The Festival d’été de Québec (FEQ), one of the largest music festivals in the country, is set to wrap up on Sunday, after bringing hundreds of thousands of people to Quebec City over 12 days.
Boasting a lineup including Alanis Morisette and Rage Against the Machine, the festival has given the provincial capital a much needed boost after two summers riddled with COVID cancellations.
Every night, up to 90 thousand people pack the historic Plains of Abraham, and secondary stages bring in tens of thousands more.
Organizers say the combination makes this the biggest festival of its kind in Canada.
“What’s bigger?” wonders Louis Bellevance, vice-president of Content and Artistic Direction at BLEUFEU, the non-profit behind the FEQ. “I think the Calgary Stampede is a big one, but no one has a 90,000 person cap. No one sells 130,000 or 140,000 tickets for like every day. You know, it’s not a number for five nights. It’s every night. Every night, 140,000 people can show up at all stages for 140 bucks.“
After being cancelled for two straight years because of COVID, the team behind the event that boasts 200 different shows has had to repeatedly remind themselves they weren’t in a dream.
“I have to pinch myself,” said Bellavance. “I’m doing this again. It’s the same for the entire team, we welcome this as a relief.”
Not entirely sure if people were ready to come back, Quebec City’s tourism industry had tempered its 2022 expectations. In the midst of a 7th wave, however, hundreds of thousands have shown up .
“We were ready for slow sales. It did not happen to us. It’s the opposite. We have never sold so fast before,” said Bellavance.
People walking the crowded streets expressed happiness about seeing people by the thousands again.
“We’ve been shut in for way too long and its finally summer and we’re gonna have a good time,” said Kelley Stotland, who said she’s made several summer trips to the festival from Montreal. “It makes me really happy, honestly. It’s really nice to be back with everybody.
Destination Québec Cité, the city’s tourism promotion agency, says the festival brings five million dollars in direct economic impact.
Throngs of humanity flock to Grande Allée Boulevard and the historic streets Quebec’s old city. Restaurants forced to shut their doors through many long pandemic months are now jam packed.
“We’re approaching 80 to 90% of the volumes of 2019. so it’s really encouraging,” said Robert Mercure, general manager of Destination Québec Cité.
Officals say even though the numbers are not quite in the pre-pandemic range, they’ve beat projections. International and American tourists have returned.
“We were just saying how nice it’s been. It’s definitely back,” said Meg Ganulin, visiting from Cincinatti, Ohio. She said the elimination of cross-border travel restrictions made it easier to come visit with her soon-to-be wife, who lives in Toronto.
“The hotels are doing great. There was 70 per cent occupancy in June, and we’re hitting 80 and more percent occupancy for July and August,” said Mercure.
The pandemic has not left, however, and the FEQ has not been without a few COVID hiccups.
“We had a few bands who struggled with it, some that could not make it because of it,” said Bellavance. “It’s never as smooth as it looks.”
A rain storm forced the cancellation of Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonzi’s show on the Plains of Abraham Thursday, creating some chaos.
“It’s an act of God, it happens,” said Bellavance, who said Fonzi sang in front of 800 people indoors instead of tens of thousands.
The positive has far outweighed the negative for the unique festival that has been going on for over 50 years, but still somehow flies under the radar in conversations about big North American music festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Osheaga.
Bellavance says FEQ’s reputation is constantly growing among fans and A-list artists alike.
“Very often you see these massive stars after a moment, they kind of realize this is not just a random night on a 54-night tour. This might be the best one of the tour and they say it from the stage, Don’t take my word for it. They’re saying it every night,” Bellavance told Global News.
Tourism season in Quebec City does not end along with the festival. There are events all summer long. Though his visit will be a somber one about reconciliation , the Pope’s presence at the end of July is expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of people and tens of millions of dollars.