We know Reading, Leeds, Glastonbury, Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Warped, the most talked about live music festivals around the world. There’s also Roskilde, Splendour in the Grass, Bumbershoot, Fuji Rock, Rock am Ring, Download, and in Canada, Edgefest and Osheaga, all highly regarded outdoor fun, but lesser known to the less music indulgent.
Still even less known is Festival d’été de Québec, a superbly run, ridiculously affordable Quebec City festival that draws a million people over 11 days and some of the biggest touring acts. The price tag? Only $76. That should be on their advertisements everywhere, in big bold letters, even lit up in neon. Most of the headline acts this year charge that and more for one show; 76 bucks is for 200 acts, including Guns N’ Roses,Stevie Wonder, Rush and Bruno Mars. Repeat: $76 for the whole whack of ‘em. Pure insanity.
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“I think it’s huge around here,” Halifax rapper Classified tells Music Express backstage at the festival, where he will be followed onstage by Wiz Khalifa and headliners Wu-Tang Clan in front of an estimated 40,000 people.
“I took a picture of the stage and sent a tweet out and said, ‘I’m playing with Wiz and Wu’ and everyone hit me up — from home even — ‘We had no idea you were playing a show; we would’ve drove up.’ I think it’s a festival more aimed at the Quebec people, which is cool because they can have something like this, as big as this; they don’t gotta worry about promoting it everywhere else. If you wanna know about it, you gotta do the homework and find out about it.”
So here’s the homework:
Over the 11 days artists of all genres, from hip hop to rock to EDM and family-friendly, both French and English, descend on the quaint francophone city. While there are multiple stages and venues, the main festival stage is built on the historic grounds of the Plains of Abraham (where the British fought the French in 1759 — and won, in a mere 15 minutes), whose capacity is 80,000.
A total of 150,000 passes are sold for the entire festival program, which this year runs from July 4 to 14. About 60,000 were pre-sold, before the lineup was even announced, according to their PR. Their reputation precedes them, it seems — at least in Quebec. Festival d’été de Québec has been a tradition for decades.
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It has actually been going 46 years and reached a million spectators for the first time in 2007 —and pretty much every year since. In 2008, Van Halen, Linkin Park and Stone Temple Pilots were on the bill; in 2009 Kiss, Sting and Sean Paul; 2010, Rammstein, Rush, Black Eyed Peas, Santana; 2011 Metallica and Elton John; and 2012, Roger Waters, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith.
This year, English-language marquee acts on the Bell Stage — that’s the one at Plains of Abraham — include Wu-Tang Clan, Wiz Khalifa, Eagles of Death Metal, The Black Keys, Bruno Mars, Weezer, MGMT, Rush, Tiesto, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Stevie Wonder, Guns N’ Roses. Canadians Classified and Danko Jones got to rock that massive stage too — the biggest in North America.
Designed and manufactured by Quebec’s Unisson Structures, the “Hi-Roof” stage is the “biggest aluminum outdoor mobile covered stage ever-produced on this continent,” according to the press material. The total span of 224-ft. wide by 86 ft. high and 109 ft. in depth provides a performance area of 90 ft. x 60 ft. (5,310 sq ft) — and can resist winds wind of 120 km/h. In other words, it’s frickin’ big — and strong.
Classified doesn’t think he’s ever seen a stage that big. “Not even just the stage, but just the whole set up — the whole field, the speakers and screens at the backside,” he marvels. On a stage that size, he says, “You either want to move a lot or don’t move at all. You don’t want to move just a little bit because then it looks like you’re not going anywhere and you’re trying to get around a stage too big. I’ll be moving a lot, running around.”
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Other Canadian acts —Voivod, Coeur de Pirate, Carly Rae Jepsen, Marianas Trench, Down With Webster — were booked on a far smaller stage a short distance away at Parc de La Francophonie, cordoned off to hold about 6000 people.
On the first few days of the festival Canadians Born Ruffians; The Balconies; The Hunters; Coeur de Pirate; Madeleine Peyroux, Lily Frost, Voivod; Les Trois Accord; PS I Love You; Doldrums; The Joy Formidable; The Besnard Lakes; Young Galaxy; Modern Primitive, and more joined international acts Alpha Blondy & The Solar System; Bad Religion; Femi Kuti & The Positive Force; and Dr. John, The Night Tripper. There were dozens of other acts too on other outdoor and indoor stages, some a short walk away; others a short car ride.
The marketing for Festival d’été de Québec should change over the next few years with a new focus by the promoters and Quebec tourism to get the word out — beyond Quebec.
They likely won’t be touting the little things — the fact that vendors let us keep the cap on bottled beverages — and we did not see even one filled with dirt and rocks hurled anywhere (the reason apparently, they remove the caps at shows in Toronto); that shooter girls roam the grounds selling Jack Daniels and the like strapped at their waist; and that beer is served in cans, not plastic cups (again, no one hurled the cans that we could see). Those are the mark of respect and trust in the concert world for the ticket-buyer. We aren’t all uncouth lunatics.
But again, it’s this $76 fest-for-all ticket price that is mind-blowing and the key to bringing in people from outside the province. Save on the ticket; spend in the city.
It’s not too late to attend. Headliners Guns N’ Roses, Tiesto, Def Leppard, Stevie Wonder are still to come.