Escaping from the intense Norwegian house party that Todd Terje delivered at the Waldorf Hotel on Friday July 8th in Vancouver, we got our shit together (not really) and made it to the airport while the party was still in order to catch our 6AM flight to the land of poutine.
Festival D’Ete is a huge festival (The largest outdoor festival in Canada) but highly overlooked by most because of the insular nature that Quebec “seems” to operate in. Now in its 44th year, the music festival is extremely diverse in that it celebrates big name artists while encouraging its Francophone music culture to thrive within.
When we landed in QC on Saturday afternoon we were greeted by pretty much the cutest driver ever. Marie-Luce was standing at the gate holding a sign with our names on it and we were greeted with the best French kiss you could imagine.. But not like you’re thinking.. Two cheeks is a must.
Saturday night, our first night, was definitely the highlight of the entire festival in terms of rock ‘n’ roll notoriety. Elton John is pretty much as big of a deal as when Paul McCartney played the festival back in 2008 and the entire city made sure they were there to witness him unleash his glittery boogie magic on the historical Plains of Abraham.
The Plains are extemely cool because it’s this huge open space in front of the old city walls where the French were defeated by the English back in 17-something ending a seven year war leading to the formation of Canada as a country.
For the festival it hosts 110,000+ festival goers all wearing these flashing badges that people pin to their shirts lighting up the festival grounds in a sparkly sea of red. First up, Elton John on a Saturday night.. bet you can’t guess what he opened with! Ok, fine, it was “Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting” and it kinda gave me butterflies.
After Sir Elton we made our way down a really steep hill to check out house homey Jacques Greene at a little club called Le Circle.
Second day had a lot of hype around it with Girl Talk and the Black Keys infiltrating the Plains of Abraham. Greg Gillis was pretty rad back in 2007 when he dropped Night Ripper on an unsuspecting music listening audience. In 2011, however, mash up culture is so played out that I just want to hate the dude, but the lil guy from Philadelphia has still got game. Playing to a half-full audience (so, like 60,000 people?), Gillis warmed the rainy night up and got even the cheesiest dudes in cargo shorts and hiking boots dancing to his electro-fied set full of classics mashed with hip hop jams over indie rock classics.
Suffice it to say, the stage was warmed for the Akron twosome after all the rolls of toilet paper from Girl Talk’s set were cleared away. The Black Keys came out in the middle of a massive downpour but it didn’t shake the excited audience. I’m more inclined to think that the Black Keys aren’t worth all the hype that their blues-rock anthems bring them but they were on the cover of the local weekly (that we couldn’t read because of its Frenchness) They played like they deserved it. Blasting through 20 minutes of old songs before they invited a full band on to the stage and dropped a massive mirror ball while they ripped in to “Next Girl” off their latest release, Brothers, the rain soon went away and made room on the Plains Of Abraham for all in attendance to dance their pantalons dry.
The next day we woke up in a sea of empty beer cans and I regretted staying up until the hot tub opened at 6 a.m. as I dragged myself to M. Ward’s hotel room to interview him. He wouldn’t let us talk to him on-camera so it was more like a 15-minute chill session. Matthew Ward, the incredibly talented songwriter probably best known because of his work with Zooey Deschanel in She & Him, is kind of shy and reserved. He’s a nice dude but doesn’t have much to say. His first time in Quebec City, I wanted to ask him about his perception of French culture and how it’s so isolated from the rest of Canada but he didn’t really care. Told me he’s working on a new record and that he just started Tweeting because of Zoey Deschanel. He’s kind of a boring dude though so I can’t imagine his Twitter feed is all that exciting. His live show later that night however was nothing short of spectacular. He’s got that buttery croon that you just can’t fuck with and having a full band behind him allowed Ward to really shine in this beautiful old theatre called L’Imperial de Quebec.
After M. Ward we hooked up with Michael from Designer Drugs for a quick on-camera interview and creeped him out a little with some questionable questions. Apparently he’s never gotten a blowjob when DJing but he did admit to having sex on an airplane once. Designer Drugs played a pretty rowdy and dubby set at L’Circle that night and the French babes we’re Je t’aiming it.
Next day we woke up early to catch the Simple Plan press conference but it was in French so I didn’t feel so bad about leaving. Got an early start on the main site that day with Dropkick Murphys opening for Yellowcard and Simple Plan. Anyone else see what’s wrong with this order? Anyway, Vancouver may not love Boston but apparently Quebec City does!
Last day for us at the festival we were pretty wiped but we saved up enough energy for Yelle and her Safari Disco Club dance party. She came on stage dressed like a swamp monster but it wasn’t long before she shed her camouflage gear down to a hooded onesy. Super sexy with lots of energy, Yelle turned Monday in to Funday throughout the span of her one-hour set.
Festival D’ete is an annual extravaganza that spans ten spicy summer days in the heart of one of the most beautiful and historical cities in Canada. Quebec’s capital knows how to give back to the people — an affordable festival with top-notch acts from all over the map. If you’re looking for an otherworldly and unique place to explore, Quebec City is the place and Festival D’ete is the reason.
Words: Glenn Alderson
Images: Tristan Orchard