Support for protesters at Montreal jazz fest

Singer Rufus Wainwright speaks to reporters at a news conference Thursday, June 28, 2012 in Montreal. Wainwright will be one of the headline acts at this year's International Jazz Festival which begins Thursday.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL - The world's biggest jazz festival opened Thursday with its opening act declaring his support for Quebec's protesting students.

Crooner Rufus Wainwright lauded the protesters, in a province where one-third of students are on declared strikes because of tuition hikes.

"I'm always going to go with the students and with the dispossessed and the, you know, angry mob," Wainwright said with a slight chuckle in response to a reporter's question. "It's just my nature.

"I will be wearing red. I don't know if I'll have the square but I'll be wearing red."

The Montreal International Jazz Festival, which marks its 33rd year with this edition, is one of the crown jewels of Montreal's tourist season, along with the Just For Laughs comedy festival next month.

Wainwright joins a long list of celebrities and artists who have supported the protesters. Very few have been critical of them, with the head of the comedy festival among the rare critics.

Festival officials had worried that their event might suffer because of the continuous student protests, which have seen large crowds marching through downtown Montreal for the last few months.

Events organizers and Mayor Gerald Tremblay have met with student organizers to try and get them to curtail their marches.

The marches, meanwhile, have already been smaller in recent days and one group said it mainly planned to hand out pamphlets around the festival detailing protesters' gripes.

Wainwright was booked to headline the jazz festival's massive free outdoor concert Thursday evening which traditionally packs the city's downtown.

He said although he lives in New York half the time, he was aware of the protests. He noted he had spent some time with the Occupy Wall Street protesters in the U.S. and performed for them as well.

"I think it's a global situation. We're all involved."

Numerous artists, including Arcade Fire and Quebec's Loco Locass, have been vocal in their support for the protesters, with Loco Locass inviting student leaders onto the stage during their performance at this month's La Francofolies and Arcade Fire wearing the students' red square symbol during an appearance on Saturday Night Live.

Wainwright smiled when asked if there were any rules for behaviour for people attending the outdoor show Thursday night.

"Do whatever you want," the laid-back singer replied.

"I know there have been a lot of protests in the city. I'm not necessarily welcoming people to protest. If they feel that they need to, then that's fine. But I just think it (the show) should be inclusive of the whole city and what's been going on and it should be a celebration of Montreal, everyone included."

Wainwright wasn't dwelling on politics during the news conference, where he talked about his new album, his upcoming marriage and surviving in the recording industry.

"I wish my mother could have been here," he said of his show.

"She would have been impressed — finally," he added with a laugh.

Wainwright is part of a Canadian musical dynasty that includes his mother, singer Kate McGarrigle and her sister Anna, as well as his sister Martha. His father is American folk singer Loudon Wainwright. Kate McGarrigle died of cancer in 2010 and her son has performed in several tribute concerts dedicated to her.

Wainwright, who moved to Montreal as a child with his mother after she divorced his father, said he is pleased to see the city plans to name a small park in her honour.

"We're very excited about it," he said, adding he hoped to bring the tribute show to Montreal soon.

"My mother is turning out to be one of the greatest songwriters of her era in both English and in French and I think her legend is only going to rise. This park is a good place to start."

Wainwright released his latest album, the brightly melodic "Out of the Game," in April and is pleased with how the unabashedly mainstream work has been received.

Wainwright said he was satisfied with his place in music considering the state of the industry and "how unusual I am."

"I've made it. I might not have sold millions of albums and I may not be a household name in Wichita, Kansas, but I have a fantastic career considering a lot of very adversarial storms that have hit our industry. To really be yourself is a very difficult thing in this business.

"I'm still here and I'm still looking forward to hitting it and I'm in it for the long haul with this album because I do think this record has a lot to offer. I'm working all summer as well as getting married so we'll see if I survive."