).
Jim Cuddy? As clear of voice as the night sky had become. Kevin Parent, neo-saloon star Jamie Cullum with 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.
Hometown rock 'n' roll hero Sam Roberts has been a Paul Simon fan for about as long as he's loved music. When he was asked to participate in the tribute show he said "Yes" before the question was out.
Earlier yesterday, he was hanging around the festival site, summer nut-brown, taut as steel cable and grinning like a kid behind his aviator shades.
"I'm used to playing with the same four scraggly guys all the time" he said, talking about his touring band.
"Now I'm playing with these, these, yeah, these session cats. That's what we call them. Session cats. Jazz cats (Dan Thouin and his band). Amazing."
It was. Why deny the obvious, child?