Weekend One At FEQ: Brilliant Weather, Incredible Performances & Lots Of Québec Love
Gideon Gottfried – FEQ 2019
Tyler Jospeh of Twenty One Pilots standing in a haze of colors during the band’s July 7 headline show
Returning from a weekend at Festival d’été de Québec and trying to relay the experience feels a bit like returning from Neverland and trying to explain that you’ve just spent a weekend flying through the sky and talking to people that don’t age. No one will believe you. You have to experience it for yourself.
Festival d’été de Québec, or simply FEQ, does something to the soul. It can be felt when walking through the scenic old town of Québec City, passing various stages on the way, encountering what must be some of the friendliest and most laid-back people on earth, and getting immersed in the buzz that takes over for eleven days each year. Which this year was in part created by breathtaking performances from Chvrches, alt-J, Twenty One Pilots, The Brooks, U.S. Girls, Joe Bel, and so many more.
Concerts start in the afternoon, just when the sun begins to disappear behind the city’s highrises. Listening to the hypnotic guitar strokes of Rodrigo y Gabriela, the mesmerizing folk of Okies, or the melodic soul of Black Pumas, while sat on concrete stairs that are still warm from the day’s heat and sipping on an ice-cold cocktail… it’s hard to imagine a nicer way to experience a concert. (Perhaps by replacing the cocktail with some medical grade cannabis, which became legal in Canada last year.)
Or how about lying on the grassy slopes of the Plains of Abraham, watching some of the biggest artists of today lose their cool on the main stage in sight of the 90k strong Québec audience, while enjoying stellar sound. Festival heaven.
The easiest way to understand the magic of Festival d’été is by looking into the faces of the artists on stage. Even the coldest performers aren’t able to hold back a smile when greeted with the enthusiastic crowd, which gives the Glaswegians a run for their money as the best audience in the world.
Alt-J’s Gus Unger-Hamilton had nothing but heartfelt compliments after his band’s July 5 headline show, saying that it was probably the biggest crowd they had ever played for. Their relaxing and calm notes were clearly appreciated — whenever Unger-Hamilton and Joe Newman pulled off the band’s many polyphonic vocal parts in perfect harmony, fans cheered “oh my god,” “holy shit,” and other invocations of the divine.
The band’s North American agent Tom Windish told Pollstar after the show: “I love the band! They’ve been building brick by brick for over a decade. With an alt-J show, the devil is in the details. They pay very particular attention to their live shows and a constant evolution of their lights and PA.
“It has helped define their artistry and augment their brand. Their shows get bigger and better every year, resulting in larger venues and more substantial opportunities along the way. Alt-J fans are devout and a major reason for that level of dedication is because of their live show experience.”
Gideon Gottfried – Lauren Mayberry, lead vocalist of Chvrches, at FEQ 2019
The band comes from the place that arguably has the greatest audience in the world: Glasgow, Scotland. The Québécois fans cannot rank far behind, though, if at all.
Other highlights from weekend one included Twenty One Pilots, who couldn’t have wished for a better Québec City premiere and emphasized that they’d gladly return if the city had them back. Vocalist Tyler Joseph, who is known for scaling various structures during live shows, must have enjoyed one of the best views yet when he ascended the festival’s giant production tower overlooking the Plains of Abraham.
Both Chvrches, who played the main stage right before alt-J, as well as U.S. Girls, who performed on the festival’s Loto stage, demonstrated that two of the most charismatic band leaders of this day and age are female.
The free Hydro stage on the Place D’Youville hosted an evening of soul on July 6. During the stellar sets by Black Pumas, Muthoni Drummer Queen and The Brooks, there seemed to be not a single person in the entire town square that wasn’t at least two-stepping.
– Catherine Jalbert
One of FEQ’s talent buyers
The Fibe stage mostly hosts up and coming acts but is regularly visited by more established artists as well. Catherine Jalbert, one of FEQ’s talent buyers and in charge of booking the Fibe stage, told Pollstar that most slots went to bands at the beginning of their careers but with a team already in place. However, there was also room for completely unsigned artists.
“We have a series that runs from October up to the actual festival, called Les Apéros FEQ. These are very small bands and artists from Québec and Montreal. Every month we have three bands playing, and every night there’s a winner, and the winner goes on to play the Fibe stage during the festival,” she explained.
Agents and A&Rs regularly scout this showcase stage and, for many artists, the Fibe performance led to business opportunities. The Glorious Sons, for instance, played the Fibe stage in 2017, and opened for Twenty One Pilots on the main stage in 2019.
French singer/songwriter Joe Bel was a definite Fibe stage highlight on the first weekend with her unique mix of folk, soul and some serious guitar skills. Jalbert also recommended Noah Kahan, Flora Cash and Haviah Mighty, saying, “I think, we’re going to hear from them a lot.”
Jalbert works alongside music programmer Arnaud Cordier and program director Louis Bellavance, who split the stages amongst each other. Each of them focuses on different musical genres. On any given day, one stage is usually dedicated to one genre. “It’s what I love most about the job,” Bellavance told Pollstar, “to curate things. To match Moist and Live, or Bonham’s Led Zep with Skynyrd and Little Steven. This is a package. This is something we could put on the road, and tour across America, and it would work.”
FEQ usually sells more than 120,000 eleven-day passes, plus around 7,000 VIP tickets offering better views from various areas on site. The number of concerts grew from 250 to 300 over the past two years. In 2018, Jalbert began booking pop-up shows all over the city, which became a daily event in 2019. What is more, the Manège Militaire, the city’s old armory, is now also being used as a live music venue for the so-called After FEQ programming.
Some of the best gigs of the festival took place on this late-night stage, which opens when all the other stages shut down, usually around 11 p.m. The Saturday and Sunday night performances by Jake Clemons and Busty and the Bass, respectively, were so full of energy that I immediately forgot the exhaustion of walking through Québec all day and watching back-to-back concerts in brilliant sunshine.
Ollie Millington/Redferns – FEQ 2019
Busty and the Bass brought down the house while performing at the new Manège Militaire during After FEQ, July 7
The new venue also comes with a large terrace that adds another chill-out and networking area to the site. “We’re trying to take it to another level in terms of experience, and the terrace and the Manège are a clear step in that direction,” said Bellavance. “The second stage is now closer and easier to walk to from the main stage. There’s another [piece] in that [puzzle], but we first need to sell it and finance it. There’s a lot of work to do, but it can still grow.”
Bellavance is contemplating adding another stage and/or starting earlier with the concerts. This year, for the first time, an entire day is dedicated to hip hop, July 13, and the concerts begin at 3 p.m. “This is definitely a test; we want to see if there’s an appetite. It’s a bold move for us, because this is not how we’ve been doing things for the past 20 years. If people are showing up early, and if we feel like it’s going to be a huge success, we will try to revisit that and maybe go further in that direction,” he explained.
Ollie Millington/Redferns – FEQ 2019
Joe Bel performs on the Fibe stage during day three of the 52nd Festival d’été
One impression that remained after the first weekend of FEQ is that this industry does not have a headliner problem. Chvrches, alt-J, Twenty One Pilots are already at that stage, and it isn’t hard to imagine other main stage acts such as Yungblud or Sir Sly taking the top slots in the coming years.
That being said, FEQ does also depend on some veteran headline acts on the bill. To be able to successfully compete for them alongside the industry’s corporate giants, Bellavance collaborates. “Our way to fight the war as an independent is often to team up with other independents. I’m doing a lot of business with Ottawa Blues Fest, Milwaukee Summer Fest, Calgary Stampede. Whoever is running an independent event in North America in early July, we’re talking, and a lot more than people would think. We’re travelling together, we’re going to visit agencies together, we come together in a room and [are able to] spend a lot of money. It is powerful. So, on that front, I think we can battle,” he explained.
Bellavance said, the amount allocated to artist fees has grown from $8 million to $12 million since 2012, and rising fees remain a constant challenge. But after one weekend of FEQ, it seems to be money well spent. Diplo, Kygo, Mariah Carey, Lil Pump, Logic, Bishop Briggs, Imagine Dragons, The Offspring, Blink 182 and countless other have yet to take the stage.
They can all look forward to experiencing that unique Québec love on stage over the coming days. Said Bellavance: “No matter if you’re Twenty One Pilots or the Rolling Stones, when they show up on that stage, and they look at that field, and they look at the dressing rooms, the equipment and the quality of the organization from A to Z, they are always pleased, thrilled and impressed. We worked hard to get there.”
Twenty One Pilots’ manager Chris Woltman told Pollstar: “There’s so many things that go into making it all work beyond a band being able to step on a stage. There’s so much more that goes into it in terms of really connecting with the complete team, all the way from booking the festival to the marketing and promotion of it, and making sure that the word is out there and that the band’s story and narrative is told, right up to the day of.
“Whether it’s the production, backstage or catering, Louis and his teams are one of the best. They’re a top tier, global festival, and it’s exciting to have them as partners in that part of the world.”