Q&A with Michel Bénac, Singer of LGS

LGS_MichelBenac_Music Franco-Ontarian artist Michel Bénac, singer, musician and entrepreneur has prevailed in the music industry for the past two decades. His career is starting to take off to new exciting heights. Recently, his music brought him across the Atlantic to the land of his French cousins. We were lucky enough to catch up with him during his “Tour de France” and find out more about what he’s up to.

Tell us a little bit about your group, LGS and your career…

M.B.: Eighteen years ago, we launched our first album “La Chanson Sacrée.” It was an exploratory album, where we mixed traditional Canadian folk music with American pop. I am Franco-Ontarian and when I first started singing, I did not even think about singing in French. The only option seemed to be to sing in English. My career stalled real quick: media and disc companies claimed that my style was fake. But my culture was not anglophone. So I stopped for a couple years but still had the craving. I thought,“Okay, I am not American. I am Franco-Ontarian.” One of my grandfather played the accordion, the other played the fiddle. I had deep traditional roots. So in 1999, I decided to combine traditional folk music with American pop. It was totally avant-garde at the time. The album had the effect of a bomb. We launched it in April 1999. We had three shows that year. The year after we had about 10-15 shows and in 2001, we had 165 shows.

One or two concerts you will never forget…

M.B.: I played during the closing ceremonies of the PanAm Games in Toronto in 2015. It was totally insane. I got married on July 15 and I had promised my wife to not take any shows during our honeymoon. We get married and leave for San Francisco on a Friday. On Monday morning, I get an email from someone from the organizing committee saying: “The closing ceremonies happen in 6 days and we are looking for a francophone group to come perform. We’d love for you to be with us.” I had promised my wife not to take any shows during that week. I am always on tour, never home on weekends or on holidays. I thought, “I cannot do this to her.” And so I tell her, “This is what I just said no to.”

She answered, “Are you crazy? Let’s go to Toronto!” We got there the following Friday. Sound check on Saturday afternoon and on Saturday night, I was playing on stage in front of 50,000 people at the Rogers Centre and 44 million on TV. I’ll never forget that night. It was magical. We opened for Pitbull and Kanye West. Unheard of for a Francophone-Canadian group.

Another memorable show for me was in November, 2000. We were doing our first showcase at the Francofête en Acadie, in a small bar in Moncton. About 30 people attended the showcase and we gave it all that we could (which is why we got booked for 165 shows the year after). After the show, I got to the bar and a bearded man came to me to buy me a beer and told me, “I love what you do.” I answered, “Thanks, my name is Michel” and he said, “My name is Cayouche.”

Cayouche is a Acadian legend! It was a great honor.

Any advice for young artists?

M.B.: Be patient. You cannot make a career if you don’t work on improving your lyrics and your melodies. Be original. Don’t be scared to be yourself. Most artists did like me at the beginning: you start imitating the artists you love and you forget everything about your own integrity. We hide behind our idols. Be honest. Be who you are. Accept it and give it back to your public. After that, it’s about 80% business and 20% talent! Work, and work, and work and you will be successful.

You have also started your own production company…

M.B.: Over the years, I noticed that many talented Franco-Ontarian artists I respected disappeared from the market and the stage and I wondered why. That’s why I decided one day to produce Franco-Ontarian artists. We are still at the embryo stage in French Ontario. All the francophone disc companies are located in Montreal, Quebec. If you are not from Quebec, it is very difficult to get a contract with these people, unless you already work abroad and are coming to Montreal. But I am proud of my Franco-Ontarian heritage, of our differences and nuances. I want to participate in the genesis of the Franco-Ontarian industry. My production company La Fab currently has 2 artists: LGS and Gabrielle Goulet, a country, indie pop artist who has just released their second album. I am currently looking for a third artist.

Do you have to self-produce as an independent artist?

M.B: All the time. Even in French Ontario. It is a new experience for us: we have to rent a venue and sell our own tickets (and working with Brown Paper Tickets on that has been fantastic). It is a lot of work on top of working on your art, lyrics, music, and driving! We have to make sure that the media will talk about us, that the tickets have been sold, that the promotion has been made. But the potential for success is a lot more profitable for my company and my band. I have learned a lot from the dozen shows I have produced and I know I will have to do it again. Hopefully I can start delegating the admin part at some point because my main goal is to remain a singer.

Image © Caroline Planque

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12th Annual New York Burlesque Festival

NYBF_2014Jen Gapay and Angie Pontani are no slouches. Not only have they created the biggest and grandest burlesque festival of its kind in the New York Burlesque Festival, now celebrating its 12th year, but they both have very impressive resumes outside of the festival.

As a performer, burlesque extraordinaire, Angie Pontani, “The Italian Stallionette,” was a key player in establishing NYC’s burlesque scene. She won burlesque’s most prestigious award, “Queen of Burlesque, Miss Exotic World” in 2008 and has toured multiple runs in the United States, Italy, Australia, Spain and Hong Kong, earning the title of “Best International Touring Artist of 2009,” by The Naked City/Alternative Media Group of Australia. As a producer she has produced the 2010 Burlesque Hall of Fame’s The Titans of Tease, the 53rd Annual Striptease Reunion Showcase and the Saturday Night Competition. She was co-creator of the off-Broadway hit, This is Burlesque as well the on-going U.S. tour, Burlesque-A-Pades, starring the “#1 Burlesque Attraction in the Nation”(AOL.com), The World Famous Pontani Sisters. Angie will also be featured in the PBS series Great Performances, performing live at Lincoln Center with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. This is scheduled to air on PBS on October, 24, 2014.

Jen Gapay is the founder of Thirsty Girl Productions, which debuted in 1997 in Seattle with Capitol Hill Block Party, now one of the largest annual urban music festivals in the country. From 2000 to 2002, she was the Promotions Director at the Village Voice, where she created and produced the Siren Music Festival at Coney Island. Other notable accomplishments include the New York Boylesque Festival, which she co-produces with famed NYC producer Daniel Nardicio, and the Coney Island Talent Show, now in its fourth year. She was also the artistic director for the Dresden Dolls’ F**k the Back Row tour in 2006 and talent coordinator for several of their tours in the USA, Europe and Australia. This is just a smattering of what she’s done.

From Thursday, September 25th to Sunday, September 28th, they’ll host the 12th annual New York Burlesque Festival. You can pick up full festival passes from Brown Paper Tickets HERE, and we advise you grab some ’cause they’re going quick.

We were able to chat with Angie and Jen about the festival and burlesque in New York. Jen shared some advice to event organizers and producers considering having a festival.

Wow. 12 years is quite an accomplishment. What do you feel is the secret behind the festival’s success and longevity?

Jen Gapay: Thank you. I feel that having the festival in NYC has helped the festival grow.  Everyone wants to come to New York to visit and everyone wants to come to New York to perform and that has been extremely helpful. Also Angie and I work together well as producers, run a tight ship and know how to put on a good show, so our festival has a good reputation from performers and patrons and you can’t buy that.

What performers are you especially excited for this year and why?

Jen Gapay: I am particularly excited to see Imogen Kelly from Australia perform this year. She is an amazing performer who is known as Australia’s Queen of Burlesque and also took the title of Queen of Burlesque in 2012 at The Burlesque Festival Hall of Fame Weekender in Las Vegas. She has a variety of styles and is a very visual performer, and one not to miss.

It seems that the line-up of performers is more focused on performers from NYC.  Do you feel that the pool of talent is growing in New York as burlesque becomes more popular?

Angie Pontani:
Our line-up is definitely chock-full of NYC performers, but how could it not be? New York City is home to the biggest and fastest growing burlesque community in the world, we have an insane wealth of talent here. I think that is in part to burlesque becoming more popular and also because this is New York, a thriving hot bed for the performing arts as well as one of the birthplaces of the new-burlesque resurgence. But the festival also brings in performers from around the globe. This year we have folks from Australia, Helsinki, London, Canada, New Zealand and more, not to mention representation from just about every state in the union.

Do you feel that your audiences are made of predominantly New Yorkers or do folks travel to come to the festival every year? 

Angie Pontani: We get a good amount of New Yorkers, but there are a lot of people who come to town for the weekend, some make it an annual tradition. If you’re a burlesque fan,  what better vacation can you have then catching your favorite performers from around the globe right here in the Big Apple?

How has the New York burlesque scene changed since you started the festival 12 years ago? What makes the New York scene unique?

Angie Pontani: The scene has changed and evolved over the years. When we started 12 years ago it was much smaller. We didn’t have as much of an application process, we just invited everyone we knew in burlesque and that was about 60 people mostly from NYC, LA or New Orleans. Now we are sifting through over 300 applications from all over the world.  Burlesque has grown exponentially and one of the coolest things about seeing all these performers is you get a feel for the burlesque scene where they come from. Every city has its own vibe: Chicago is really theatrical, Texas is big and showy, LA has an ultra-glam spirit, New Orleans has the blues and New York has everything.

Tell us a little about the all-new Burlesque Bazaar.

Jen Gapay:  The Burlesque Bazaar is a new event we just added to the festival last year.  It’s taking place on Sunday, September 28th at Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn and will feature over a dozen vendors showcasing costumes, vintage clothing, corsets, feather accessories, pasties, Burly-Q’s Nell’s pop up burlesque museum and even Fredini’s 3-D Scan-A-Rama that can scan your image right on site. We will also have a Q&A with burlesque legend Val Valentine and feature a live pinup shoot on stage with Don Spiro and stars of the festival. Plus, this event is free.

Brown Paper Tickets is seeing burlesque festivals pop up all over the country. Now every state seems to have its own festival. What is the number one piece of advice you would give to a burlesque producer who’s thinking of starting a festival in his/her town?

Jen Gapay: I think in order to produce a successful burlesque festival, it really helps to have  a thriving burlesque scene already built into the community, so make sure you have that before doing it.

Thanks to Jen and Angie for taking the time to chat. If you’re in the New York area next weekend, be sure to check out this world-class showcase of the best that burlesque has to offer.

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