This year marks the 15th annual “Festival de musique émergente en Abitibi-Témiscamingue” (FME from here on in). Notable for its remote location in Rouyn-Noranda, located just seven hours north of Montreal, as well as for its consistently diverse line up featuring acts that range from indie rock, folk, hip hop and metal. It’s booked by the same core team people, Jenny Thibault, Sandy Boutin, and Pierre Thibault with assistance from local members of the hip hop and metal communities. This team is responsible for a bill that ranges from quiet folk like Andy Shauf, up through punishing guitar noise like A Place To Bury Strangers and Aboriginal DJ trio A Tribe Called Red.
So why the decision to hold it in such a remote location? In speaking with Jenny Thibault, it was simply about bringing bands to them instead of travelling to see them. While Rouyn-Noranda already has strong metal and hip hop scenes, it felt like a great way to bring attention to their out-of-the-way town. Thibault also praises the ambience of the festival, as well as the city it’s set in, as a positive, respectful atmosphere for artists to perform in. Having begun the festival with 22 bands 15 years ago, it has grown to host over 70 bands performing across the weekend. While the urge to grow larger and larger is often a motivating factor for festivals, FME is comfortable at the level it’s at, Thibault noting that all of the hotels in town have already been booked for months. As a smaller festival, there’s a great emphasis on the ability to create magical moments, which you sometimes won’t find at larger, broader festivals.
There are a few events at the festival that will deliver this magic, like a tribute concert to Richard Desjardins, who played the festival in its first year (a truly special part of the closing day). Additionally, FME has begun a collaboration with the Pikogan Pow Wow which will include a very special event on the friday of the festival, on the banks of Osisko lake. Collaborating with the Aboriginal groups in the area is very important to the festival as seven tribes call the region home. There are also several secret shows planned throughout the weekend, which tend to be some of the highlights of the festival.
Maybe it’s natural selection that brings such a good crowd to the festival, people who don’t love music are unlikely to make the trip to such a remote part of Canada. For the community though this weekend is one of the biggest of the year, and the events of the festival range from shows in the street, in schoolyards, and even in retirement homes. It seems guaranteed you’re going to have an experience you never expected at this festival.
As a final piece of advice for people attending for the first time, Thibault recommends you plan your schedule in advance, take the time to meet locals, download the festival app to stay in the loop on secret shows, and most importantly, leave yourself open to new experiences with bands you may not know. Celebrating its 15 years, the festival seems to be going as strong as ever, and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for this year!
Expect some previews of the bands playing in the days leading up to the festival taking place August 31st through September 3rd in Rouyn-Noranda.