I have just returned from what can only be described as a dream. Imagine a week in a city that embraces music so much that it takes over the entire city for 10 days. Truth be told, this is my third year going to Festival d’été de Québec. Unlike most festivals which feel more like an Amazing Race Challenge that start at noon, and go on until after midnight, this festival provides DAYS of music. There are many locations throughout the city, and each venue has a lineup of similar music styling.
I arrived in the Québec on Saturday night just in time for the Hip-Hop themed line up at the Bell stage, the largest which holds 80,000 fans. This would be my home for the next seven nights!!! The lineup tonight was Killy, a Canadian rapper from Toronto who was the perfect selection to get the hometown crowd moving. During his performance, Killy climbed down from the massive stage to embrace the crowd along the pit railing, little did I know this would be a reoccurring theme throughout the trip. Next to hit the stage was Loud, rapper from Quebec who kept the energy level going for Lil’ Yachty. Lil Yachty was very instructional during his performance, asking the crowd for more mosh pits (which have been forming throughout the night). Yachty also performed a “boat test”, throwing cases of bottled water into the crowd, asking them not to drink it. He instructed the crowd at the correct moment in a song to start tossing it into the air creating a mini wave of water just above the heads of the crowd. The much-anticipated Future took then took the stage and performed his hits with the pinnacle of the night being when he performed “Masked Off”. After the show, I decided to hit up Snack Shop on St. Rue Street. The line went out the building and after a short wait (25mins!!), I crushed my Poutine Italiano. Smothered fries never tasted so good.
Sunday had me at my favorite breakfast nook, Au Petit Coin Breton. In the middle of breakfast, my daughter starts freaking out. I said what the matter, she says “Dad, That’s Shawn Mendes who just sat down”. Super excited, I guess the rest of her breakfast was history. The funny thing is, nobody in the restaurant noticed him. We finished out meal, and of course had to wait outside in hopes a picture (this must be what it’s like to be paparazzi). When Shawn came out, I asked if I could grab a quick shot with my daughter, the guy was beyond nice, and I became “Dad of the Year”. It was like that all day, as we shopped in the city, there again was Shawn, eating lunch, same routine, taking pics with fans. Sunday night was more of a Pop night with Oh Wonder, Camila Cabello, and Shawn Mendes. As I waited in the media tent, I could tell this crowd was maxed and ready for Shawn. Opening the show was Oh Wonder from London, England. They seem to be constantly grinning as they announced that this was the biggest crowd they ever played to in their career. The set included their best-known songs “Lose It”. The Latin sensation Camila Cabello was next, and her set was en fuego!!! She is so talented, and her sultry performance which more of a production numbers with dancers literally jumping across the stage included her top hit “Havana”. The protective ear plugs I wear could not hold back the female screaming which took place as Shawn Mendes enter the stage from the real in fog with a backlight. Here was another performer who couldn’t seem to stop smiling, as he had the crowd eating out of his hands. The talented Mendes, is not just a pretty face, as he had many guitar changes throughout his performance, and included many hits from his self-titled new release Shawn Mendes, but also included his hits, “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” and “Stitches”.
Monday night was one of my most anticipated nights to shoot, as the lineup was incredible; Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Greta Van Fleet, and the Foo Fighters. Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls was a little out of place with the lineup, but as they played, the heavily acoustic (did I see an electric mandolin?) anthems did get the crowd jumping as Frank Turner is a true entertainer, and had the crowd jumping by the end of their set.
Bring back the 70’s, as Greta Van Fleet consisting of vocalist Josh Kiszka, guitarist Jake Kiszka, bassist Sam Kiszka, and drummer Danny Wagner took the stage. This young band has been labeled a modern day Led Zeppelin as Josh has a sound very much like Robert Plant, and the musical styling could have been tracks never released by Led Zep if you didn’t know better. Fleet’s performance was tremendous as they opened with their smash hit “Highway Tune”. I guess it was enough to wake up the Hammer of the Gods, as the sky unloaded a tremendous rain starting in the middle of their set which lasted until they ended with “Safari Song”. As the rain stopped, and a short mopping of the lower stages, out came the Foo Fighters. David Grohl raced back and forth across the stage making sure he paid attention to all the fans. Dave explained that it had been three years since they last played Québec City, and they said they would be back!! The Foo Fighters played an extensive 20 song setlist which included the hits, and “Under My Wheels” (Alice Cooper cover) with Chris Shiflett on lead vocals, “Another One Bites the Dust/Imagine/Jump/Blitzkrieg Bop” during the band introductions, “¡Olé! “(a Bouncing Souls cover), and of course the tour favorite “Under Pressure” (Queen cover), with Taylor Hawkins on vocals (but missed his partner in crime, Luke Spiller(of The Struts).
I usually take a night to check out the other stages, and on Tuesday night I landed at the Hyrdo-Quebec Stage located at in Place D’Youville which is in the heart of Old Quebec in front of the historic fortifications and Saint-Jean’s Gate. I arrived just in time to hear some off the charts blues performed by Mississippi Heat. The band from Chicago, led by a French named harmonica player Pierre Lacocque. Guitarist Michael Dotson was a stand out as he seemed to be in his zone all night. The open-air environment surrounded by both old and new building structures was the perfect setting to let loose or just sit back and listen.
Wednesday was a high energy night, as the lineup included; Young Bombs, Gorgon City (Live), Tory Lanez, The Chainsmokers. Young Bombs had the toughest job of getting the crowd up while the sun was still out. The Vancouver based DJS were not your normal mixers as most (slow the beat down, then raise your hands like you did something more than turn a knob). Martin Kottmeier and Tristan Norton were constantly jumping off the various set up on the stage at the exact moment the bass dropped, and the fans loved it. Gorgon City (Live) had a similar set, with less rhythmic beats and instead offered two singers who played off each other’s vocals throughout the set as the band played behind them. Tory Lanez is just a madman!! Since I already saw the Rap night on Saturday, I kind of knew what to expect, but this guy was amazing. Tory sang, and finally announced that he was going to crowd surf to the back of the capacity 80,000 people. Well, he didn’t do it, and he managed to get far back all the while not missing a note during the songs. Many times, this type of shenanigans will not take place until AFTER the photographers are ushered off, so since he did this during the second song, I was so happy to snap away from the pit back to the crowd as Tory moved further and further away from me.
“Thunderdome. How do I get in there?” This could sum up The Chainsmokers’ performance. It starts with the Alex Pall, Andrew Taggart and drummer Matt McGuire appear on stage with red flares. Then all hell broke loose!! The entire night was controlled chaos with a soundtrack. Fire, confetti, smoke cannons, streamers, with mad visuals playing on either side of the stage. At one point the drummer was paying with sticks which were on fire!!! I will never get that image out of my head (and I don’t want to).
Thursday’s was the indie pop lineup including; Girls in Hawaii, Phoenix, and Beck. The Belgium band Girls in Hawaii kicked off the night. The crowd really connected with them, and seem to know all the songs in the setlist. Phoenix took the stage and immediately connect with the French speaking audience. The band from Versailles, France really had the audience dancing and singing along with each selection. The lead singer, Thomas Mars crowed surfed deep into the crowd totally enjoying the experience. A huge moment is when they covered their top hit “1901”. Night encapsulated the venue as Beck entered the stage with a Gaucho-Western themed stage. He jumped right into Devil’s Haircut, Loser, and Up All Night. The setlist included a very cool cover of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and a crushing encore mix; Where It’s At / One Foot in the Grave /Good Times (bassist presentation) /Miss You (guitarist presentation)/ Cars (keyboardist presentation)/ Once In A Lifetime (multi-instrumentalist trio presentation)/ Where It’s At.
Sadly, Friday night was my last night at the festival, and it was pure Women’s Power!!! The lineup included; Milk & Bone, Cyndi Lauper, Lorde. Kicking off the night was Milk & Bone consisting of the Canadian electropop duo, Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Camille Poliquin. True francophones however they write and record in English. They have a very hypnotic beat with each playing loops, electronic pads and keyboards. When matched with their harmonies, it can be entrancing. The Legend Cyndi Lauper walked out and explained in her familiar shy New York accent that she always wanted to play festivals, and that this was her first one. Cyndi’s vice was incredible as she played all her hits from the 80’s can explained how some of the songs were written and produced. She asked that Laurence and Camille (Milk & Bone) join her on stage for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. She informed the crowd of all the women’s marches she attended and asked the crowd to “Sing loud so all those bitches ’round the world can hear ya”. Cyndi hasn’t missed a beat, and has tour dates in the states throughout the summer with Rod Stewart.
The stage was draped with coffins shapes made of prismatic material hanging from the rafters. Lorde entered the dimly lit stage and continued with this vibe through her set. There was a stage production as Lorde moved along with dancers with choreographed moves around her. Lorde explained that she took three planes to get to tonight’s headlining event. The crowd totally enjoyed her performance, as she reaffirmed the overall message to the women of the crowd to stand strong and be more confident in your own skin. It was a great night for everyone who was fortunate to attend.
What a tremendous trip!!! Please do yourself a favor and evaluate your vacation and music concert budgets, and compare it to the cost of attending this festival. It’s a short drive over the border, only three hours from Montreal. The price of a PIT ticket to a single show will provide you access to ten full nights of music, with many different choices. I personally did Airbnb the last two years, and it was very affordable. During the day we hiked in the National Parc Jacques Cartier which provided stunning views. We shopped in many of the local shops and visited many of the restaurants in Québec. It didn’t hurt that the exchange rate was at $1.28 at the time. Please start planning now, as the line ups are usually announced in late January, and the dates for next year are already out, July 4-14th, 2019!!!! See you there!!!
Article and Photos by Bob Linneman