If your feet are tapping anywhere in the vicinity of Silver Spring or Germantown (or even Maryland’s Eastern Shore) next weekend, blame Canada— Le Vent du Nord is in town.
“We play what we call traditional music of Quebec,” said Nicolas Boulerice, the charismatic, bespectacled lead singer and resident hurdy-gurdy player of the four-piece folk music ensemble. “You know, the French arrived in North America almost 500 years ago; those people mixed the European traditions with the native culture to create something else. Then, in the 19th century, the Irish arrived—our music is so influenced by the Celts.”
Which explains the hurdy-gurdy (Boulerice studied in Ireland and France, collecting traditional instruments and musical styles along the way) as well as the deeply percussive foot stomping by fiddler Olivier Demers, Simon Beaudry’s alternating guitar and bouzouki, and Réjean Brunet‘s lively button accordion playing. Some 15 years since the band’s formation, Le Vent du Nord’s music is a mix of French roots music, traditional Celtic melodies, lively folk airs and an of-the-moment musical sensibility that shapes traditional instruments around modern arrangements.
Le Vent du Nord compose their own songs, too. “We’re mainly talking about politics and history,” Boulerice said, “and the fact that in Quebec, we can feel different—we like to be different!”
It’s a message they bring fully to their concerts, like the show they’ll do at Germantown’s BlackRock Center for the Arts on Friday, May 12. “They’re one of our obvious favorites,” said Krista Bradley, BlackRock’s executive director. “I think it’s because they’re so much fun; the guys are phenomenal musicians. The music they play is called ‘kitchen music’ in Quebec: where families get together, they fill the kitchen and they have a jam.”
The concert stage at BlackRock is far from a Canadian country kitchen, but Bradley said there’s a similar feel, with patter from the band that lets audience members know the history behind the music, sharing a bit of background, some French phrases and a joke or two. The audience can expect a bit of cultural immersion as well as the kind of folk, world and roots music for which BlackRock has become known.
“Québécois music and Le Vent du Nord fall under that umbrella,” confirmed Bradley. “Anyone that loves Celtic music or step dancing, or highly percussive fiddle music from Appalachia, will love this.
“It’s upbeat music, fun and rousing, and the guys have great senses of humor,” she added. “When you leave one of their concerts, you’re energized and happy.”
When you leave the Great Hall of the Silver Spring Civic Building on Thursday, May 11, on the other hand, you may feel a bit of exhaustion along with your exhilaration. Le Vent du Nord will be the band for Carpe Diem!’s Second Thursday Contra Dance that evening, and Boulerice is excited to play for the capital area’s big, eclectic social dance community.
“It’s rare,” he said. “We don’t do that much traditional dance. But we have a lot of dancers in the area that want us to play, which is good.”
They also will be playing another pair of concerts that are not open to the public, visiting the Montgomery County Correctional Facility to perform for an audience of incarcerated youth. “These programs really offer an opportunity to communicate across cultural lines, ethnicity, age and background,” said Claire Schwadron, senior director of Project Youth ArtReach (PYA) at Artivate (formerly Class Acts Arts) which brings art and poetry as well as music into the jail. “When we do workshops, usually some young person will turn and say, ‘This calms me’ Or, ‘No one ever said I did anything good before’ when we give them some praise. It can be heartbreaking.”
The program gives incarcerated populations something to look forward to, and brings in artists who often serve as role models or figures of hope, confidence and inspiration. While it’s mostly local bands and artists who work tirelessly and regularly with inmates, Schwadron pointed out that Le Vent du Nord was the first band she brought to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds, back in 2004.
The warden at the time, Robert Green, was extremely skeptical at first—and even Schwadron felt a smidgen of doubt. “Then I said, ‘No, I know these guys are so good—they’re going to win them over.’”
Which they did—to the point that Warden Green (now the director of the Montgomery County Department of Corrections and “a great advocate of ours”) is quoted on the PYA website: “Some 75 to 90 percent of our inmates will return to our streets, our communities; how do we want them to return? Withdrawn and angry? Or with some of their humanity intact? (Project Youth ArtReach) programs offer them positive interactions and connections.”
For Le Vent du Nord, it all started with a few snowflakes. “We had a tour organized for schools,” explained Boulerice. “When we arrived, it was a snowstorm—not for us, but for you, it was a snowstorm.”
Not to throw snow shade, but he said the hale and hearty Canadians of Le Vent du Nord couldn’t believe it. “We said, ‘We drive 12 hours to come to see you—find us a solution!” said Boulerice, laughing at the memory. Because everything was closed except for the correctional center, the band agreed to perform there. “At the beginning, we were very scared,” he recalled. “All the doors and the security: It was weird!”
But as they started to play and share, something changed. “At the beginning, the guys were looking at us like we were these animals, ‘Frenchies from the North,’ and they didn’t have a clue of what we’re talking about. At that time, we had a step dancer, Benoit, and a guy in the audience said, ‘Yes, in my place, we dance the go-go from the suburbs of Washington.’”
That’s when he knew: the music had created a bond that was lasting and real. “We received letters after,” said Boulerice. “They wrote to say they had fun, they discovered something. And for us it was special.”
Le Vent Du Nord performs from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, May 11, at the Carpe Diem! Second Thursday Silver Spring Contra Dance in the Great Hall of the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Plaza, Silver Spring. Admission is free for first-time attendees; $10 general admission, $8 for members of Folklore Society of Greater Washington, Washington Revels, Country Dance and Song Society and Baltimore Folk Music. Visit carpediemarts.org. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.
Le Vent Du Nord performs at 8 p.m. Friday, May 12, at BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown. Tickets range from $27 to $35. Call 301-528-2260 or visit www.blackrockcenter.org. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.
Le Vent du Nord – Le Coeur de ma Mère (CD Tromper le temps 2012)