When it comes to Canadian festivals, there’s a wide selection to choose from depending on what you’re looking for. At Osheaga, you can get Coachella’s glitz, with a bit of northern flair; and during its brief existence on the southern Ontario festival circuit, WayHome offered the lucrative potential of legitimately coming back home. But for many, Festival d’Ete de Quebec (translated to Quebec City Summer Festival) remains outside of the cultural lexicon for most Canadians.
This year, the festival celebrated its 51st anniversary and much has changed in the half century since its inception. Originally organized as a showcase of Quebec’s art, culture and commerce, by the late twentieth century, the festival became a crucial landing spot for internationally acclaimed Francophone music. Only in the last decade has the festival morphed from the Quebec, to the quiet national powerhouse it is today. In the last 8 years, the massive Plains of Abraham has hosted an elite class of legendary artists like Stevie Wonder, Guns N’ Roses, Elton John, Weezer, The Who, Muse, the Rolling Stones and Lady Gaga. What’s more is that despite the upslope of the festival’s programming, a pass for festival’s exhaustive 11 days will run you under $100 bucks for early bird tickets (and $110 a month before the fest).
If Festival d’Ete feels a bit like a mixture of all the other big festivals rolled into one, it’s because it kinda is, but with one exception: each night the festival seems to morph completely, often bearing little resemblance to the night before. On any given night during the festival, the audience that populates the festival’s multiple stages bears little resemblance to the crowd the night before. The night after Neil Young delivered a verbal middle finger to Donald Trump in front of an audience of seasoned concert lifers, Lil Yachty incited complete bedlam in the pit of his hour long set, with the largely teenage audience teens apparently set on maximum carnage. After The Weeknd delivered hit after hit to a crowd that eagerly karaoked along to the real thing, cementing his pop star status, Pickering’s very own Shawn Mendes filled the 90,000-capacity Plains of Abraham with his a legion of Quebecois fans.
Perhaps this is the most fascinating part of Festival d’Ete: is innate its shape shifting capabilities that makes it peculiarly (and refreshingly) impossible to pin down. We put together a collections of our favourite moments on and off the stage in an attempt to capture the spirit of the Canada’s best kept secret. — Melissa Vincent