Divers/Cité :: Montréal’s Music and Love Festival

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Monday Aug 9, 2010

As the locals like to say, there are two seasons in Montréal: winter and festivals. And while Montréal's winter can last for eight months, that still leaves an entire four months to celebrate 24/7 amidst a profusion of outdoor festivals.

Few festivals are more aptly named than Divers/Cité, Montréal's weeklong party at the end of July that celebrates music and art amidst one of the more diverse populations in all of North America. Initiated in 1993 as Montréal's LGBT Pride celebration, Divers/Cité has subsequently evolved into an urban Burning Man festival that brings together tens of thousands of celebrants and music lovers from all over the globe. With nearly fifty hours of free outdoor parties and performances, Divers/Cité rivals the intensity of Winter Music Conference while channeling the love-fueled atmosphere of Woodstock.

That's right: you read it correctly. Free, as in no charge - that's a hallmark of Divers/Cité, and conceivably one reason why the outdoors events are marked by such an abundance of smiles and unconstrained joy.

The theme for this year's 18th edition of Divers/Cité was All Together Different - a concept that neatly and succinctly addresses the import of both individualism and community, and which is also, interestingly, evocative of France's own motto: Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, equality, brotherhood).

Divers/Cité Channels the Love-Fueled Atmosphere of Woodstock

Montréal in summer is the dream summer of your childhood: bright sun with no humidity, and a population of people who seem to eat happiness along with their croissants for breakfast. Even the planeloads of peeps from New York and Miami, London and Paris, lose the attitude once they’re walking the 17th-century cobblestone walkways of Vieux Montréal.

And in truth, who wouldn’t want to trade Manhattan or Miami’s steamy squalor for the cool breeze that floats across the St. Lawrence River where overgrown lavender perfumes the pedestrian paths?

In Montréal, le Village is the gay quartier, the eastern stretch of rue St. Catherine - and in summer, it’s pedestrian-only, and thereby serves as a ten-block catwalk for the glamazon beauties from Mado and the excessively-endowed boys from Stock Bar and Campus. To sit and sip along St. Catherine is to see an ongoing parade of one of the more diverse LGBT populations in the world: everyone walks by - in stilettos or combat boots, bare feet or toe shoes.

Over the course of the past three summers, due to the growth of elaborate outdoor cafes gussied up with arbors and pavilions, the gay section of St. Catherine has become more akin to a Roman piazza (or at the very least, Lincoln Road in Miami Beach), albeit without the stifling heat. People amble up and down the street as if they had all the time in the world, which appears to be a hallmark of Montréal: there’s always time to relax and sip a beer and laugh with a local.

Montréal : New York (Without the Stress)

As the flight steward from Montréal had said to us earlier, "Yes, Montréal is a bit like New York - although without the stress." We’ll second that, and it’s not surprising to run into former New Yorkers who’ve settled into Montréal full time. For as someone else reminded us, there are three big differences between Canada and the US: same-sex marriage, gun control, and no capital punishment. Food for thought.

By the time we hit the Divers/Cité Sunset Party on Saturday evening at Parc Emilie-Gamelin, house legend DJ Frankie Knuckles had packed the park with a crowd of househeads who danced with the same abandon and joy that has for so long marked Knuckles’ parties. Knuckles played a mesmerizing set that included standards such as "Whistle Song" and Sylvester’s "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," as well as his hypnotizing remix of Chris Isaak’s "Wicked Game" that had the entire crowd singing, "I...I don’t want to fall in love," which was, of course, the supreme irony, given how completely enamored everyone was all night long.

It’s well known and photo-documented that Montréal parties are invariably eye-candy feasts. That skin, those eyes! It can’t be the poutine (a late-night mass of cheese curd, French fries, and gravy best imbibed to offset a hangover) that keeps these faces looking so lovely - so there must be, after all, something to be said for the cold. Even better, these fresh-faced beauties are some of the friendliness people on the planet, with some of the softest voices and the sweetest smiles. Politeness seems to be bred in with the good skin.

le Grand Danse : the Largest, Free Outdoor Dance Event in North America

This then was the scene that greeted us late Sunday afternoon for Divers/Cité’s main event, le Grand Danse, the 10-hour, non-stop, multiple-block street party that is the largest, free outdoor dance event in North America. Picture more than 10,000 people on the same cool vibe, working it out to the intoxicating global beats of London’s Miswhite, Italy’s Danny Verde (w/Anna Buckley), Manchester’s Freemason, and Madrid’s Abel Ramos. Picture a sea of joyous faces, hands in the air. Picture a field of fabulous headgear and seriously chic shades. Picture men in kilts and girls in bikinis. Picture the sun setting behind the stage as the lights come up flashing across the ecstatic crowd. Picture a world where music is the sole religion. Picture happiness. Picture the world as you’d like it to be.

Picture Montréal for Divers/Cité - and get there next summer for the time of your life.

Related Links
Divers/Cite Photo Album
Montreal Street Fashion

A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.


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