MONTREAL—Hey man, everybody’s speaking French around here. And the money’s funny. At least it’s not raining. My hotel is in walking distance of the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Downtown is roped off to vehicular traffic and there’s thousands of folks with smiles on their faces grooving to every possible subgenre of jazz plus every other genre in the world in easily accessible kiosks plus the big stages where the production is sublime (especially after the sun goes down).

After a quick trip to the press building to get my credentials and goody bag, I straggle along following the fans to whatever sound accosts my ears. Sure, I had a whole plan mapped out but that’s been thrown out the proverbial window because I don’t know where anything is and my sense of direction has, uh, been compromised. This gives new meaning to “go with the flow.”

The Vicas Big Band was pumping out the swing on one of the outdoor big stages in the middle of the afternoon. From The Duke to The Count to “Uptown Funk,” they had us dancing and spilling our drinks in the street. “Uptown Funk”? Yeah, the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson collaboration is now about as ubiquitous within set lists these days as “All About That Bass.” To hear a jazz big-band do it, though, was a refreshing amazement. Don’t believe me, just watch!

Then came Robin McKelle & The Flytones.

I have a new love. This white gal McKelle put on an exhibition of funkin’ soul like I haven’t witnessed from someone I haven’t heard of since I was trapped in Cincinnati with Lacy J. Dalton in the ‘90s (or was it the ‘80s?). She slithered around on the stage like a reptile, got down on all fours, got back up and belted out those Memphis roadhouse blues as if she was born there (she’s from Rochester, NY). She covered Al Green and Otis Redding. On tour to support her Heart Of Memphis CD (she wrote 11 of the album’s 13), she stalked and prowled the stage like a carnival huckster. You couldn’t take your eyes off her. With a voice that stretches the syllables and cracks in all the right places, she is that rare breed of performer who transcends whatever she covers to make it her own. What she did with “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is right up there with The Animals’ 1965 cover of the Nina Simone 1964 original of this classic Brill Building creation. Discovered in France while singing on the streets, she’s the real deal, alright.

My night ended with Jai Nitai Lotus, a hip-hop collective whose energy permeated the night sky with wild percussive effects, stimulating visuals and an unerring trebly sound accentuated with staccato surprise beats, big booming bass that you felt right down to your groin and syncopated drama. I knew I was missing the big names but, damn, I’d rather be high under the night sky right up front grooooooving to this adventurous and all-too rare (for me) scene than to crane my neck several hundred people deep at the headliners. The stage seemed filled to overflowing with musicians upstaging one another in a free-form gush of rap, funk, soul, reggae, pop, rock and jazz.

By set’s end, I was exhausted. Now all I had to do was find my room (no small feat). As I wandered the streets of Montreal, I could only envision what awaited me on my third and final day in this gorgeous city.

The 37th Annual Montreal International Jazz Festival will take place June 30 to July 9, 2016. For further information, go to Robin McKelle will be performing at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street in New York City, on September 3.

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