Art's Personal Wrap

Before I get to all the pretty words, let me just say: I'd probably rave about a Montreal show if it amounted to nothing more than a big room with a few portable record players and a stack of 45s, with maybe a few beers thrown in. In the past 17 years—since my daughter was in a stroller—I've missed only a few of these shows, and throughout that time I've learned something important: The Montreal Audio Fest, formerly Salon Son et Image, isn't so much about hardware. If it were, there'd be no sense attending, because the High End show in Munich does hardware better than this or any other show, and God bless them for it. Montreal Audio Fest also isn't about lavish parties or celebrities or exotic climates: cripes, the weather up there in March is usually so miserable that even the ducks that populate the Hotel Bonaventure's tenth-floor gardens spend most of the day hiding under the bushes.

You know where I'm going with this but I'll say it anyway: Montreal Audio Fest is mostly about people—the people who run it, staff it, exhibit at it, attend it, and otherwise populate it. And those people are, for the most part, very warm, very knowledgeable, very fun, and very enthused about high-quality music playback. So I guess, in the end, you could say that Montreal Audio Fest is all about the spirit—the kind that keeps this pastime limping along.

Consider this: On every Saturday evening of almost every Montreal show, ever, all the people have stopped their work at 6pm sharp—they're very serious about this—and gathered for a celebration in which one or two of them are honored for their contributions to our little world.

Montreal Audio Fest 2017 was no exception. This year's winners of Lifetime Achievement Awards were Mark Mandlsohn (on the left in the photo above), the director of Bay Bloor Radio in Toronto, and, to his left, Bernard Fillion and Sylvie Thibault and their son Samuel Fillion, who operate Fillion Electronique in Montreal. I don't know any of them—and most of this year's introductions and acceptance speeches were in French only—but it's my understanding that all have distinguished themselves by carrying on with retail businesses founded by earlier generations of their families.

To a somewhat greater than average degree, in the great pantheon of audio shows that I've attended, Montreal Audio Fest is about music. On the one hand, it has almost always attracted world-class performers, such as Anne Bisson (in the photo above).

And, after a couple of fallow years earlier in this decade, Montreal Audio Fest has once again attracted some very good record dealers. Last year, Martin and Melanie Landry of PlekoVinyle kick-started that revival, and this year they were joined by four other vendors, with a total inventory so large that this year's record sellers required a ballroom of their own. Business was consistently brisk—I know because I popped in there often, and left a little of my own money behind.

But back to the whole people thing: This is the second year of legal non-profit status for Montreal Audio Fest, after the near-disaster of last year, when previous organizers the Chester Group cancelled the show just days before its scheduled opening, owing to a scarcity of exhibitors. The show was rescued from the brink of oblivion by the determination and hard work of two people: Michel Plante (above, at this year's awards ceremony), and Sarah Tremblay—they and the tireless staffers, many of whom are volunteers, whom I've seen working from morning till night at almost every Montreal show I've been fortunate to attend. The love Michel and Sarah have for this community and this show, and the love they get in return, is palpable: the halls ring with it, drowning out everything else. Noisy love: that's my idea of a great audio show.

This was the first year I was joined in covering the Montreal show by my colleague Robert Schryer (on the right in the photo above, taken by Guy Pelletier), and I imagine he'll also have a few closing words to say. For my part, I feel the same as I have almost every late March for the past 17 years: I'm already looking forward to next year's show.