Canadian musicians at German festivals
"When the sound is right, I'm all in!"

Patrick Watson live at Haldern Pop 2009
Patrick Watson at Haldern Pop 2009 | © Christoph Buckstege

Every summer, thousands of people head to out-of-the-way meadows to experience concerts in the open air. ​How do Canadian artists experience them? We asked Montreal artists Marie Davidson and Patrick Watson about their experiences and impressions.

By Dennis Kastrup

July 2021. Usually, this time of year the festival season is thundering on countless stages across Germany. But Covid is still a threat, so big names like Rock am Ring/im Park, Hurricane and the Wacken Open Air had to be cancelled early on. Before the pandemic, however, singer-songwriter Patrick Watson and musician and DJ Marie Davidson had the opportunity to play the Haldern Pop, Melt and Nachtdigital festivals, to name a few. It wasn’t their first time on German soil; both had already played various clubs in previous years. For Marie Davidson, the experiences she gathered there laid the foundation for her relationship with Germany. “I really fell in love with the European club culture, especially the German one. I used to really like Germany and going there. I played a lot in clubs before playing festivals. When I played in festivals in Germany, for me, that was just an extension of that culture."

  • Marie Davidson live © Lawrence Jones
    Marie Davidson live at Electrowerkz in London.
  • Marie Davidson live at Nachtdigital © Christian Rothe
    Marie Davidson live at Nachtdigital

The fact that her manager lives in Berlin also demonstrates her close relationship to Germany. She lived there for several months herself. In 2019, not far from the capital, near Leipzig, Davidson played at Nachtdigital, a festival for electronic music. It was one of her best gigs ever, she says, explaining, “It was a stage under a sort of circus tent. The vibe was perfect. And they don’t mess around with the sound. One thing I can say that I noticed about German festivals – not just festivals, but German music culture in general – is that even if it’s DIY, even if the organisation or the communication aren’t the best, the sound, the quality of the sound system and the sound technicians are always top-notch. As a musician I really appreciate that. I don’t mind going somewhere and there’s no bottle of vodka on my rider because they forgot to bring it or someone forgot to bring me some water. I don’t care about that. If the sound is right, I'm all in!”   

You just get to play music

Patrick Watson also prefers the smaller festivals. In 2009 and 2012 he played together with his band at Haldern Pop in Rees-Haldern, North Rhine-Westphalia. “My favourite festival in all of Europe is definitely Haldern Pop. I remember it was a magical experience the first time I played. I think the size of the festival is a very good size for music. At Haldern Pop you only have two stages. It’s simple. It’s a nice size. It doesn’t feel like you’re surrounded by millions of people. And I feel, from a musician’s point of view, you just get to play music. That’s quite lovely. And I also think Stefan [Reichmann], who runs that festival, intends to keep it that way. You can tell he books bands based on quality and not on who’s famous or not. I feel musicians really respond to that and the audience responds to that intention.”
 
Marie Davidson sees things similarly. She likes the diversity at German festivals. “The difference between the culture of festivals, European and German and most Canadian festivals, is that the European ones have kind of a template: Big stages, small stages and often a techno stage, the weird stage and the smaller stages, where I started playing myself. The range of musical genres and tastes are a bit broader, maybe because dance music and avantgarde electronic music are more upfront in Europe. But I’m seeing a change in Canadian culture. I don’t think it’s a lack of interest among Canadians. There was a lack of culture and permission to go wild. We have more rules here.” She’s talking mainly about curfews, which rarely exist in Europe, allowing a lot of night-time freedom. When Davidson performs, it’s usually very late, often even in the early hours of the morning. In her experience, German festivals are more liberal. “In Canada we have all these laws around alcohol and time. Things have to end early. There’s no festival I know of that’s allowed to go on all night and up until the morning. Maybe the latest would finish at 5 am and that is so unusual. All festivals have to be over by 3 o’clock.”     
  • Patrick Watson © Christoph Buckstege
    Patrick Watson at Haldern Pop 2009
  • Patrick Watson © Christoph Buckstege
    Patrick Watson at Haldern Pop 2009
  • Patrick Watson © Christoph Buckstege
    Patrick Watson at Haldern Pop 2009
  • Patrick Watson © Christoph Buckstege
    Patrick Watson at Haldern Pop 2009
  • Patrick Watson © Christoph Buckstege
    Patrick Watson at Haldern Pop 2009
  • Patrick Watson © Christoph Buckstege
    Patrick Watson at Haldern Pop 2009
  • Patrick Watson © Christoph Buckstege
    Patrick Watson backstage at Haldern Pop 2009
  • Patrick Watson © Christoph Buckstege
    Patrick Watson at Haldern Pop 2009

More freedom

Watson has been in the music business much longer than Davidson; he’s already toured the world and gained a lot of experience. A lot has changed since he began. “When we used to travel in America 20 years ago, we could never find a latté or a good coffee. So, when we went to Europe or Germany we were like, ‘Oh, we’ll have good coffee!’ Now when you travel in the States the coffee might even be better than Paris. That’s true even for the food culture. We used to tour America and the food was awful. Now you have access to a lot of different foods. There’s been a real spread of ideas and everybody is kind of adopting some of those ideas. The disadvantage is that the festivals look a bit the same: It’s a bit of a monoculture.”  
 
Even if this probably means losing a little of the local German charm, the special memories of the local people remain. In Germany, for example, Watson has the feeling that his audience listens more meticulously. “I had someone come up and he was like, ‘You know on the second verse, that second chord, that second voicing, you had…’ That has never happened to me after a show: someone talking specifically about one chord and the voicing.” Marie Davidson is also full of praise for the German listeners. “It’s a great audience. I love playing for Germans. I do have a distinct relationship with Germany. It works for me there. Music-wise it works.” And in her enthusiasm for the Germans, a cliché slips in: “In my experience, you don’t make friends with Germans quickly. Germans are kind of cold. But when you are friends, you’re friends forever. Some of my best friends are Germans.”
 

Top