Photo: Kris King
Photo: Kris King

A Conversation With .. Jenny Thibault of FME

We are just beginning to make amends, listen, and respond to the needs and aspirations of our First Nation citizens. Language, culture and art have a way of loosening the grip of prejudice, suspicion, neglect and hatred - allowing us a golden opportunity to heal and move forward.

Wherever artists camp; whether in neglected buildings, neighborhoods on the fringe, or out of sight of the well-healed – property values rise and revitalization occurs. The once drab and colorless becomes the most desired.

This summer it’s our festivals that link our country together. We have high-priced mega-stars and free community events bookending a variety of principled get-togethers. I’ve written about the monied situations, big and small but just up the road is the – experience! Thus FME!

“Language is culture and central to our songs, stories, and ceremonies. The recognition, promotion, and recovery of First Nations languages - the original languages of these lands. There are no Indigenous languages that are considered to be safe.” Assembly of First Nations.

These voices need to be heard and embraced in all configurations; from vowel to verse. I spoke with Jenny Thibault, Festival Co-founder and Vice-President of FME.

FME (The Abitibi-Témiscamingue Emerging Music Festival) runs from Aug. 31-Sept. 3. More info here 

What’s up with the best festival you've possibly never heard of?

We’re celebrating our 15th edition this year. Already! The idea behind our festival is to foster dissemination of original music and discovery of emerging artists. For this anniversary, we’re creating a program aligned with FME traditions, but with a couple of surprises thrown into the mix!

The festival is nine hours north of Montreal. What gives it a heartbeat?

That’s a good question. I think it’s a mix of distance, remoteness, music enthusiasts and passion. There is also a natural selection; only real music fans would drive nine hours to see some concerts in a small isolated town. All these passionate people converge on Rouyn-Noranda for four days of intensive music and the whole town vibrates to the rhythm of music with shows happening everywhere.

Are most of the performers drawn from the region?

We have around 75 bands. Maybe four or five are from the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region. The programming is like a snapshot of the best indie projects from that year’s Quebec scene, alongside a selection of some of our favourite new Canadian, US and European projects.

Song and dance play a central role in familiarizing visitors to aboriginal culture. How is the programming laid out?

We will have a special event organized by the Pikogan Pow Wow team on Friday, September 1st. The FME did some installations at their event earlier in the year and we invited them to do the same at our event. It’s a new collaboration. We will have some aboriginal performers of traditional dance and music close to the Osisko Lake. It’s going to be really inspiring. And the festival opening will set the tone with a performance by A Tribe Called Red.

How are you able to attract tourists? Are there accommodations nearby?

Yes, we do have accommodations. Rouyn-Noranda is a city of 40k inhabitants, with eight hotels and plenty of restaurants, bars, cafes, etc. Visitors can find information about the local hotels on the FME site

Do you rely on sponsorships? Are there ticketed events?

For sure we have some sponsorship, grants from local and federal governments, as well as the independent revenues from tickets and bars. We do have ticketed events that you can access either with the festival passport or by purchasing separate tickets.

Is there a variety of genres? What is the most popular?

Yes, we always have a wide spectrum of music; Folk, stoner rock, psych, metal, rap, spoken word, indie rock, electro pop, DJ sets, actual music…

Location is a priority when staging an event – it’s the grounds that in many ways peaks people interest. What sets FME apart from other festivals of a comparable size?

I think it’s that we are so isolated. The team are so dedicated to curating the best possible programme of intimate concerts and surprise shows in venues and spaces all across the city. For instance, a few years ago we had GYBE (Godspeed) in a church of 400 people in the middle of the night. It’s an experience that people who were there will remember for years, I’m sure! And there’s always the possibility of stumbling upon shows in places like the forecourt of the local gas station, or impromptu gigs in the early hours of the morning at the all-night poutine restaurant…

What other activities are available nearby?

You can go fishing, trekking, kayaking, swimming. You are in the middle of the forest. You can also visit a mine or a refuge for wild animals.

For those who wish to immerse themselves in First Nation culture are there other components that bring those from the outside a closer understanding and kinship with the communities?

We have seven First Nation communities in the region. Therefore, it’s really easy to visit them and to have the chance to discuss and exchange thoughts and ideas.

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