It’s music festival season, and while you might have already braved the Porta Potties at some of the better-known U.S. events, there’s one gem that might’ve escaped your attention. The Festival d’éte de Quebec (the Quebec Summer Festival, for those of you who didn’t show up to high school French class) is happening as we speak in Canada, that health-insurance-having, glorious area north of Vermont. I attended the first few days of the festival, which runs from July 3 to July 13 this year, and caught a glimpse of some seriously impressive acts. I saw superstars, I saw rising Future Famous People, and I ate poutine. Best of all, a pass to the whole 11-day festival costs a measly $78, which leaves you plenty of money for maple syrup and moose-related souvenirs.
This was my first trip to Quebec City, which looks a bit like a combination of Paris and San Francisco. Walking through the narrow cobblestone streets, I would’ve thought I was in Europe if it hadn’t been for all the Canadian flags and hockey jerseys in the shop windows. During the day, I walked around the ancient parts of the city, saw bars packed with people watching the World Cup (Canadians—they’re just like us!), and ate my weight in pastries. And at night, I had the ultra-difficult job of seeing a bunch of amazing bands.
This year’s lineup is full of heavy hitters, including: Blondie, the Killers, Brody Dalle, Snoop Dogg, Queens of the Stone Age, the Kills, Tegan and Sara, St. Vincent, and some little-known act named Lady Gaga. You can check out a full list here.
While I was there, I caught Tegan and Sara, who were reliably great. They didn't employ any visual pyrotechnics, but their voices were on point, and they played all the hits you’d expect/demand. I tried not to spill my Molson as I danced to “Back in Your Head.” Sidenote: is there any trick to telling them apart? I need a large identifying facial birthmark or something.
Lady Gaga came out speaking French with an extremely respectable accent, wearing hairy angel wings and a jumpsuit that made it look like a crystal ball was emerging from her chest. Pretty standard stuff.
And then, of course, a costume change.
The crowd was losing their merde, especially the ones who'd come decked out specifically for her.
But I split early from her show so I could catch my one true love, St. Vincent, who over-delivered with an arty and beautifully odd show. I hadn’t fully grasped the extent of her guitar prowess before that night, and as she shredded, I stared at my fellow audience members with a face that was intended to mean “Can you even?” but I’m sure looked more like, “I would like to murder you and consume your clothes.”
Aside from gawking at established stars, the festival exposed me to a ton of music I might not’ve discovered otherwise, including folkie Klô Pelgag, who won me over by performing in a skeleton onesie:
Here’s one of her recent-ish videos, for a song called “Tunnel.” Warning: she sings in French, but I think you can handle it.
Another standout was world music singer Da Cruz:
Get a taste of her sound here:
And I also loved the Finland-based (!) Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators:
Serena Ryder is a singer/songwriter/guitarist who's a huge deal in Canada, but not as well known in the U.S. That's a shame, but I'm certain her Adele-esque soul-tinged vocals will correct that error shortly.
Here's some of her very happy fans:
And here's her latest single, "Stompa":
Finally, one of my happiest discoveries was Groenland, an indie-pop band out of Montreal whose show was packed with enthralled attendees (despite a bit of drizzly rain during their set).
Be sure to check out their video for "Things I've Done":
There’s still time to catch plenty of great acts-- the festival's running until July 13th. So if you're near Quebec City, or have an itch to hop on a cheap flight and practice your Francais, you will definitely not regret it. [Resisting the urge to make a "je ne regrette rien" joke here.]
Photos by Renaud Philippe, Francis Gagnon, Sébastien Dion, and Molly Simms