You can’t blame Festival d’ete de Quebec concert producer Louis Bellevance for furtively scanning each day’s news headlines to see if his festival has lost another performer. Two weeks ago, Foo Fighters’ vocalist/lead guitarist Dave Grohl fell of the stage in Sweden, breaking a leg and then last week, Nickelback had to cancel all of their summer dates after lead vocalist/guitarist Chad Kroeger was deemed to require major throat surgery.
“The good news is that the Foo Fighters should be back next week. So far, what we are hearing is that they will be here for their date (July 11th),” informed Bellevance, whose 11-day Quebec City festival runs from July 9th until July 19th. “We are trying to tell everyone, `Please be careful when you are working’, he laughs.
It’s hard for Bellevance not to be in good spirits, understanding that the prime attraction of this year’s Festival d’ete de Quebec event are The Rolling Stones, making their only Canadian appearance of their North American Zip Code tour , July 15th on The Bell Stage at the city’s Plains of Abraham venue.
When you have a site that can accommodate more than 80,000 people, it’s not hard to figure out why the Stones’ selected this festival and this site for their only Canuck stop-over.
“To have big bands like The Rolling Stones and the Foo Fighters playing in a festival setting is very unusual for them, which means we have to do a lot of work to make sure that things fit,” explained Bellevance. “It’s not so bad because our regular set up is massive. We have the biggest stage in North America for any concert promoter, it is a unique set-up and the field can hold 80,000 people which is pretty amazing for a secondary market.”
Bellevance noted the biggest challenge is that the Stones’ crew will only have access to the stage, after the previous night’s performer, French star, Patrick Bruel, has left it. “The Stones want to build a runway and a B stage and we need to put these extensions in but the real concern for their crew is that they are not used to working overnight on the stage. They’ll be here four days before the concert but they won’t be able to touch the stage until the previous night’s performer has finished his show.”
So how much will it cost to see the Stones play at Festival d’ete de Quebec? How about $78.00 for a wristband – good for the entire 11-day festival! That’s right, for just $78.00 you can catch The Stones, Foo Fighters, Keith Urban, Iggy Azalea, Megadeth, Deep Purple, Boston, The Doobie Brothers, The Tragically Hip and much more and if you want to pass on a couple of shows, and have someone else attend, the Velcro wristbands are interchangeable.
“The business model we have is quite unique,” explained Bellevance. “We sell a maximum of 150,000 wristbands at $78 and if even half of those people show up each night, we have a crowd of 70,000 to 80,000 spectators and that’s how we can attract major performers.” The trick being that the wristband is a pass for the entire festival, not for just one specific show. The disadvantage is that if everyone with a wristband wants to attend the same show (say the Stones), only the first 80,000 spectators would be allowed in.
“There are pros and cons to the system and we do tell everyone that admission is on a first-come, first-served basis so you need to be one of those first 80,000 to gain admission,” warned Bellevance. “May be once every two years, we have a situation where we have an overflow. “It happened with Bon Jovi and it happened with Metallica where we had to close the gates and it will probably happen with the Stones. We are going to try to set up additional sets and screens and some people might get restricted views, but we’d rather have too many people rather than not enough.”
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Bellevance says the uniqueness of The Plains Of Abraham, positioned close to downtown Quebec City and the vastness of the location continues to impress major stars who rarely if ever get to perform In front of such a vast audience. “Lady Gaga may have a regular concert audience of 20,000 people but I am sure she doesn’t usually play before 70,000 people before and even Billy Joel was impressed, saying “this is not what I expected”, when he performed at our festival.”
Of course, the downside of this is that Bellevance is challenged not to repeat his lineups and to continue attracting big name entertainers. “Repeating might be a solution, because most of our major acts want to come back but this would be counter-productive. If Lady Gaga wanted to come back, her 20,000 or so diehards might show up but the other 50,000 curiosity seekers wouldn’t show and there would be a massive drop-off.”
Still, as Bellevance points out, the super star bands aren’t getting any younger so he is venturing into EDM entertainment and a Country Music night to expand his audience. He is also encourage by a new wave of domestic talent and is encouraging agents across the country to forward likely candidates for future appearances (Canadian new talent this year includes Kiesza, Current Swell and Lights).
Considering that Festival d’ete de Quebec, was launched 48 years ago by a group of businessmen and young musicians wishing to promote a street festival in the city, this event has now grown to be one of North America’s premiere festival attractions.
“It’s been a long transition, it wasn’t always like this but about 10 years ago, we started to go for bigger names, we wanted to know how far we could push it, thinking bigger names would sell more tickets, and our projections were correct,” Bellevance noted. “Obviously, we’ve always promoted Francophone music and we have people who don’t think we do enough, but considering how big the festival has grown, francophone music still plays an important role in this festival.
With one major stage, two smaller outdoor side stages and a number of club venues specializing in blues and dance music, the Festival d’ete de Quebec continues to develop because it caters to every form of commercial and eclectic music imaginable. There is such a demand for tickets that a couple of years ago, the festival sold 75,000 tickets in a few days before even announcing who was on the bill. “We weren’t happy with that practice though, we thought we may have created the impression we were being greedy,” admitted Bellevance. “Asking for money before we had even announced the lineup was a bit much.”
Bellevance notes that ticket sales are averaging around the 120,000 to 130,000 mark, which still makes the event financially attractive and admits he also works closely with Mark Monahan’s Ottawa Blues Festival which runs almost concurrently (July 8th – July 19th).
“It’s no accident that we share the same dates,” concluded Bellevance. “It’s the nature of the business that we work together. If I can work with him and work with the Evenko guys in Montreal, and with Riley O’Connor at Live Nation in Toronto and bring in four or five offers, it’s a lot cheaper than trying to go it alone and I might not be able to do it alone so we’re stronger together. I’ll be talking to Mark (Monahan), we have different festivals, mine is more Francophone and his might be a little more Blues and Country and I’ll say, I’m going after that, what do you think, and he might say, I like it, let’s do it together.”
For further information on the Festival d’ete de Quebec. Please link to www.infofestival.com.
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