MONTREAL - The tumult of air-horns, drums and angry shouts from a dozen people at a Fete nationale concert in Montreal on Tuesday didn't stop two English bands from energizing the crowd.
Anglophone performers Bloodshot Bill and Lake of Stew drew loud cheers at the end of their sets after some hardline Quebec nationalists tried to disrupt their performances.
Earlier this month, the appearance of the groups' names on posters for the free outdoor show triggered debate in the province as to whether anglophones should play a role in celebrating Fete nationale - also known as St-Jean-Baptiste Day.
Some nationalists warned the event, dubbed L'Autre St-Jean, could erupt into violence if the Anglo acts were allowed to go on.
But on Tuesday, with only a handful of demonstrators openly opposed to the English musicians and a heavy police presence, the ruckus never got out of control.
Still, with the enraged chants of "Le St-Jean, en francais!" Lake of Stew frontman Richard Rigby wasn't sure what to expect when his Montreal band hit the stage.
"It was a little nerve-racking at first, there was one guy who came and got up in our face there for a little bit," Rigby said after his performance.
"We were asked to just be aware that the crowd was going to be a little bit crazy."
By the time Bloodshot Bill started playing, the crowd had swelled to over 1,000, which drowned out the protesters. Some of the demonstrators who had booed Lake of Stew danced to Bloodshot Bill's rockabilly tunes with other party-goers.
The show, headlined by prominent francophone rockers Malajube and Vincent Vallieres, was hyped as an alternative to Montreal's larger annual St-Jean-Baptiste Day bash.
Lake of Stew and Bloodshot Bill were nearly dropped from the bill earlier this month after the sponsor, l'Association culturelle Louis-Hebert, reportedly threatened to pull its funding from the event because they sing in English.
The association told C4 Productions, the promoter that booked the Anglo bands, that it disagreed with the show's philosophy.
But C4 Productions stood by its choices.
For Rene Boulanger, a member of the nationalist group Reseau de Resistance du Quebecois, English bands don't belong at St-Jean-Baptiste Day events.
"The No. 1 goal of Fete nationale is to integrate all the communities around one common language, which is called French," said Boulanger, who climbed a metal barrier in front of the stage Tuesday and heckled Lake of Stew shortly after they started playing.
"We have to respect the Quebecois culture."
Christian Bergevin, who proudly flipped "the bird" at Lake of Stew band members during their set, said there are only one or two days a year when Quebecers can truly feel like francophones.
"It's for all Quebecers, but it should be in French," he said of Fete nationale.
"Anyone can come here, they're all welcome, but I hope it's in French."
But many sovereigntists in the province defended the promoter's decision to include English bands in their lineup, saying anglophones have deep roots in Quebec.
Rigby, meanwhile, said the band would love to play at next year's event.
He said he understands that the "hard-core" opponents in the crowd feel their culture and language is threatened.
"If you want to preserve your culture you can't keep your culture in a little glass box," Rigby said behind the stage after the show as he sipped beer from a plastic cup.
"We're part of the culture, we live here, our music comes from here.
"Next year we hope that it's normal, we hope that it's not even an issue."