Montreal becomes Nashville North for the inaugural Lasso festival

montreal becomes nashville north for the inaugural lasso festival

Fans cheer JoJo Mason during the Lasso country music festival, in Montreal on Friday, August 12, 2022.

Strange as it might seem, Montreal is a country-music mecca. At least for this weekend.

Over 15,000 people made the trek to Parc Jean Drapeau on Friday to catch the first day of the inaugural edition of Lasso Montreal, the city’s first major country festival, and after the alt-rock fans at Osheaga and the electronic dance music aficionados at ÎleSoniq , it was time for the folks in cowboy hats and boots to take over the island.

And they did just that, showing up to catch country stars like Dierks Bentley, Old Dominion, Ashley McBryde, and Tenille Townes. The Lasso fest continues Saturday with sets by Montrealer Brittany Kennell, Riley Green, Kelsea Ballerini, and Luke Bryan.

Montreal has until now been a fairly inhospitable market for country music and most of the big country artists bypassed the city. But the success of Lasso shows that there’s way more support for the genre here than many of us used to think.

Emilie Brunet was loving what she was hearing and that’s in part because “it’s not the western we used to have here in Quebec.” Which is exactly why it’s clicking with Quebecers no matter what language they speak. The mainstream country music from the past decade or so is much closer to old-school rock than classic Nashville country.

The perfect example was the James Barker Band who played Friday at Lasso. It’s really country rock with an emphasis on the rock. At one point, they segued into a song that sounded a lot like the alternative hard rock of Rage Against the Machine and there were quite a few intense electric guitar solos. Johnny Cash it wasn’t.

“I hope Lasso encourages other country artists to come because I think they often go to Toronto and not Montreal,” said Brian Moulaison, a big country fan who’d shown up on day one. “Hopefully with this they’ll get a good vibe for Montreal and come in big numbers. I think it’s a great festival to get country artists here. Today’s country is very different from the western. Then there’s Blanco Brown (who played in the afternoon). He’s a crossover as well. He’s very hip hop and he’s very good. A lot of beat to it. Today’s country has lots of crossovers between genres.”

Moulaison said people in Montreal are kind of embarrassed to say they’re country fans.

“I think some people are shy to say it,” said Moulaison. “Around the office, if you say you’re going to a country show, you kind of say it quietly. And then the other person will say – ‘Hey I love country too.’”

As opposed to Osheaga, which appeals mostly to an 18-22-year-old crowd, there was a much wider age range for the crowd at Lasso and there was a very laidback vibe on the site. Country appeals to hockey players. It’s very popular with younger beer-league players and it’s also popular with National Hockey League players, including Canadiens forwards Nick Suzuki and Josh Anderson , who were both at the fest and met with Old Dominion just before their set.

Old Dominion elicited a warm response from the crowd for their energetic set, including hits like No Such Thing As a Broken Heart, I Was on a Boat That Day and One Man Band. Bentley followed Old Dominion with a rocking show that also underlined that this type of country is closer to John Mellencamp than old school Nashville.

“Country has become the hot thing,” said Ed Imbeault, who was taking in the festival. “Everyone can get along. Everyone has a great time. It’s always fun. You don’t need to worry about the guy next to you being aggravated and wanting to fight with you. It’s just grown by itself over the years. You have the Sirius XM radio stations. It’s blown up. And it’s great. This is amazing. This is one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time in Montreal.”

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