To say that FEQ is a big festival feels excruciatingly reductive. But it still stands. The festival is very, very big. After launching in 1968 as essentially an arts and economic expo, they’ve swelled to host the biggest names on their lineup at the historic and massive Plains of Abraham. In 2007, the festival hit the million spectator mark. But the question of growth remains an ongoing question: After you’ve booked artists like Lady Gaga and Snoop Dog in the same year, or invited Migos to share the same stage as Muse, how much higher can realistically you go?
For FEQ this meant out and up. Literally. Adjacent the Plains of Abraham, a few years ago the festival added a massive scissor lift on the side that propelled select audience members many, many feet into the air. If you think that the best way experience Diplo’s meticulous brand of beat-selecting is jammed in a sweaty tangle of arms and neon headbands, then seeing that same mass of bodies respond to every drop from above the trees might be the best way to visualize the impact of a high-octane DJ set on an audience. I’m convinced it was a necessary extravagance.
On the other side of the Plains of Abraham, this year the festival also introduced an extra lush, dare I say it, boldly and delightfully “Instagram-ready” terrace, outfitted with soft lighting, lounge chairs, and a clear view of the stage. Located just outside the festival’s new headquarters in Manège militaire, it offered easy access to the late-night showcases from artists as diverse and wide-ranging as francophone chanteuse Charlotte Cardin, and the ultimate deliverers of karaoke-staples the Village People .
In many ways, these new inclusions sought to both bring the festival closer into the territory of a lifestyle event, while also recasting the term in the process. For over fifty years, FEQ has been defined by its role as an annual, accessible, and permanent social pillar in Quebec City. In the process, it’s elevated the festival beyond a 11-day series of music programming, and into an unofficial holiday that celebrates the city’s evolving cultural identity; like showcasing homegrown artists to some of their biggest audiences to date like Shawn Mendes in 2018, or celebrating beloved rock iconoclasts like Eric Lapointe who was awarded this year’s Prix Miroir de la Renommée on stage. When you slide that in with a day at the newly-built Strøm Spa Nordique who offered picturesque, mid-fest spa getaways, and a bunch of massive, sometimes climbable on-site installations, FEQ is akin to a mega-event with many moving parts.
By creating a space that few have attempted—a congregation of music’s most notable heavy hitters under the admission of a single, wallet-friendly wristband—FEQ has built its identity around being proudly and unapologetically for everyone. Rather than stopping at creating spaces for a dynamic community of fans along gender and racial lines, FEQ takes its mandate as an all-ages event seriously by refusing to disqualify the tastes of audiences, young and old. Under, the festival’s careful design headliner status means that all who occupy it morph the audiences to fulfill their expectations. It’s a space where Mariah Carey can candidly urge the audience to empathize with the rigors of navigating a stage on stilettos amidst torrential downpour, while also hitting every big note she attempted. It’s also space where the prolific Gucci Mane can play his very first Canadian show to a roaring, largely French-speaking crowd; and without contest, Logic can demand an audience’s maximum attention and performance from a crowd willing to offer it generously.
The last several years have seen mega-festivals exit the Canadian music festival landscape as quickly as they entered, but FEQ’s devotion to multi-generational programming might possibly assure its longevity for another 50 years. In the words of the only voice gravely missed at this year’s festival, esketit!