Who’s Who: François Côté: Town Proud!

Who’s Who: François Côté: Town Proud!
Mike Butler

François Côté is a very recognizable face in the Valley and beyond. I’ve known him for many years, having seen him perform at events like Night Kitchens, open mics, and The Wolfville Farmers Market. He is a cherished Valley talent and it’s my pleasure to bring his story to The Grapevine.

François Côté’s story begins in the fall of 1979 and spring of 1980, a period that would define François’ life. He says, “During those 8 months, I turned 18 and the Katimavik program took me from my hometown, Québec, to Wolfville and then to Northern Alberta. From there, feeling quite rich with the $1000 “Katimavik pay” given at the end of the program, I hitch-hiked down the west coast and ended up “stretching my loot” over two months in Mexico. I spent quite a bit of time in southern Mexico, in Oaxaca and Chiapas.” He says that this period was life-defining because, ever since, Québec, Wolfville, and southern Mexico have become his three homes: his “hometown,” his “own town,” and his “soul town”.

From 1983 to 1986, François was an Acadia student, but it was partly a pretext to come back to Wolfville and re-connect with the people he had met in Katimavik, mostly the EOS crowd of the time: people like Lyn Roy, Pete Sutherland, Fritz Weiland, Carolyn Price-Weiland, Chris Cann, Linda Wheeldon, and Suann Boates Morrow, to name a few. These people, as we all experience in Wolfville, embraced François and helped create the hometown feel for him.

A year after graduating, he went back to Québec, where he sold art for five years. He says, “these were great times, for sure, in the Québec art scene, attending great concerts throughout the year, but I knew all along that, when the time was right, I was going to move back to Wolfville. Québec is a beautiful city, and a wonderful place to live, but Wolfville kept calling: not Nova Scotia, not “English Canada,” just Wolfville, and its community, its people. A small town that has history, culture, an art scene, and a food scene big enough to satisfy an urbanite like me. So, in the early ‘90s, I moved back to Wolfville.”

Since then, professionally, François has taught French immersion and, from 2001 until recently, he worked on the railroad between Halifax and Montreal. But throughout all those years, even though he’s never taken a music class and will never consider himself a “professional” musician, music has taken a more important place in his life than any profession ever has.

“I’ve been involved in very few “legit” projects.” he remarks. “The most impactful, the “Ensemble à Part,” a medieval French music combo, only lasted a little over three years. And it’s mostly as an avid listener, discoverer, researcher, concert programmer, and producer that my passion for music is expressed. I really enjoyed programming four editions of the Deep Roots Music Festival. I took pride in bringing to Wolfville some of my favorite musicians, who perhaps would have never come to Nova Scotia otherwise, and seeing them fall for this beautiful little town, make lasting connections, and come back again.”

In 2011, François had a close encounter with cancer that put everything else on pause for a year. While mending from surgery, looking back on his life, southern Mexico began calling. Since 1980, he always wanted to go back and re-trace his youth so as soon as he was declared cancer-free, he did! And his journey was unforgettable!

Eighteen months ago, François turned 55 and “pre-retired.” Mexico calls have grown louder. The last two winters, he’s made extended stays in the soul-filling, magical town of Oaxaca, completing the “triangle of homes” drawn in 1980. So I guess we can say, his life has come “full triangle”.

He wants to continue building his connection with Oaxaca, and in particular the indigenous Zapotecan culture, the inspiring art scene and world-class food scene, the people, the colours, and the smells. He hopes in years to come he can make a seamless transition between Wolfville and this community.

If you’ve ever heard François play, then you know how passionate he is about music, performance, and the arts. I asked about his main influence and he said that “my favorite human being, my “inspiration” for decades, has been Leonard Cohen. Not just for his genius with words, for his humility, for his sense of humour or for his legendary kind attention to others, but for managing to live such a meaningful life while constantly growing in wisdom and dignity, despite being pursued his whole life by the black cloud of depression. The day he died, the same day that saw a certain Donald Trump elected president of the US, was one of the saddest and most confusing days of my life.” So many of us felt the same way François!

François’s biggest news lately will be a benefit to us all. He says, “The most recent development in my life is that, in March, I came back from Mexico to take on the part-time position of coordinator of the Acadia Performing Arts Series.” For years, the Acadia Performing Arts Series has been a staple of the Valley music scene, and the concerts have been educational and incredible. With François tackling the line-ups and organization, it’s sure to be an even bigger success than previous years.

Whether he is in his “hometown,” his “own town,” or his “soul town,” I’m just proud François is a part of our town!