There's always a sense of excitement on Day 1: the stages, the flyers, the people, the artists arriving from all over, the promise of memorable nights.

In keeping with recent tradition, the Montreal International Jazz Festival launches tonight with a big free, show at Place des Festivals. This year, the honour goes to indie darlings, Beirut.

The American band is a strong draw with crossover appeal, and a proven track record here. It's just one of many highlights of this year's lineup.

Zach Condon Beirut Jazz Fest Montreal

Zach Condon and his band, Beirut, will open the festival at a free show in the Quartier des Spectacles. (Montreal International Jazz Festival)

To say there is something for just about every musical taste is almost an understatement.

From the stars, including Erykah Badu and Huey Lewis and the News, to longtime festival faves John Pizzarelli and Dee Dee Bridgewater, and up-and-coming local artists Mentana, there are new faces and old favourites packing every inch of the schedule.

The free outdoor lineup is particularly exciting this year, with Montreal's Barr Brothers on the main stage at Place des Festivals on Monday, June 30.

And, I'm curious about Emmanuel Jal.

The former child soldier from South Sudan made a strong impression with his effective soundtrack for the Reese Witherspoon movie The Good Lie, directed by Montreal's Philippe Falardeau. His free shows are on July 2 and 3 on the Bell stage.

A bittersweet celebration

Still, despite the sense of anticipation — the chance to discover new talent, rediscover Avishai Cohen who hasn't been here in over a decade, or an evening with an old fave like the always exciting The Bad Plus — there is a bittersweet note to this year's edition.

B.B. King is gone.

The legendary blues man, who died earlier this year, was a longtime friend of the festival. It's why the entire 36th edition is dedicated to his memory.

The festival will close with a free concert on July 5 featuring Bob Walsh, Kim Richardson and Jimmy James, among others, in King's honour. 

Montreal Jazz Fest B.B. King

A tribute to B.B. King will close out the festival on July 5. (CBC)

This year's Jazz Fest also marks Vic Vogel's farewell concert.

The ever-colourful bandleader has played almost every single Montreal Jazz Fest, including the very first one in 1980.

Interviewing Vogel was always a highlight at the start of every Jazz Fest. 

He'd sit in his home and tell the stories are now part of festival lore: the time Miles Davis stole his bottle of whisky; the time he bailed the festival out by filling a hole and performing a last minute show; the Cuban musicians he brought in to perform with him, before Cuban music became fashionable again.

And now, it's his last.

It brings to a close a storied relationship just as the Montreal International Jazz Festival embarks on new ones with young up-and-coming artists from the world over.

Check out the full Montreal International Jazz Festival schedule