Alain Chartrand

Photo by/par Benoit Rousseau

The Coup de cœur francophone turns 30 this year. For 2016, about 100 performances are programmed in 13 Montréal venues during the 11-day festival, which wraps up on Nov. 13. Thirty years of creation and discovery, that have made this fall event a staple on Québec’s music scene.

In September of 2016, during the Gala de la SOCAN in Montréal, festival director and co-founder, Alain Chartrand received the Special Achievement Award, given by his peers for his contribution to the promotion of our culture through Coup de cœur francophone. “I am, obviously, honoured – especially when you look at the prestigious list of previous recipients, such as Guy Latraverse or Donald Tarlton,” says Chartrand. “So I was a little intimidated at first, because the award recognizes the work of an artisan, and it comes from an institution that oversees the copyrights of songwriters. I’m proud of this award because SOCAN recognizes the work of live show bookers and presenters, as we are one link in the long chain of the value of music.

“In the mid-‘80s, we quickly realized that there was clearly an interest for the new wave of chanson française represented by artists like Arthur H. [whose first appearance at Coup de coeur was an opening slot for Luc de Larochelière], Dominique A., Arno, and the like. There were many artists waiting to be discovered, and that is the first mission of a festival.”

What concerts have impressed him the most over those thirty years? “That’s a cruel question!” he says. “Alain Bashung in 1995 was a magnificent show, the timing was perfect. Richard Desjardins Symphonique – who, incidentally, played Coup de coeur for the first time in 1988, opening for Isabelle Mayereau, the first time he played in front of 600 people.” In fact, Desjardins played Coup de coeur seven times over thirty years.

“There’s also Danse Lhasa Danse, which we created for the 25th edition in 2011, which definitely became a milestone for Coup de coeur,” says Chartrand. “Pierre-Paul Savoie was in charge of the choreography, with 13 dancers, six singers and five musicians. The first time everyone rehearsed together was on the day of the show!”

Diane Dufresne is also among the Artistic Director’s most fond memories. “I remember that one also,” he says, “because the late Allain Leprest opened for her, and at the end of his performance, he thanked the Fracofolies!”

Danse Lhasa Danse

Danse Lhasa Danse. Photo by/par Jean-François Leblanc

Yet, at some point, Coup de coeur had to leave its comfort zone and explore more abrasive artists such as Massilia Sound System, No One Is Innocent, Vulgaires Machins and WD-40: “Obviously,” says Chartrand, “we had to move away from our go-to intro, ‘Amis de la chanson, bonsoir?!’” (Loosely translated: “Good evening, song lovers.”)

What’s his impression of today’s music ecosystem? “People ask me all the time if I think we’re in a crisis,” says Chartrand. “In the three decades of Coup de cœur francophone, there has never been a creative crisis. The way we consume music has changed, and the tough part today for artists is how to reach the audience. When Coup de coeur started, the recurring issue was getting on the radio, because that was the only way to reach the audience.”

So, Chartrand is an optimist? “There are always are cycles, new faces that emerge,” he says. “Nowadays, we could do two or three separate programs. But will the newcomers have the ability to constantly renew their audience? Take Sylvie Paquette [who’s presenting her homage concert to poet Anne Hébert on Nov. 8]. She’s the first artist to ever play at Coup de coeur. She’s perseverant, even though her record sales were never through the roof. She developed her audience.”

It’s a secret to no one that Chartrand has a privileged relationship with songwriters. “It’s actually more a relationship with the songs,” he says. “I’m interested in songs because they’re interested in me. It’s a mutual interest. There’s also a trust-based relationship with musicians when it comes to paying their royalties. We’ve always made sure we’re up-to-date on the rules regulating copyrights. I’m no specialist, but the way things are nowadays, I believe the problem needs to be solved legally; we need governments to use their power against service providers. We also need to better position Francophone music so it’s better remunerated. But the problem is global.”

It’s easy to forget that Coup de coeur is a partnership project. Forty-five Canadian cities are affiliated to present more than two hundred performances. “Our playground extends over six time zones,” says Chartrand. “Instead of developing vertically, we developed horizontally!”

Among the can’t-miss concerts of the 2016 edition, Chartrand is excited to see Philippe Brach (who’ll premiere the songs off of his new album Enfant-Ville), Klô Pelgag’s new show, Corps, amour et anarchie and the return to the stage of Les Goules.