For more than a decade, Festival D’été de Québec (AKA FEQ) has been taking place on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec City. Since its inception, the event has been headlined by massive names like Paul McCartney, The Killers and Lady Gaga. Still, ask avid festival goers living outside the provincial capital if they’ve heard of FEQ, and you’ll likely receive a shrug in response.
This year continues the festival’s tradition of somehow merging the feeling of a small-town event with a number lineup of over 200 acts, including headliners Weezer, Foo Fighters and Lana Del Rey performing over 11 days, with hundreds of thousands of fans making their way to five different venues across the city. NME is in attendance for FEQ’s 55th year, and after a few days investigating how an expansive fest could sustain the charm of an intimate event, all while magnetising tons of fans and larger-than-life acts to attend, the answer is simple. Since 1968 the festival may have boasted big names across its sprawling line-up, but the actual draw to the event is the city itself.
The festival sets don’t officially kick off until each evening, giving everyone a chance to attend after work. Portions of the city centre are barricaded off for efficient foot traffic control, making it easy to walk across makeshift bridges to get to stages and through parks to grab food at pop-up trucks. In fact, the festival fits so neatly within the historic town it’s hard to imagine the century-old castles you walk by as you venture to stages without the bustle of music fans, the soundtrack of thumping music, and visuals of artist scrolling across LED screens beside them.
The acts, however, give the city a run for its money when it comes to taking centre stage. On the festival’s first Saturday (July 8), Foo Fighters take over, and more than 80,000 fans sing along as they storm the largest stage with ‘All My Life’. Frontman Dave Grohl riles up attendees with hilarious banter in between blistering tracks. “Who here has never seen the Foo Fighters live before?” he asks a crowd so colossal, it’s difficult to see where it ends. “Don’t be shy?” he adds as onlookers respond with a cheer. “Fuck you!” he responds, and it sounds like the entire city bursts into laughter.
The festival is also fertile ground for new and local acts. Rising crooner Stephen Sanchez, fresh off his show-stopping performance with Elton John at Glastonbury, is overwhelmed with the fan response he receives as he brings his staggering love song, ‘Until I Found You’ to a tightly-packed, cell phone-holding audience . There’s also plenty of room to discover Canada’s own, and listen to fresh acts like surreal pop purveyor Debby Friday and alternative R&B artist Soran who are both draw sizeable crowds.
But even the most imaginative acts can’t take the limelight from the city itself and the people who live there. On Monday (July 17), local organisers extended the festival an additional day so that the Quebec folk rock act Les Cowboys Fringants can perform after their Thursday set was cancelled due to inclement weather.
Last year, the band’s frontman Karl Tremblay announced his cancer diagnosis, followed by his partner Marie-Annick Lépine, a member of the band, sharing that his chemotherapy treatments were no longer working. With cancelled shows behind them and uncertainty around the band’s future, Tremblay defies his illness and puts on an emotional performance, with 90,000 attendees cheering him on. Despite the logistical difficulty of bringing a mammoth festival back for an extra day, FEQ was more than happy to make that moment possible. With their passion for their city and music at the centre of their plans, it’s safe to say the festival won’t be a hidden gem for long.