Top photo: Performers at La Grande Danse (photo by David Romero)
The night air had cooled, a contrast from earlier in the day when the summer sun soared high and bright overhead. Around me, a crowd (mostly gay, mostly male, mostly shirtless) undulated to a deep, rolling bass line heaved at us from onstage by European house duo Chus & Ceballos. As it tapered into a distant storm of drumbeats, the lights faded to a glow and highlighted the twinkling cityscape on one side and the glimmering waterfront on the other.
A young woman wearing a backpack and sparkly makeup pranced toward us, cackled something in French, and vanished back into the sea of bodies. I wiped the sweat off my brow and chugged some water as a flash of light anticipated the return of the drums. The beat hung overhead a brief moment, then opened into a downpour of synth, bass, and melodic vocals. The words sung in Spanish flooded the quay and washed us away.
Photo left: La Grande Danse (photo by Aydin Matlabi)
What European electronic dance music hotspot is this? Paris? Mykonos? Ibiza? Au contraire, mon frère. It’s Divers/Cité, a weeklong international arts and culture festival that has taken place each summer in Montreal for over 20 years. In fact, in 1993 Divers/Cité organized the first Montreal LGBT pride celebration, which included a parade, a community fair, and an arts and music festival. In 2006, Divers/Cité organizers decided to create two distinct LGBT events: one focused on community development, and the other a full-fledged arts and music festival.
Most of the festival’s activities happen on Quai Jacques-Cartier in picturesque Old Port of Montreal, though the after-hours parties and some exhibits are throughout the city. In addition to a nightly lineup of international disc jockeys (Chus & Ceballos, Hector Fonesca, and DJ Escape), the most recent events program included an outdoor screening of the French film Tomboy, the Friends for Life Bike Rally (photo below right), a photography exhibit, and the 11-hour La Grande Danse party to cap it off.
The packed, over-the-top burlesque and drag shows performed by the likes of Scarlett James, Billy L’Amour, and Nat King Pole are also not to be missed. My travel companion and I nearly did, originally thinking they were happening on the same stage as the DJs. (They’re on Bonsecours Island, connected by a short pedestrian bridge to the quay.)
Photo right: Friends for Life Bike Rally(photo by Aydin Matlabi)
“The basic idea is to attain the highest sustainable quality for an outdoor event,” said Suzanne Girard, general director for Divers/Cité. “We seek performers that attract a gay crowd mixed with a wide range of audiences and use only the best light and sound equipment, security and professional staff. The most memorable part of the festival is always seeing happy people together front and back of the stage.”
“For 2015, we are presently restructuring and considering different options,” Girard noted. “But announcements will come soon.” For updates on the 2015 lineup and other information, visit DiversCite.org.
Montreal’s European vibe (brush up on that French!) makes it a great destination for anyone who longs for a trip across the pond but may not have the time or airline miles to make it happen. The epicenter of LGBT nightlife, Le Village (aka the Gay Village), centers on a stretch more than a mile long on rue Sainte-Catherine lined with bars, shops, dance clubs, and restaurants.
We were booked to stay at the Hotel Gouverneur Place Dupuis Montréal, and despite its five-star name, the hotel’s bland business traveler vibe made me think it an odd choice for a Divers/Cité host hotel. That is, until I logged on to Scruff and found the first hundred profiles to be less than 250 feet away. No need to ask for an address, just a room number. Plus, its prime location at one end of the Gay Village and main thoroughfare rue Sainte-Catherine rendered the hotel’s many shortcomings less consequential. Gouverneur.com
Repas et alcool
The upbeat music and attractive patrons crowded onto the patio at Saloon restaurant and bar (photo left) in Gay Village will no doubt draw you in come mealtime. However, stick to the offerings on the creative cocktail menu, such as the Bloody Pickle Martini of gin, Jameson, Clamato, and pickle juice. LeSaloon.ca
For food, head to Labo Culinaire (Food Lab) at the Société des Arts Technologiques, an eatery that excels with unexpected fare. Literally — the menu changes monthly, centering on a different theme like Hungarian or Turkish cuisine. Sat.qc.ca/fr/LaboCulinaire
For a fun, relaxing day, take a trip to Espace pour la Vie, where you can see a huge collection of butterflies, beetles, and other creepy crawlies from around the world at the insectarium. Follow that with a stroll through beautifully landscaped areas, including the Chinese, Alpine, and Toxic Plants gardens. EspacePourLaVie.ca
Nothing says badass like riding around town on a pink electric scooter. Plus, it’s a great way to check out some of the city’s main sights, such as Saint-Joseph’s Oratory or Mont Royal. Dyad rents the scooters (pink and otherwise) and offers tours with two days’ notice for those who might want a bit of guidance. DyadCycles.com
Photos: courtesy of businesses; Espace Pour La Vie / Claude Lafond (Chinese Garden)