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5 intimate summer festivals to check out in Montreal

The Village au Pied-du-Courant. Jean-Michael Seminaro

MONTREAL – The city has worked hard on its reputation as a festival wonderland, so if you can’t find a single event to entertain you in the summer months, you’re just not trying hard enough.

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Much of this reputation is thanks to the monster festivals like Just For Laughs, Osheaga and the Jazz Festival that take over huge parts of the city and are magnets for thousands of tourists.

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But they can be expensive, crowded and painful to navigate around.

For anyone who doesn’t have the ‘dolla-dolla bills’ to attend one of these bigger events, consider escaping the Quartier des Spectacles to check out some of smaller and more intimate festivals around town:

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Restaurant Day Montreal

August 16 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Various locations in Montreal

A pop-up eatery on Restaurant Day. Maryse Boyce

Food festivals are often prohibitively expensive – but not Restaurant Day, an event where pop-up restaurants surface across the city, run by regular Montrealers.

There’s no fixed location, so that means the restaurants can be found in alleyways, back yards and people’s private kitchens.

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So, it doubles as an opportunity to get a sneak peek into the apartments of total strangers – if you’re that kind of person.

The “bistros” are spread across the city – although you’ll find more in central neighbourhoods like the Plateau – so you can potentially work up an appetite just from walking from one restaurant to another.

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Anyone and everyone is allowed to participate for free – just sign up, pick a menu, buy your supplies and get cooking – and it’s not until August, so if you have a dream restaurant concept in mind, this is your opportunity to act on it.

Village au Pied-du-Courant

Thursdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. to midnight, Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to midnight

2100 Notre-Dame street East, Montreal

The Village au Pied-du-Courant on Montreal’s east-end waterfront. Jean-Michael Seminaro

Is it a festival? A cultural event? Or just a venue for artists and shows?

It’s not really clear, but one thing is certain: the Village au Pied-du-Courant has an undeniably relaxed summer atmosphere.

Tucked away in a semi-industrial zone under the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, it’s a part of town that you might have thought of as a little run-down or ugly.

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But organizers have worked some amazing design wonders with shipping containers and lots of wood to build a boardwalk, stage and bar.

They’ve even made an artificial beach right on the waterfront – and it’s far prettier than the city’s other fake beaches.

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The Village features live music, performances, craft markets, food trucks and film screenings every Thursday through to Sunday during the summer.

The programming is a mixed bag, so you could check out their Facebook page before heading down or just take your chances and be pleasantly surprised when you show up.

Best of all, it’s all free, thanks to funding from the city.

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Les Samedis Saint-Henri

Every Saturday until September 5 starting at 2 p.m.

661 Rose-de-Lima street, Montreal

Les Samedis Saint-Henri in First Railway Park. Les Ateliers Jean-Brillant

A couple of cultural groups in the Sud-Ouest borough have devised an idea for a weekly gathering to bring the Saint-Henri community together.

Les Samedis Saint-Henri are a little like the Village au Pied-du-Courant, but for the west side of the city.

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It’s a bit more toned down; less of a party and more of a picnic with live music and DJs, all carefully selected to keep the mood relaxed.

There are self-serve barbecues on site, granting you free access to the ultimate in summer foods.

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But be warned – it’s BYOM: bring your own meat – if you forget, you can always walk five minutes down the street to the Atwater Market.

La Grosse Lanterne Festival

August 7 and 8

1801 Bethanie road, Bethany, Que.

La Grosse Lanterne festival in Bethany, Que. La Grosse Lanterne Festival

You’ll want a car and a tent for this one – but it’ll be well worth the effort.

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La Grosse Lanterne is a small-scale music festival tucked away in a forest near the little village of Bethany, a bit over an hour east of Montreal.

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The festival started last year and was extremely successful.

That means it might be busier with festival-enthusiasts this year, but you’ll still be able to stake out a picturesque campsite by the nearby river, and you shouldn’t have to line up for the festival’s gourmet food choices.

Basically, you won’t go home feeling exhausted and overcrowded like at the many other mega-campsite music festivals.

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While the festival’s set-up might be low key, the musicians are not – you can expect far more than a few people sitting around a campfire strumming a guitar.

The artists are mostly Quebec locals, but there are some big names like indie rocker Malajube, singer-songwriter and hip-hopper Karim Ouellet, and chill electro-pop duo Milk & Bone.

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Passovah Summer Festival

August 26 to 30

Various locations in Montreal

An audience at the Passovah Summer Festival. Passovah

No, it’s not celebrating a Jewish holiday – but it’ll still be a lot of fun.

Designed to celebrate Montreal’s independent music scene, Passovah was conceived in 2012 as a modest affair – it ran on next to no money, the entry charge to see most acts was “pay what you can” and they didn’t really sell tickets.

This year, organizers have turned to crowd-sourcing funds for the festival to help them run a bigger operation.

It’ll be running in nine venues, mostly in the Plateau, for five days at the end of August.

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If you’re not into the indie side of Montreal, you might not be familiar with much of the music, but there’s a wide range of specially selected musicians to suit everyone’s taste.

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Plus, most of the shows are cheap, ranging from $5 to $15, which will get you into a showcase of four or five bands in one night.

Many of the shows haven’t been announced yet, but consider seeing the theatrical performance of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, or some warmer folk tunes by Michael Feuerstack.

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