Concert Review: Le Vent du Nord — Five Formidable Quebecois Voices

By Glenn Rifkin

Touring to support their 20th anniversary CD, 20 Printemps, Le Vent du Nord delivered  a master class in musicianship.

Le Vent du Nord at City Winery Boston on April 3.

Le Vent du Nord at City Winery Boston. Photo: Glenn Rifkin

An old North Wind blew into Boston on Monday night setting off a raucous night of masterful traditional and progressive Quebecois folk music before a sold-out crowd at City Winery.

Le Vent du Nord, a joyful group from Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu in Quebec, is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and the group’s stellar musical talents and full, rich voices, drew a rabid local fan base to celebrate. It wasn’t your typical Monday night crowd. Most of those in attendance clearly knew and adored this eclectic band and roared and danced with a hearty “Bienvenue!”

One of those talented “famous to a few” groups that tour incessantly around the globe, Le Vent du Nord performs in French and, though many may not have understood a word of the lyrics, the audience embraced rousing reels, lilting ballads, and the breathtaking harmonies of these five talented performers. Their formidable voices filled the room and the fun they were clearly having on stage was infectious. Their English wasn’t perfect, but their pleasure was evident at encountering such a welcoming crowd on a chilly night in Boston.

Touring to support their 20th anniversary CD, 20 Printemps, Nicolas Boulerice, Olivier Demers, brothers Andre and Rejean Brunet, along with Eric Beaudry (substituting for his brother Simon who was home while his wife gave birth), delivered  a master class in musicianship. They all play multiple instruments and they are a tight unit, able to inspire with traditional tunes and their own compositions. New England loves Celtic music and, though traditional Quebecois music is its own genre, there are strong ties between the two, especially in the beloved foot-stomping dance tunes and reels.

Boulerice, who plays piano and uses his deep, sonorous voice as the lead on most of their songs, is a virtuoso on the hurdy-gurdy, a medieval string instrument that produces sound with a hand-crank. He learned the instrument in Ireland and France and not only plays them, but builds them.

On “Marianne,” a traditional Quebecois tune about infidelity and redemption, Boulerice sang and played a haunting hurdy-gurdy solo, that brought a roar of appreciation from the crowd.

Andre Brunet and Demers, both award-winning violinists, engaged in dueling fiddles and foot percussion, and Rejean Brunet, showed his musical dexterity with his squeezebox, a Jew’s harp, the piano, and the electric bass. Eric Beaudry played guitar and sang lead on a number of tunes, filling in seamlessly for his absent brother with impressive vocal skills. In fact, all five of these talented musicians boasted remarkable voices and harmonies displayed in two acapella tunes that humorously toasted the group’s anniversary.

These voices shone in the call-and-response style popular in Quebecois folk songs, which comes from France and emanated from the voyageurs, the French-Canadian traders who sang as they traveled and worked. With deft harmonies, LVDN employed this back-and-forth throughout the evening, including on “Dans L’Eau-de-Vie-de L’Arbre,”  a song about maple syrup penned by Boulerice when the group realized it had never sung about this staple of Quebecois life.

LDVN is set to embark on a tour of England in late April, after several dates back in Quebec. Boulerice will be performing with Frederic Samson at Club Passim on April 20.

While the joy of their music is contagious, LVDN made it clear that the past 20 years have had their share of competition and hostility. “It’s in the French blood, arguing for no reason,” joked Rejean Brunet. From the standing ovation and cheers they received at City Winery, this was a night where hostility was noticeably absent.

Glenn Rifkin is a veteran journalist and author who has covered business for many publications including the New York Times for nearly 30 years. He has written about music, film, theater, food and books for the Arts Fuse. His new book Future Forward: Leadership Lessons from Patrick McGovern, the Visionary Who Circled the Globe and Built a Technology Media Empire was recently published by McGraw-Hill.

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