Quebec City is spectacular in the summer! Days are long, nights are comfortably warm, and the provincial capital gets all cleaned up for the biggest party of the year. That’s right, Festival d’été de Québec (FEQ) returned for its 51st edition with hundreds of live performances taking place at multiple venues over eleven days. And Bucketlist was there to check it out!
I made the three-hour trip from Montreal on Friday, July 13th. Yes, Friday the 13th. What bad luck befell the festival on this most unlucky day? Torrential rain? An attack of killer bees? Nope. Aside from some light showers, the weather was perfect and there were no bugs. However, while travelling to the festival I learned Avenged Sevenfold, Saturday night’s headliners, canceled their set because of an illness. And co-headliners Bullet for my Valentine had already canceled the day before. My dream of going to a huge metal concert in Quebec City appeared to be doomed before it even started.
I hit the city early with plenty of time to check out FEQ’s afternoon programming. As I discovered, aside from some children’s acts, the music didn’t get started until the early evening. So, I played tourist and strolled around Quebec’s parliament building, which happened to be right in front of one of FEQ’s free stages. The music began with Logan Staats, a singer-songwriter from Ontario whose folky acoustic set was perfect for a lazy, laid-back afternoon in the sun.
The main stage opened later with a live set by electronic artists Milk & Bone. The Montreal duo, consisting of Camille Poliquin and Laurence Lafond-Beaulne, released the album Deception Bay earlier this year and are playing some big festivals this summer, including FEQ and Osheaga. Milk & Bone’s positivity and dreamy electro sound is ideal for outdoor festivals, and the thousands of young women in attendance danced in their sandals and summer dresses to “Coconut Water” and other catchy tunes.
Women ruled the main stage on Friday. Next up, 80s icon Cyndi Lauper thrilled the middle aged moms in attendance with a selection of her biggest hits, including “Time After Time,” “She Bop,” and, of course, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” Lauper, still looking fabulous at 65 with wild, bleached hair and a shiny metallic suit, even played “Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” from the Goonies soundtrack. It was an incredibly nostalgic ride back to the days of MTV and awkward high school grad dances.
While New Zealand’s indie-pop sensation Lorde ended the night on the main stage, I headed over to the Hydro-Quebec stage. Set in the stunning Place D’Youville, the Hydro-Quebec stage was surrounded by Quebec’s historic fortification wall and gate, along with a beautiful old theatre. It was one of the most impressive free stages I’ve seen at an outdoor festival. And the music? The sizzling sounds of Femi Kuti with the Positive Force delivered an intense afrobeat clinic that few who were there will forget. Kuti is a son of legendary Nigerian star Fela Kuti. Like his father, Kuti plays a raw and politically conscious afrobeat style. Backed up by his massive, thirteen-piece band, he played for almost two hours and brought down the house. It was magical!
My second day at FEQ was spent entirely at the main stage, where a different music genre is spotlighted each evening. This style of programming makes it easy for fans of a specific style (hip hop, electronic, folk, country, etc…) to know which day to show up. Saturday, July 14th was FEQ’s big metal extravaganza, and I expected to see Quebec City’s legendary heavy metal scene out in full force. As mentioned, two of the bands canceled though, and I was eager to see how the festival would salvage the evening.
The Bell main stage is located on the historic Plains of Abraham where, in case you slept through your intro to Canadian history class, in 1759 the British under General Wolfe defeated the French and left control of the city to the British. Some might think it controversial to stage a massive concert on such hallowed grounds, but the metal heads in attendance Saturday didn’t seem to care as the only battle on this night was in the enormous circle pit in front of the stage.
Canadian hardcore band Silverstein opened the show with an aggressive and melodic set. I immediately noticed the difference in the crowd compared to the previous night. On Friday, thousands of moms and their teenage daughters packed the area for Cyndi Lauper and Lorde. On Saturday, the characteristic black t-shirts of a metal crowd took over, and I noticed many Avenged Sevenfold shirts in the crowd. They must have been disappointed when their favorite band canceled.
The show must go on, though. The first replacement band, Atreyu, played a wild set of classic glam metal including a cover of Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Finally, Ontario’s Alexisonfire took over the headline slot with a blistering set of punk rock. Lead singer George Pettit stalked the stage like an irritated caged beast, but seemed genuinely humbled by the opportunity to play for such an enormous crowd. He thanked everyone involved in “turning a bad situation into an incredible party.” Indeed, with two headliners canceling on the same night, it could have been an epic disaster for the festival. Thanks to some quick thinking, luck, and the FEQ’s stellar reputation, the promoters pulled off a last minute fix and everyone was happy.
Sunday, the final day of the festival, started with a special World Cup Final viewing party at the FEQ stage in front of the provincial capital. It was a heavily partisan crowd cheering for Les Bleus and a number of people had painted their faces in the colour of the French flag. After an afternoon touring Quebec’s beautiful old city, I headed back to the Hydro Quebec stage while Bucketlist photographer Eric Brisson, checked out the Dave Matthews Band, and Sturgill Simpson on the Bell stage. Who said we can’t be in two places at once?
The late afternoon setting sun created a beautiful chilled out vibe at the Hydro-Quebec stage for Votia, a band from Reunion, a small island close to Madagascar. Then, the futuristic Afro group Gato Preto took over later with tropical bass sounds and a club friendly vibe as the sun dipped behind the buildings.
Quebec City puts its best foot forward for the Festival d’été de Québec. The streets are sparkling, and, despite the influx of throngs of tourists, the people are polite and friendly. The festival itself is a jewel in the busy Quebec summer festival circuit, and definitely worth the trip from Montreal for a few days to check out the bands. I know I’ll be back!
Written by Rob Coles
Photography by Eric Brisson Photography
*edited by Danielle Kenedy