Eleven days of diversity, rain or shine
From the main stage on the Plains of Abraham, which plays host to some of the biggest acts in music each year, to the free stage nestled in a square just outside the old ramparts surrounding Old Québec, to the strip of clubs down in the lower city where independent bands play into the morning, and more, Festival d’été spans a wide range of genres, each night tailored to a specific taste and scene.
Though I was only at Festival d’été for the weekend, it was enough time to get a sense for the festival: the opening night for 2015 featured the Full Flex Express Tour as the headliners on the Bell Stage on the Plains of Abraham, bringing out a youthful crowd eager to see the travelling group of DJs and producers led by Skrillex and Diplo collaborating as Jack Ü.
Photo by Sebastian Bullazino Calgary native Kiesza enjoyed an opening slot earlier that evening, as well as making a cameo appearance during Jack Ü’s set, kicking things off with a dramatic flourish. Dancers and DJs alike took over the giant stage with a larger-than-life performance that echoed far beyond the historic field and tens of thousands of Electronic dance music (EDM) fans eagerly danced the night away.
Earlier in the evening, down at L’Imperial, dance music took on a more introspective mood as Milk & Bone and Foxtrott opened up for Yelle; the two emerging Montréal acts provided similar takes on smart, nuanced electro pop before the famed French group headlined the night.
Friday’s scheduled featured a more varied sound centred on some of Canada’s most beloved acts. I first made my way over to the Bell Stage to catch some of Bobby Bazini’s set, who played to an adoring crowd that seemed to hang on his every word. Over at the Loto-Quebec Stage, The Tragically Hip delivered an energetic set full of hits.
Photo by Sebastian Bullazino It was easy to see why Gord Downie, lead singer, is so cherished across generations of Canadians as he grooved and shimmied with more enthusiasm and charisma than performers with half his experience. The band sounded tight and confident as they ripped through their classics and fan favourites. Finally, to cap the night off, I made my way down to Le Cercle where the Atlanta-based band The Coathangers played a rowdy, angular garage punk set to a sweaty club. Le Cercle’s intimate nature and great sight lines made for an engaging time and the spiky trio did not disappoint.
My final night in Québec City was also one of my most anticipated ones: Foo Fighters were to headline on the Plains and I was eager to see front man Dave Grohl on his throne, playing through a broken leg with all the rock and roll aplomb in the world. Ominous, heavy clouds had been building all day and, as if on cue, the skies and heavens opened up just before the Foo Fighters took the stage.
Photo by Sebastian Bullazino A near-capacity crowd in front of the main stage reveled in the torrential rain, enjoying a sense of thrill that the heavy weather brought to the evening.
Within minutes, everyone was soaked to the bone and ecstatic as the Foo Fighters ripped through the opening notes to “Everlong.”
“Quebec City,” howled Grohl, “we’ll keep playing as long as you keep dancing,” as he looked out on the soggy crowd that was more than eager to sing along to every word and drown out the weather. Unfortunately, even the enormous stage provided little shelter for the band and, as the wind shifted directions and pummeled the guys on stage, threatening to short-circuit their instruments, the show had to be called: streams of water-logged people rushed back to their homes and hotels to dry off before continuing the night down in the clubs.
After the requisite pit stop at the hotel to dry off, change and have some gin, I made my way back down to Le Cercle to catch art pop dismantlers, Weaves. Their off-kilter and ebullient set was the perfect way to end not only the evening, but also my weekend in Québec City. Festival d’été once again proved to be an enlightening and variegated experience, a festival that not only truly offers something for everyone, but does so with a deceptively easy grace. This 11-day smorgasbord of music should definitely be on every music lover’s summer calendar.
Thumbnail photo of The Coathangers performing on July 10 at Festival d’été by Sebastian Bullazino
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