[Correspondent Juliette Jagger was dispatched to cover what really is a very remarkable Canadian festival. More people need to know about it. – AC]
When a couple of local businessmen started up Festival d’Été as a means of promoting Québec’s vibrant music and arts scenes forty-seven years ago back in 1968, it wasn’t quite the internationally recognized event it is today. This year’s festival, which began on July 3rd and wrapped-up on Sunday July 13th in the heart of Québec City with a performance from Canada’s very own Bryan Adams, featured a lineup that boasted the likes of stars such as Lady Gaga, Billy Joel and Blondie, Queens of The Stone Age, Soundgarden, Deadmau5 and countless others, proving that there is truth to the adage, slow and steady wins the race.
With no shortage of festivals to choose from over the summer months, what makes Festival d’Été worth its salt? Well, beyond the fact that its tickets––which are both all-inclusive and transferable, and provide festival goers with access to performances by upwards of a thousand artists at ten different venues over the course of the eleven day event––are meagerly priced at seventy-eight dollars a pop, Fest d’Été is simply an all-encompassing experience, one that attracts both music fans and residents of the city alike.
“One of our main goals is to make the festival affordable for people,” says Luci Tremblay, Festival d’Été’s Communications Director. “We strongly believe in that idea and we work toward that objective all year long.”
As a none-for-profit organization, Festival d’Été’s funding does not come from stockholders but rather from a healthy combination of government subsidies and sponsorships in addition to ticket and refreshment sales.
“We have a budget of $22 million dollars,” explains Tremblay. “But we only get 14 to 15% of that from the government (Federal, Provincial and the city). 30 to 35% comes to us from sponsors [the primary being Bell], and the rest is because we sell passes.” Roughly around one hundred and thirty thousand passes, to be exact.
“The chance that we have is that big venue [The Bell Stage] on The Plains of Abraham,” she adds. At the city’s centre, the Plains can accommodate upwards of eighty to ninety thousand people at once. “That’s why we can sell such a high number of passes,” says Tremblay. “Because we have the capacity to have all of these festivalgoers at the same place at the same time.”
One thing is for certain, Festival d’Été is the kind of event that quite literally transforms the city into a near two-week celebration of music, art and culture. With nearly one million people in attendance each year, and the clear support of residents (28% of whom took vacation specifically to attend), local business owners, the board of tourism and the local government, Fest d’Été is a multi-tiered production that now generates $25.4 million in additional value for Québec City.
But, as the oldest music festival in Canada, it wasn’t an easy climb for Festival d’Été. “Back in 2002, the festival went through a bit of a crisis,” explains Tremblay. “It wasn’t as good as it is today. People were criticizing it, including reporters, fewer people were buying passes and less and less people were attending.
For years Festival d’Été had been a model––‘the festival to copy’––in the province of Québec anyways, but in 2002, it simply wasn’t a leader anymore.”
Under the guidance of a new General Director, Fest d’Été acknowledged they had a problem, pulled-up their socks and reached out to their audience to find out where they went wrong and how they could make things better. As a series of focus groups would reveal, festivalgoers were more than happy to purchase a ticket at a higher price-point but they wanted bigger, better and brighter international acts in order to do so.
“Early on, the festival pass was something like $15 dollars,” says Tremblay. “When people started telling us that they were willing to pay a lot more to see intentional stars perform––especially the ones that they couldn’t see throughout the rest of the year because Québec is not a big city and many of the big tours don’t stop here––that’s when we decided to invest almost 40 to 45% of our budget into our programming and lineup.”
And so, off they went.
“When we started that in the early to mid 2000’s, I think at the time it was Scorpions and Twisted Sister, but then through word of mouth between the artists and agents, people began to say ‘you should go to Festival d’Été, go to that festival in Québec’. Now its very interesting because we’re the ones getting phone calls from the agents asking if their artists can be part of the festival. That’s what happened with Lady Gaga this year and it was absolutely terrific. We are very proud.
“You know it was a quiet evolution,” adds Tremblay. “We took it one step at a time, but now we are a solid organization and I think we have started to become a model once again.”
Though it has taken more than 10 years for the festival to flourish into the internationally acclaimed affair it is today, this year’s event, with its absolutely stacked list of headliners, attention to detail, emphasis on musical discovery and sheer ability to make its presence within the city undeniably known, suggests that Festival d’Été is no longer destined to fly beneath our radar as Canada’s best-kept musical secret.
“I think for years, Festival d’Été really belonged to the people of Québec and they weren’t ready to share it. In the beginning it was a very small festival and its purpose was to promote the vibrant artists that existed here in the city, but slowly but surely it started to grow and the people of Québec grew along with it. It’s really only been in the last couple of years that we have been able to take a step back and say ‘hey, you know something, maybe we’re not that little anymore.’”