Festival D’ete De Quebec is Canada’s, or rather Quebec City’s, best kept secret. Celebrating its forty-seventh year, Festival D’ete is Canada’s oldest festival, taking over the historic downtown streets and parks of also Canada’s oldest city. The main stage - which this year played host to headliners like Lady Gaga, Queens of The Stone Age, Snoop Dogg, Journey and Blondie - is on a historic battlefield where the French and English famously fought in 1759. It’s pretty easy to see how it attracts 1 million eager fans and visitors over its 11 day run but mentions of the festival outside of Quebec are quite minimal so we thought we’d help change that. Here are the 10 things we loved the most.
The Plains of Abraham stage has a capacity of 80,000 (and 2 years ago 90,000 people watched Bon Jovi). We’ve all been stood in a giant field in a few thousand people when a wind picks up and you hear more of a warble than those famous high notes but this is never the case at Festival D’et. It may be the natural amphitheatre caused by the hills surrounding the plains, or it may just be that they’ve finally mastered some pretty nifty sound technology; but the main stage sound was the best I’ve ever heard at a festival.
It wasn’t spot on or perfect but everyone in the crowd LOVED watching Debbie Harry belt out “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Paaaaaaarty)!” Heart of Glass had a mini “Groove is in the Heart” medley in the middle of it as well and they ended their set with a cover of Misfits’ “Hollywood Babylon.”
$78 (including tax) for 11 days of huge stars who if you saw them on their own the tickets would cost more than just $78 for 1 performance. To put things in perspective Lady Gaga (one of this year’s Festival D’ete performers) played in Toronto last week and it t was $102 for general admission with nosebleed seats costing $52.
Towards the end of Billy Joel’s set he, of course, played his signature tune “Piano Man” and I looked back and all you could see was a sea of lighters swaying along. I’m going to estimate 50,000 people were there so you can only guess how many lighters and cell phones were swaying along. This was also Billy Joel’s first appearance ever in Quebec, “50 years I’ve been doing this friggin job, I’ve never been here”.
I have never owned a Soundgarden album but growing up as a teen in the 90s it would be hard not to have been influenced just a little bit by this band. I didn’t know what to expect, but wow, were they tight. Also they didn’t make you wait around for 20+ songs to hear “Spoonman” (played second) and “Black Hole Sun” (played fifth). I could have left 25 mins in, but I didn’t. The 13 year old in me was going crazy.
Canada as a whole is pretty uptight about alcohol. You can only buy booze in a government owned liquor store in most provinces and you can never drink in a public place (other than a bar or licensed patio). But in Quebec they are way more chilled out about this stuff, you can buy booze at corner stores, drink in public and I even enjoyed some food and a beer poolside with a friend. Everyone seemed so relaxed, even the security guards were nice!
Billy Joel has a guitar tech nicknamed “Chainsaw” who it turns out has also sung on stage with Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC. To liven up the middle of Billy Joel’s two and a half hour set Joel switched from piano to guitar and Chainsaw sung a note for note perfect version of the AC/DC classic. Everyone went nuts!
At Festival D’ete music genres and styles range from electronic and new wave to 90s hard rock to world and traditional francophone groups no one outside of Quebec has ever heard of. The audience ranges in age from little kids, teenagers to senior citizens (I saw a lot of them over the weekend!). They really do have something for everyone.
As my plane was landing we flew over a residential neighbourhood and every back yard had a pool. These French Canadians are smart. Here in Canada we have 2 seasons, Winter and Summer, we spend a majority of the year under a blanket of snow so when we do get some sunshine we cram in as much fun as we can into a short amount of time.
Poutine is probably Canada’s most famous dish, originated in the 1950s in Quebec, a dish of chips (french fries) covered in cheese curds (squeaky cheese) and brown gravy. It’s the best hangover cure/drunken/heartattack on a plate thing you can eat! I took a Radio France journalist for his poutine. Like most foreigners he didn’t seem too impressed and only ate about half.