Must-See Montreal Events in May 2019

Here are my choice Montreal arts and culture highlights for May 2019:


Many top touring acts headline various Montreal concert venues this month.

Legendary British singer-songwriter Joe Jackson headlines Théâtre Maisonneuve on May 9, Toronto indie rockers Broken Social Scene play at the Corona Theatre on May 21, Metric + July Talk (May 5) and American hard rockers Halestorm (May 15) headline MTELUS, while former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page performs solo at L’Astral on May 10.

American singer and pianist, Black Veil Brides frontman and all-around fabulous dresser Andy Black (a.k.a Andy Biersack, formerly known as Andy Six) plays a solo set at L’Astral on May 15, though Montrealers will not get to see RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Adore Delano who will join Black as opening act on The Ghost Of The United Kingdom tour this July.

P!nk headlines the Bell Centre (May 17 and 18), as does Florence and The Machine (May 28), while Mulatu Astatke – the Ethiopian musician and arranger best known as the father of Ethio-jazz – headlines the Corona Theatre on May 16.

Canadian heavy metal icons Anvil – who have influenced everybody from Anthrax to Metallica, and have been compared to the fictional band Spinal Tap for the on and offstage antics – headline an intimate show at Petit Campus on May 9.

2018’s “Best New Artist” Grammy Award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter Alessia Cara (May 16) and The Musical Box (May 18), as well as French musician and composer Yann Tiersen (May 30) all headline Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, as does Rufus Wainwright on May 22.

In a wide-ranging April 2019 interview, I asked Rufus (pictured at top) what his favorite moment was performing at Montreal’s legendary Café Sarajevo back in the 1990s before he became famous.

“I was a big fan of my mom (late legendary singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle) back in those days when I used to play late at night,” Rufus replied. “She’d come to the shows and we’d have a kind of party and she felt part of the act was heckling me! She always inserted herself into my concerts, and Sarajevo was definitely the testing ground for that platform. I miss my mom heckling me.”

In the 1990s, Rufus and I both used to hang out at trashy Miami Bar, a fabulous dive on The Main. What is his favourite Miami anecdote from back in the day?

Rufus laughed, then said, “Well, I don’t remember much, frankly, but making out with an oil-rig worker from Calgary was one of my finest moments.”

Local shows of note: 

The 2019 edition of Porchfest in NDG will be held on May 18 and 19, and will showcase such acts as Osmosis Unlimited featuring Montreal ska and reggae legends John Jordan and Kali, on May 18; and four NDG Music School bands will perform a mix of covers and originals on May 19.

Meanwhile, the punk rock Pouzza Fest welcomes some 175 bands from Quebec and North America from May 17 to 19 on the Parterre du Quartier des Spectacles, including a free outdoor show by Montreal ska outfit the Planet Smashers on May 18.

Montreal synth-pop band Ghost Love host a single release concert at The Diving Bell Social Club on May 5.


The Orchestre Métropolitain headline their Resounding Beethoven concert at Maison symphonique de Montréal on May 10, while the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal welcomes revered American conductor Michael Tilson Thomas (music director of the San Francisco Symphony) and young piano prodigy George Li who will make their OSM debuts together, with Liszt’s First Piano Concerto and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, in two concerts, May 22 and 23.

The OSM with Grammy-winning Maestro Kent Nagano at the helm devotes its final concert of the season to French composer Hector Berlioz, for three concerts at the Maison symphonique, May 29 and 31, and June 1.

The newly-renamed Orchestre Classique de Montréal (formerly the McGill Chamber Orchestra) with Maestro Boris Brott presents its all-Mozart concert Young Virtuosos at Bourgie Hall on May 11, with pianists Emily Oulousian and Zhan Hong Xiao.

Visit the captivating world of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Concert with a full symphony orchestra playing Nicholas Hooper’s magical score as the film soars across the big screen in high-definition, at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on May 24 and 25.

I Musici de Montréal celebrates its 35th anniversary with a star-studded concert at the Maison symphonique on May 26, with guest artists soprano Marianne Fiset, pianist Charles-Richard Hamelin and cellist Stéphane Tétreault.

The Opéra de Montréal will close their season with George Bizet’s iconic opera Carmen, directed by renowned filmmaker Charles Binamé, for five performances at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier, from May 4 to 13.

Interestingly, Bizet achieved few successes before his final work Carmen, which he was convinced was also a failure following its world premiere in 1875, three months before he died at the age of 36. Carmen has since become one of the most beloved and most performed operas in history.

Sold out since the month of February, the OdeM’s colossal new production of Carmen features a whopping 374 people involved in each performance! You may be able to still find tickets for sale on the event’s Facebook page.


The 21st edition of the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival runs from May 2 to 5, and presents 229 activities and events in 17 languages, with 268 participants from 20 countries, including France, Israel, Lebanon, Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Guadeloupe.

To highlight the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages, the 2019 edition presents an entire series of events devoted to Indigenous voices and literatures. This series will bring together Indigenous writers and other artists from Australia, Latin America and Turtle Island (North America).

Blue Metropolis also marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. One highlight is Woodstock Redux: Peace, Love and Music on May 4, when Woodstock headliner and author David Clayton-Thomas of Blood Sweat and Tears will reminisce about Woodstock.

Other highlights include the Violet Metropolis LGBTQ series which looks at the impact the Stonewall Riots had on Quebec literature (May 5); and also features a live Q&A (May 4) with legendary director, writer and activist John Greyson, with interviewer and film critic Matthew Hays, co-presented by Never Apart and Image & Nation.

The festival also presents several literary prizes, including the Blue Metropolis International Literary Grand Prix, this year being awarded to Pulitzer-winning bestselling American writer Annie Proulx on May 4.

Now based outside Seattle, Proulx was enrolled in the doctoral program in history at Sir George Williams University — where she earned her master’s degree — when the institution merged with Loyola College to become Concordia University in 1974. She would return to the university in 1999 to receive an honorary doctorate.

When I interviewed Proulx in 2016, she spoke of her enduring love for Canada.

“My father’s father, Ovila Peter Proulx, born in St. Luc, Quebec, in 1885, moved to Connecticut in New England to work in the cotton mills and became a naturalized citizen in 1910,” Proulx explained. “Canada has played ‘an important recurring role’ in my life. Canada has always felt like my real home in many ways. Impossible to explain my feelings for the country, but in part it attracts me because it feels un-ruined, because the past seems more graspable, the historic event more palpable, the frisson of knowing my ancestors were there, hacking away at the trees.”

About the “Brokeback Mountain” phenomenon, Proulx told me, “‘Brokeback Mountain’ coalesced thoughts and feelings that many people secretly held. The story and the film helped show the injustice of ostracism to a general public. The time was right for change and the story seeped into the culture. By making the protagonists individualistic, hard-working tough cowboys, the most masculine American identity, the story packed a stronger punch than if the characters had been any other profession.”

About winning prizes, the Pulitzer-winning Proulx said, “Literary prizes are all very well, but they do not change me or the way I see the world. It is delightful that more people tend to read one’s books than otherwise, but I feel it would be very stupid to start telling myself that a prize somehow validates one’s existence. At the same time I realize that for some that is exactly what it does.”

Proulx will receive the Blue Metropolis International Literary Grand Prix on May 4, followed by a live Q&A session.

Other Montreal literary events:

Renowned Montreal writers H. Nigel Thomas, Horace Goddard and Maguy Métellus co-host Lectures Logos Readings, the monthly bilingual reading series of poetry, fiction and spoken word at the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A. Hall at 2741 Notre Dame St. W.) in Little Burgundy, May 13 from 7 to 9 pm. The guest readers this month are Adboulaye Gueye, Cora Siré, Ian Shaw, James Olwell, Marie-Célie Agnant, followed by an open mic. The event is free, but a small donation is welcome.

Renowned human rights lawyer Julius Grey launches his new book Capitalism and the Alternatives at Paragraphe Bookstore on May 13, and the 6th edition of the terrific Rainbow Story Hour – a special bi-monthly reading hour for children with well-known Montreal LGBTQ+ Drag Queens, Comedians, Advocates, Performers and Celebrities – takes place at La Petite Librairie D&Q on May 19. Free admission to both events.


The Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain (formerly called the DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art) located in Old Montréal presents the popular Yoko Ono solo exhibition LIBERTÉ CONQUÉRANTE/GROWING FREEDOM, which runs to September 15.

Ono is a visionary pioneering artist whose career spans more than 50 years. The exhibition also explores the collaborative projects for peace undertaken by Yoko Ono and her late husband John Lennon, notably the 1969 Montreal Bed-In which marks its 50th anniversary on May 26. This part of the exhibition features stories from people who actually participated in the Bed-In, told in their own voices and words.

Free admission.

Following the enormous success of its blockbuster exhibitions about Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier, the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts pursues its ongoing fascination with the world of fashion with the first-ever career retrospective of global fashion icon Thierry Mugler, the Frenchman who has dressed everybody from Diana Ross and David Bowie to Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli, not to mention Québec icons Céline Dion and Diane Dufresne.

Thierry Mugler: Couturissime showcases Mugler’s work as a visionary couturier, director, photographer and perfumer. The fantastically-designed exhibition features more than 150 ensembles, most of them on display for the first time, created between 1973 and 2001, as well as many never-before seen accessories and stage costumes, clips and videos, archival documents and sketches.

Couturissime runs to September 8.

Over at the McCord Museum, the spotlight is on First Nations Cultures, with Hannah Claus and an exhibition of Haida art.

A multidisciplinary visual artist of Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) descent, Hannah Claus is the McCord’s current artist-in-residence, and she exhibits her work at the McCord until August 11.

The McCord also presents Sding K’awXangs – Haida: Supernatural Stories. With more than 100 rare objects—most of them from the museum’s rich Indigenous Cultures collection—as well as works by contemporary artists, the exhibition immerses visitors in the Haida culture of yesterday and today, as they discover the beauty and priceless treasures of a culture that was almost wiped out in the late 19th century. The exhibition also features works by Bill Reid, one of the best known and most celebrated Haida artists.

Sding K’awXangs – Haida: Supernatural Stories runs until October 27.


The current mainstage production at The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is Paula Vogel’s Tony-winning play Indecent which looks at the incredible true story of the original artists involved in Sholem Asch’s production of God of Vengeance, the 1907 drama that was busted by authorities when it was staged on Broadway in 1923. Directed by Lisa RubinIndecent examines an explosive moment in Yiddish Theatre and Jewish culture and tackles issues still relevant today, such as immigration, censorship, anti-Semitism and homophobia.

Indecent runs to May 19.


Supersonic soul singer Lisa Fischer provides the electrifying vocals, performing live with the Alonzo King LINES Ballet and their critically-acclaimed show The Propelled Heart at Montreal’s Theatre Maisonneuve until May 4, to close the 21st season of the excellent Danse Danse series.

The audience will experience the power of song through movement when Fischer performs live onstage with 12 dancers.

“I am mostly weaved into the ballet,” Fischer recently told me. “Alonzo King was so helpful guiding me through the whole process and allowed me a lot of creative freedom, along with JC. My Grand Baton bandmate JC Maillard and I flew out to San Francisco to watch the dancers move and work. Alonzo had already named the piece, and it took us about three weeks to a month to pull it together.”

The Propelled Heart runs to May 4.

The 13th edition of Festival TransAmériques presents 23 contemporary dance and theatre pieces from here and elsewhere from May 22 to June 4. With nine world premieres and 11 North American premieres at 13 different venues, FTA audiences will experience live productions by artists from a dozen countries.

The dancers of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens will celebrate the end of the season with some of the finest dancers in the world at the Soirée des Étoiles. Following the tradition of prestigious European galas, artistic director Ivan Cavallari will present some stars of the international scene who will perform in a program made up of pieces that audiences love. The evening will open with a number presented by students at the École supérieure de Ballet du Québec (ESBQ) and will be punctuated by songs performed by Les Petits chanteurs du Mont-Royal. In all, there will be three shows at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, on May 30 and 31 and June 1.

Montreal Burlesque Queen Scarlett James presents her Scarlett Grande Revue Burlesque on May 17 at the Corona Theatre, starring the cream of the crop of burlesque artists. Together, they will bring back to life the 1940s, a decade during which Montreal was a go-to destination for jazz stars, variety artists and daring international showgirls.

Canadian dance legend Margie Gillis offers a Dance Workshop at the Edifice Wilder on May 27.


In January 1972, Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin recorded a live album in an intimate church in the Watts district of Los Angeles. The disc of this legendary concert, AMAZING GRACE, became the best-selling Gospel album of all time, but the documentary film was only recently released after years of litigation. Amazing Grace the film is a must-see at the Cineplex Forum.


Drag fans will love the kickass House of Laureen’s inaugural Mx. Queerdo MTL drag competition which launches at Café Cleopatre on the Main on May 11, followed by six nights of competition (June 6-8-12-13-14-15) during the Montreal Fringe Festival.

Plenty of comedy in the city. Highlights this month include Max Amini who brings his brand new Authentically Absurd Tour to Oscar Peterson Hall on May 10; stand-up comic Tranna Wintour stars in Dear Alanis: A So-Called Musical Comedy about one of Tranna’s musical idols, Alanis Morissette, at The Diving Bell Social Club on May 2, the same venue where comedian Jess Salomon – fresh from her terrific Tonight Show debut (watch the clip below) – will headline on May 16.

The third annual edition of Montreal’s grassroots queer arts The Rose Festival runs from May 10 to 12 at the Playwrights Workshop Montreal. Some intriguing productions this year, such as Bollywood dancer Rameez Karrim who celebrates gender fluidity, self-love and gender expression in Desi Trifecta on May 10, and the Rose Festival Open Mic event hosted by Anton May. on May 12.

OUFF is the first scripted solo performance by interdisciplinary sound and cabaret artist Alexis O’Hara, tackling “white privilege, late-capitalism and perimenopause” from May 6 to 10 at La Chapelle.

One of the highlights of the 13th edition of the OFFTA Festival is Montreal performance and video artist Dayna McLeod‘s sensational Intimate Karaoke, Live at Uterine Concert Hall performative installation in which guests sing their favourite karaoke songs through the site of McLeod’s body: Wearing headphones that contain your voice and requested karaoke song, this mix is wired into her vaginal canal, which acts as a uterine stage for the audience. Check out McLeod’s performative installation at the Monument-National on May 25 and 26.

Over at the MAI, the second edition of their acclaimed multi-disciplinary Prendre Place / Taking Place series features seven international artists exploring space and its accompanying baggage, from May 15 to 18.

Trans icon and former New York City club kid Amanda Lepore will be the special guest at the 25th edition of the wearable art and wig festival called “Wiggle” at the Mile Ex arts space Never Apart on May 18. Many years ago Amanda told me, “There is something spacey about me. I still emulate the (classic Hollywood) bombshells but my look is retro so that I look spacey as well as new and fresh. If I dressed like Lady Gaga, (my face) would get lost. But because I dress retro, vamp and classic, the qualities come out more.”

Former First Lady Michelle Obama brings her Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama Tour to the Bell Centre on May 3.

Beloved by fans around the world, the reboot of Cirque du Soleil’s iconic Alegría Under the Big Top in the Old Port of Montreal has been extended three weeks, to July 21. I went on opening night and loved it.

Last but not least, Les Jardins Gamelin returns to Place Émilie-Gamelin at the western end of the Village, just outside the Berri-UQAM metro station, from May 30 to September 29. The site features bar services at its snack bar, which opens weekdays from 11 am to 11 pm and from 9 am to 11 pm on weekends. The onsite Maison Jaune offers creative workshops and activities for children in a shaded area. Click here to check out the daily cultural programming, including renowned DJs and live performances on its outdoor stage. Free admission.

About Richard Burnett

Richard “Bugs” Burnett self-syndicated his national column Three Dollar Bill in over half of Canada’s alt-weeklies for 15 years, has been banned in Winnipeg, investigated by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary over charges TDB was “pornographic”, gotten death threats, outed politicians like former Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair, been vilified in the pages of Jamaica’s national newspaper The Gleaner for criticizing anti-gay dancehall star Sizzla (who would go on to write the 2005 hit song “Nah Apologize” about Burnett and UK gay activist Peter Tatchell), pissed off BB King, crossed swords with Mordecai Richler, been screamed at backstage by Cyndi Lauper and got the last-ever sit-down interview with James Brown. Burnett was Editor-at-Large of HOUR until the Montreal alt-weekly folded in April 2011, is Editor-at-Large of The Charlebois Post (Canada), is a columnist and writer for both Fugues and Xtra, writes the POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette, and is the pop culture pundit on The Barry Morgan Show every Friday from 8:30 – 9 pm on Montreal’s CJAD 800 AM Radio. Burnett was named one of Alberta-based Outlooks magazine’s Canadian Heroes of the Year in 2009, famed porn director Flash Conway dubbed Burnett “Canada’s bad boy syndicated gay columnist” and The Montreal Buzz says, “As Michael Musto is to New York City, Richard Burnett is to Montréal.”

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