Over the past two weeks, you’ve probably run into nearly everyone you’ve ever met in Montreal at Open Air Pub (OAP), a beloved campus fixture that seems to define the beginning of each school year. Cheap food, plenty of beer, and live music keeps OAP secure in its status as the place to be every September for McGill students—and the lineup never disappoints. Featured below is a glimpse at some of the bands you’ve been listening to, just in case you feel like updating your playlist.
Comprised of two brothers from Boston and an Aussie, Alexei Martov features a “heavier blues rock, sort of psychedelic rock,” in the words of lead singer Martin Bradstreet. Jonah and Matthew Dorsman both studied at McGill— environmental and international development, respectively— and met Bradstreet at Gerts a few years ago. The band has been playing together since 2010, and you may recognize them from their OAP debut last year. When asked about their experience playing, Bradstreet commented that “winning the crowd over is a bit harder, but on the other [hand], you know everyone’s having a good time regardless. As long as you’re playing good music […] you don’t have to win them over […] you just have to not play terribly.”
Apache Kingdom features the musical talents of Jesse Smith, Andrew Assaf, Marc-Andre Cloutier, and David Leblanc— the the latter of which is an English Literature major here at McGill. The band became involved with OAP through McGill’s music network, according to Leblanc. “Café Racer played at OAP Lite [last spring], and my friend Myles [who’s in that band, gave me] the contact info. It was really a word of mouth type thing. I contacted Neil [Den Toom, head manager and music manager] two days before OAP started, and we got the gig. It was super last minute but it all worked out.” Of the experience, Leblanc notes, “The biggest challenge was reeling people into the music because no one at OAP goes to listen to music.”
Philosophy majors Aidan O’Shea and Gintas Norvila, cognitive science major David Whitmey, and international management major Jeremy Singer— otherwise known as BODYSHAKES— are all students at McGill. With a self-described “garage blues rock” style, BODYSHAKES has been playing together since November of 2011, and has played OAP twice now. “OAP as an experience is so different than what you would get going to Gerts, which is also on campus and mostly student populated,” says Singer. “OAP […] always comes at a time of year where people are really looking forward to seeing each other […] and you don’t always get that freshness […] anywhere else. That’s probably why it’s the best place on earth.”
Concordia student Josh Grant, McGill Engineering student ‘Myles from home,’ who chooses to go by his stage moniker, and Shawn Forbes, are collectively known to the McGill community as ‘Café Racer.’ “We actually played OAP Lite in April,” Myles explains. “It’s a totally different kind of vibe. The school year’s done and a lot of people are leaving. It’s almost like a farewell kind of thing. Whereas OAP, you can’t walk around for five minutes without seeing some sort of glorious [reunion].” His advice for future OAP performers? “You have to learn covers, and you have to learn covers people are going to know. You need to do that early, and you need to do that throughout your set.”
Native to Montreal, Das Blankout also got involved with OAP through a McGill referral. After playing together for about a year, Matt Burghardt (vocals and guitar), his sister Kim (bass guitar), and friend Pat Bilodeau (drums), were excited to take on an opportunity like OAP. “We’ve pretty much just played bars, so it’s quite different,” Burghardt comments. At OAP, a lot of people are there to socialize more than anything else.”
Another returning act to OAP is General General, comprised of McGill Arts students Wyatt Fine-Gagné, Ben Carter-Whitney, Landen Moore, and Llewellyn Littlemore. The band has been playing together for the past two years, and Fine-Gagné describes their music as “Indie folk rock; probably heavier on the rock end of things.” Of their two experiences at OAP, he says, “The first year we played it was […] the first week of OAP, and it was way less crowded. We played a short set [during the second week this year], and so it was pretty packed because once everyone’s actually back [for] classes, OAP gets a lot [more full].”
Musicians Benji Miu, Dizzy Velvet, Sarah Supersingle Dion, Josh Michaud, and Sebastien Fournier had their first OAP experience this past week. Mostly hailing from Montreal— Miu is from Australia originally — the band plays ‘garage soul’ music; but from the sound of it, they won’t be doing so again at McGill any time soon. “All the kids just kind of stand there and don’t move around much. I was expecting like crazy freshmen stuff,” Miu explained. “I wouldn’t do it again,” he says. “I don’t think I can; I got kicked out for urination. I was [doing my thing] and [a manager kicked me out]. She said that I could never come back, and I said ‘That’s okay, I’m not [going to] come back anyway.’ As a band you should do things for [two] of three reasons: money, fun, or exposure. You [have to] tick two of those boxes, and I suppose we ticked one of them.”
An Ottawa-based band, Little Stella played both OAP and Divan Orange on their most recent trip to Montreal. Ryan Tansley, Zach Ledgerwood, James Siwanowicz, and Jeff Watkins first heard about OAP from their manager, who studied at McGill. “He said ‘you guys should play this, [because] it’s awesome,’ and we said ‘Okay, sounds good,’” recalls Tansley. “To be honest, we weren’t expecting such a big event, so we were pretty excited when we got there.” Tansley didn’t notice such a big difference in terms of venue. “The difference is the crowd involvement. In a club, they’re there to listen to the band; at OAP we’re sort of in the background I guess. Otherwise it’s just playing— same thing.”
Toronto-born, Los Angeles-based Ménage is comprised of the Ferreira siblings: Bela, Gabriel, and Basilio Fernando. “We use a bass player when we’re in Canada named Stacey Shopsowitz, and he, I believe, is the McGill connection. I think his Canadian band mates are McGill students, and he kind of introduced Ménage to McGill,” says Fernando. On the pros and cons of OAP, Fernando notes that it’s “probably the venue where everyone is in the best mood ever. It’s just a really great atmosphere. I think it’s cool to be part of the beginning of someone’s university life, or be kind of like the soundtrack of that. The hardest thing about playing at OAP is outshining the beer tent. [Actually], the hardest thing about playing Montreal is having to leave Montreal.”
Montreal-born Pablo made his OAP debut this September. “I’ve heard a lot of things about OAP here and there, but I was definitely told that it was a great party,” he comments. “I thought it was really well organized, and everyone looked after us. There was nothing but good vibes about it, and I hope we helped along and brought our own good vibes too.” Playing with Peter Colantonio, Tyler Moulton, and Tristan Giardini, Pablo gave his take on the event: “It’s definitely more of a kind of social get-together than maybe a gig. One has to know the difference. I’m just really happy we were invited to be a part of that party. I did see a couple of people dancing though, so I guess we didn’t do that bad [….] We didn’t get any beers thrown at us.”
THE SOUND APPROACH
Originally from Lacolle, Quebec, a small town right on the U.S. border, Stephen Feeny; Patrick Pret-Bellware; and Philip Dehm, a McGill law student, have been playing together since high school. This is their second year at OAP, an experience they were happy to repeat. “I think there’s a good vibe [at OAP],” Dehm says. “People aren’t really there for the music […so they] are having a good time whether or not they’re paying attention to you. It’s fun playing in those scenarios because there’s not really any pressure on you as a performer.” Dehm also commented on the nature of the event itself, noting that “the staff is chill. They’re all young people, and it’s for charity so it’s a good feeling to be part of it. It’s always a chill environment when university kids get together.”
TEAR AWAY TUSA
Another out-of-town act, Tear Away Tusa were new to the OAP scene this year. Shane Rodak, Sam Schwartzbein, Ely Weisbrot, Adam Kurgat-Nikov, Erin Tusa, and Danny V. “used to play with a band called the Thundermonks [who also played at OAP this year] in downtown Toronto,” says Weisbrot. “We saw a video of them playing OAP, and it looked like a really hype scene.” Rodak adds, “We’re used to playing A, at night, and B, sort of in grungy, hole-in-the-wall type venues. It was great to be out in the daylight on a nice day [where] everyone [was] just hanging out and loving the weather, and sort of feeding off that energy.
Full disclosure: members of General General— Fine-Gagné and Carter-Whitney— write and edit for the Tribune, respectively.