Patrick Watson on his love for this city, his neighbours and Montréal Symphonique

Patrick Watson didn't give away too much about his performance at Montréal Symphonique. Here's what we do know: he'll be alone at the piano, without his band — not a usual thing.

Quebec musician part of Montréal Symphonique concert at foot of Mount Royal

Patrick Watson didn't give any too many hints about his performance at Montréal Symphonique. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

"It's important to celebrate where you live, it's important to give yourself reason to just hang out as neighbours."

That's how musician Patrick Watson sees the value of tonight's 375th event, Montréal Symphonique, the free concert at the foot of Mount Royal.

In a kind of enchanted forest, right near Pine Avenue, under the musical direction of Simon Leclerc, three orchestras — Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Métropolitain and McGill Symphony Orchesta — will perform with some of Quebec's most popular stars, including Watson.

The list is pretty studded: Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Coeur de Pirate, Marie-Josée Lorde, The McGarrigles, and many others. Oh, and Wyclef Jean is popping by to do a tune or two.  

Watson didn't give away too much about his performance. Here's what we do know: he'll be alone at the piano, without his band — not a usual thing.

Patrick Watson will be on the stage with several other musical guests — and just three orchestras. (CBC)

He's also getting a little snazzed up — there is, however, a T-shirt in his outfit. Watson might perform with another star. And he did share that one of his songs tonight will be "Lighthouse," from his 2012 gold-selling album Adventures in Your Own Backyard.

"With this one [Montréal Symphonique], being in the woods as it is, "Lighthouse" has that kind of feel," he explained. "So I think it kind of lends itself to the location."

A city to foster art

Montreal is prime location for musicians and artists to create original and unique work, according to Watson.

From economic reasons to the industry to the spirit of Montrealers, for Watson they all play into what kind of great creations and creators grow out of this place.

"It's the standard of living versus the costs, which gives you a certain freedom to being able to stay outside the box," he said.

The city is marking its 375th birthday with a giant, free outdoor concert called Montréal Symphonique, to be held at the foot of Mount Royal this Saturday. (CBC)

"In the music business, there are no real rules here because no big company is going to want to participate necessarily in the French music market," he explained. "So all of the big fancy business models are outside of the city, so when you grow up making music here, you're kind of on your own to build your own way of doing it before you export it."

"You're lucky to have that oasis to grow in. This kind of strange little island gives you time to build that identity before you get put into the big wave." 

Perhaps Watson's most interesting takes on how Montreal becomes a great place to foster artistry was his take on the value of winter.

"I think the winter helps," he said, adding that the cold weather hardens Montrealers. "It gives you a little edge."

"I think the city would be ruined without it. The types of people would be different. The fact that people make a compromise for something that's difficult brings a certain personality out of the city that I think is vital to keep it interesting."

Tonight's Montréal Symphonique concert starts at 9 p.m., but residents are encouraged to start finding a comfortable spot as early as 4 p.m. For those who can't make it to the mountain, you can still enjoy the concert in your neighbourhood.

There are online maps for each borough that is projecting the two-hour show in a local park.

About the Author

Nantali Indongo

Nantali Indongo is CBC's Arts & Culture contributor and host of The Bridge. Follow her on Twitter @taliindongo.