The Festival d’été de Québec (FEQ), one of the country’s largest music festivals, will conclude on Sunday, after drawing hundreds of thousands of people to Quebec City over 12 days.
With a lineup that includes Alanis Morisette and Rage Against the Machine, the festival has given the provincial capital a much-needed boost after two summers plagued by COVID cancellations.
Each night, up to 90,000 people pack the historic Plains of Abraham, with the secondary stages attracting tens of thousands more.
Organizers say the combination makes this the largest festival of its kind in Canada.
“What is bigger?” wonders Louis Bellevance, Vice President of Content and Art Direction at BLEUFEU, the non-profit organization behind FEQ. “I think the Calgary Stampede is big, but nobody has a limit of 90,000 people. No one sells 130,000 or 140,000 tickets like that every day. You know, it’s not a five night number. It is every night. Each night, 140,000 people can perform on all stages for $140.“
After being canceled for two years in a row due to COVID, the team behind the 200-show event has repeatedly had to remind themselves that they weren’t in a dream.
“I have to pinch myself,” Bellavance said. “I’m doing this again. It’s the same for the whole team, we receive it as a relief.”
Not entirely sure if people were ready to return, Quebec City’s tourism industry had tempered its expectations for 2022. In the midst of a seventh wave, however, hundreds of thousands have turned up.
“We were ready for slow sales. It didn’t happen to us. It’s the opposite. We have never sold so much before,” Bellavance said.
People walking through the crowded streets expressed happiness at seeing thousands of people again.
“We’ve been in lockdown for too long and it’s finally summer and we’re going to have some fun,” said Kelley Stotland, who said she made several summer trips to the festival from Montreal. “It makes me very happy, really. It’s so nice to be back with everyone.
Destination Québec Cité, the city’s tourism promotion agency, says the festival generates a direct economic impact of five million dollars.
Crowds of people flock to Grande Allée Boulevard and the historic streets of Old Quebec City. Restaurants forced to close their doors for many long months of the pandemic are now packed.
“We’re approaching 80 or 90% of the 2019 volumes, so that’s really encouraging,” said Robert Mercure, general manager of Destination Québec Cité.
Officials say that while the numbers are not quite in the pre-pandemic range, they have exceeded projections. International and American tourists have returned.
“We were just saying how good it has been. It’s definitely back,” said visiting Meg Ganulin, from Cincinnati, Ohio. She said the removal of cross-border travel restrictions made it easier to visit her future wife who lives in Toronto.
“The hotels are very good. There was 70 percent occupancy in June, and we’re reaching 80 percent occupancy and higher for July and August,” Mercure said.
However, the pandemic has not gone away and the FEQ has not been without some setbacks due to COVID.
“We had some bands that struggled with it, some that couldn’t do it because of it,” Bellavance said. “It’s never as smooth as it seems.”
A rain storm forced the cancellation of Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonzi’s show in the Llanos de Abraham on Thursday, creating a bit of chaos.
“It’s an act of God, it happens,” said Bellavance, who said Fonzi sang in front of 800 people inside instead of tens of thousands.
The positives have far outweighed the negatives for the one-of-a-kind festival that’s been running for more than 50 years, yet somehow falls under the radar in conversations about big North American music festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Osheaga.
Bellavance says that FEQ’s reputation is steadily growing among fans and A-list artists alike.
“Very often you see these massive stars after a moment they realize this is not just a random night on a 54 night tour. This may be the best of the tour and they say it from the stage, don’t believe me. They say it every night,” Bellavance told Global News.
The tourist season in Quebec City does not end with the festival. There are events throughout the summer. Although his visit will be somber about reconciliation, the pope’s late July presence is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people and tens of millions of dollars.