Festival d'été de Québec's Second Weekend Captured Musical Joie de Vivre

Featuring Lana Del Rey, Green Day, Koffee, Isabella Lovestory, the War on Drugs, Mobina Galore, Bad Religion

Green Day | Photo: Sébastien Dion

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Jul 21, 2023

It wasn't the first time in its history that Festival d'été de Québec (FEQ) had its best-laid plans washed away by Mother Nature. This year, the event's first weekend saw Foo Fighters return to the Plains of Abraham after their set was cut during a 2015 rainstorm, but a day before I arrived for the second and final weekend of its 2023 edition, inclement weather forced organizers to forego an evening including an anticipated performance by homegrown folk rockers Les Cowboys Fringants.

Of course, the show must go on, and FEQ quickly got back on the horse in what was a testament to the élan vital I've felt in every trip I make to the city. Riding into the downtown from the airport, our driver shared how the festival had been extended by a day for Les Cowboys to deliver what was sure to be an emotional main stage performance, following news of frontman Karl Tremblay's fight with prostate cancer. Heading back to the airport early that day, I shared with another driver how the market for major festivals where I'm based has all but dried up, and how I should have found a way to extend the stay, savouring the moments among massive crowds watching concerts in the midsummer heat, afternoon downpours or the cool of the evenings next to the St. Lawrence River.

Running this year from July 6 through 17, FEQ's final weekend was highlighted by elaborate pop presentation, racy reggaeton, electronic escapism, pop-punk dreams come to life and heartland rock fit for the Plains' wide open space.

July 14

Isabella Lovestory

Walking to the main stage to catch Isabella Lovestory, my trek was briefly interrupted to make way for Pitbull's police escort as a fleet of motorcycle cops shepherded a trio of black SUVs into the backstage area. After watching the Honduras-born, Montreal-based artist's performance, in which she welcomed the early evening crowd into her pink-hued, perreo-pop world of Amor Hardcore, it wasn't hard to envision her ascending to a similar stratum one day.
There was rarely a moment where Lovestory, a supremely confident performer, wasn't in constant motion, striding across the stage shaking her hips and making hand hearts for the crowd as the sounds of her Polaris Music Prize longlisted debut roared from the sound system. Having spoken of her willingness to exaggerate her character's artistry and embrace sexual objectification in her creativity, she delivered a master class in the power of suggestion: stretching and bending to strike saucy poses, teasing at the zipper of her metallic rose bodysuit, spanking herself with the microphone and letting pointed vocal glides sail into more passionate territory. Take it from the guardrail rider whose vulgar hand gesture the stage cameras quickly cut away from: Lovestory turned the heat up on all in attendance, effortlessly having them "meow" with her on "Gateo," and treating the front row to flyby high fives in closing with "Mariposa."


While exuding a calmer energy in following Lovestory, Koffee burned just as brightly in making her Quebec City debut. Flanked by two backup dancers and a five-piece band that included a guitarist, bassist-keyboardist, drummer, saxophonist and trumpeter, the Jamaican vocalist's set was an consummate display of how Gifted she is in blending the roots reggae of her home country with contemporary forms of pop and R&B, her mellifluous vocals at the fore.
Onstage, the Grammy winner remained as skilful a singer as she has proven to be on record. Performing "x10," built upon a brief sample of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," Koffee showed strong vocal control moving between octaves in chorus sections which lean toward toasting, ahead of raising the song up as her own hymn to freedom with its life-affirming chorus. Employing more modern cadences on "Throne," she came away with the crown upon blazing her way through the song's dizzying, technically demanding verses, juxtaposed by its grooving hook.
Though sporting a toque onstage in the summer season, Koffee couldn't have come off more collected and effortlessly cool — traits mirrored by her backing band in their synergetic close to "Shine" and the heavy Black Sabbath-esque breakdown that wrapped "West Indies."

The Smile

Sure, the Smile's excellent debut album A Light for Attracting Attention could pass for Radiohead, and the primary project of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood could very well reconvene in the "next couple of years," but onstage in Quebec City, it was clear that with a new band came new energy for those two players in particular.
In a set running just over an hour, Yorke and Greenwood delighted a crowd with playing that felt as if they were truly "Free in the Knowledge" of how the Smile presents them a wholly different arena in which to muck about musically. When not moving between guitar, bass, piano — and at one point, vocoder — Yorke leaned into more "Lotus Flower"-style dance than we've seen in quite some time during amped-up playthroughs of "We Don't Know What Tomorrow Brings" and "A Hairdryer," while Greenwood got up to all manner of sawing action in taking a bow to bass and guitar, showing great focus with the percussive six-string technique at the heart of "Thin Thing."
As a unit, the vitality was felt in the extended intro given to "The Opposite," as Greenwood layered effects-laden bass over Yorke's swells of vocals and guitar, which were topped with Tom Skinner's forceful tom fills. The drummer — who also chipped in backing vocals and some synth support — had remarkable feel with his feather-light touch on "Under Our Pillows," keeping time through more dynamic mastery in playing the recently released "Bending Hectic."
July 15

Mobina Galore

Sharing with the afternoon crowd how they landed in Quebec City following a jam-packed June of performances in Germany and surrounding countries, Mobina Galore's Jenna Priestner and Marcia Hanson reckoned their Festival d'été set was their band's first appearance at a major Canadian music festival — a truth you too can fact-check using their 34-page show archive going back over 10 years. Such live engagements wouldn't be the first time artists from Canada have found greater audiences on a different continent, but the duo's milestone gig reaffirmed how rewarding it can be to tap into sounds around the country (Winnipeg, in this case), if not in one's own backyard.
Whether casting off inhibition with "California," or racing toward freedom on "Escape Plan," the trademark aggression of Mobina Galore's pop-punk was potent enough to kick off a push pit, a kinetic crowd display encouraged by Priestner's forceful, full-throated vocals and brawny riffage, the crashing cymbals and ever-steady smack of Hanson's snare drum, and inspiring moments in which the duo's voices dovetailed in harmony. By the end of the set, it was understood why they've remained a favourite tour partner of Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! — and how maybe they're the ones to convince her to make that move to Winnipeg.

The Planet Smashers

Reminiscing on the last time his ska-punk institution were onstage at Festival d'été, Planet Smashers frontman Matt Collyer recanted to the adoring crowd how some "crazy" storm conditions ultimately cut their performance short. Determined to make up for lost stage time these years later, he kept the banter to a minimum so that the homegrown third-wave heroes could be the undisputed "Life of the Party."
While I regrettably did not pack my chequered T-shirt, and opted not to skank my way into the pit of dancers gleefully batting around all manner of inflatable animals at the stagefront, the Planet Smashers' 45 minutes were nothing short of a blast no matter where one was stationed in Francophonie Park. From "Holiday" to "The Hippopotamus," every setlist inclusion burst with an unbridled punk energy best experienced live. Would you not get charged up watching Patrick Taylor skilfully slide his way around a trombone lead in a mean power stance?
It was when the group went coastal with "Surfin' in Tofino" that Collyer got everyone in attendance on the same wavelength, asking the audience to get low to the ground before having them go "complètement fou" on his count of 10 — a perfect pre-game for the "Super Orgy Porno Party" they threw next.

Allan Rayman

"I'm not much for talkin'," Allan Rayman told his main stage crowd at one point before explaining, "I'm more of a singer." Much less a mystery compared to when he arrived on the scene on 2017, living in the limelight has never been Rayman's goal — evidenced in Quebec City by a bass drum head bearing his name stamped with the prohibited symbol. Continuing to eschew the spotlight and let his tunes do the talking, his cult followers in the crowd still moved to telegraph messages with their cell phones: the word "HOT" spelled across three devices, a request to "TAKE OFF YOUR SHIRT" on another.
This kind of attention surely comes with the territory when one names an album Harry Hard-On, but it's also very much a product of Rayman's voice, an instrument which can be tuneful and reflective one moment, and ragged and gnarled the next. It was a duality the singer-songwriter and his steady backing band played to that evening, their seamless blend of blues, rock and R&B benefiting from the energy of a live environment. Performing the swaggering "Gun" as the sun began to set, Rayman stayed hushed in the verses before wringing every last bit of feeling from its hardened chorus, while a similar level of grit was present in how he rode the gentle groove of "Rose." You came away feeling as if you had grown closer to Rayman come the set's close.

The War on Drugs

I could think of few places better to witness the War on Drugs bring their immensely rich rock to life than the Plains of Abraham, the expansive land on which FEQ's main stage sits. An incredibly talented band standing six members deep alongside frontman Adam Granduciel, the group did well in elevating the driving "Red Eyes" and "I Don't Live Here Anymore" to new heights; a well-oiled heartland rock machine never once burdened by the instrumental demands of its many moving parts.
Under the open sky, invigorating moments were found in how the effects-laden guitars of Granduciel and Anthony LaMarca washed over the crowd, and the weight of Jon Natchez's burly baritone saxophone leading the instrumental bridge of "Under the Pressure." A highlight was watching the work of multi-instrumentalist Eliza Hardy Jones, tucked towards the back of the stage with keyboards, acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals and an ever-present expression of joy — no matter how full her hands were. After her solo singing turn during "Harmonia's Dream," Granduciel made his way in back of her setup to laugh it up and strike a pose with one of the evening's most integral players.

Lana Del Rey

It was troubling to learn of the threats made against Lana Del Rey upon returning from Quebec City, but her headlining festival set — which also marked her first North American performance in four years — felt very much like a loving homecoming. Shouting out the Adirondacks and sharing with the crowd how she grew up hours away in Lake Placid, NY, she expressed, "I spent a lot of that time, from about seven to 15, thinking about singing, and now here we are. So I just wanted to say, whatever those little dreams were … thank you for being a part of making them so much more surreal."
Del Rey's voice was pitch-perfect in the moments where it wasn't drowned out by the vocal support of her most dedicated crowd members, and the design of her stage show worked to enhance the aesthetic of her artistry. Set design included a small vanity she sat at to have her hair brushed out while singing "Bartender," gilded window frames with billowing curtains she sometimes veiled herself with, and even a small tree. Del Rey also perched herself on top of the grand piano played by Byron Thomas atop a riser for something of a duet on "Candy Necklace," and to close the evening, took to one of two swings attached to light rigs on either side of the stage to lead the crowd in "Video Games."
A troupe of backup dancers established a visual element beyond the video boards with all manner of props: posing with candelabras and balloons during "Bartender," waving rainbow coloured fans around their star during "Chemtrails Over the Country Club," and during "The Grants," gathering with Del Rey to perform a move with fabric ribbons, the singer becoming a human maypole as she held up the pieces for the dancers to then twirl away. Choreographic highlights came with "Pretty When You Cry," for which the dancers laid down in a pile around a centred Del Rey (who sang from her back), and some serious chair and hair moves to accompany the driving "White Mustang."
Despite the aforementioned danger she faced, Del Rey was visibly comfortable among the throng of adoring fans, at one point descending from the stage to tour the front row where she collected handmade letters and fan art, snapped selfies, signed biceps and forearms, and somehow even ended up skinning her knee: "Not me crashing in Quebec!"

July 16

Peanut Butter Sunday

Having missed the update that Meet Me @ the Altar would not make it to la belle province for their Sunday main stage set, I arrived to find a four-piece who would handily win weekend honours for best dressed, done up in matching, multi-coloured flame shirts and shorts. It was Acadian pop-punk outfit Peanut Butter Sunday — or "Beurre de peanut dimanche," as they joked in more straight-laced French — who were nothing short of amazed to have gone from a cancelled pop-up performance, to leading off a stage they'd share with a pair of formative idols.
Every bit of stage banter was imbued with the awe anyone would feel in a "holy shit" moment such as this. Guitarist Normand Pothier tried a bit of simple call-and-response with the crowd, and was floored to hear them holler back: "Oh shit, ça fonctionner!" Frontman Michael Saulnier wasn't shy to leap out onto Green Day's freshly-installed stage catwalk, his lightning bolt earrings flailing from furious guitar strumming in making the band's grandest pop-punk dreams reality.
Pothier and bassist Jacques Blinn have also played with another exceptional Acadian in P'tit Belliveau, and Peanut Butter Sunday's take on pop-punk proved to be an incredible vehicle for the heart and humour that has defined the region's recent musical successes. It was a treat to watch Saulnier burn up "Soleil" singing, "Le soleil brule ma peau / Mais toi tu brule ma fucking brain," recount pulling a "Poisson Magique" from Maritime waters (he named it Phillippe), and treasure days spent with "Mes chums": "C'est 10 sur 10 gros fun."

Bad Religion

As the pandemic had kept them from making regular tour stops in Quebec in recent time, Bad Religion were more than ready to make up for time missed — apparent from their setlist loaded with beloved hits, and in smaller details like the "I love Pea Soup" button guitarist Mike Dimkich was sporting. Now over four decades into their career, the formative California punks have naturally reached a point where song keys and vocal ranges are altered to better suit their present performances. However, Bad Religion's cerebral songwriting, determined musicianship and the harmonious, vocal "oozing aahs" that have tied it all together these many years remain as strong as ever.
Frontman Greg Graffin, now fully appearing the wise punk professor he has long been recognized as, showed great enjoyment in leading the band through fan favourites like "Infected," "We're Only Gonna Die," "You" and "I Want to Conquer the World," well-supported in delivering lush harmonies by bassist Jay Bentley and guitarist Brian Baker. Graffin assured that despite their recent absence, Quebec City and the wider province would remain a staple of the band's tour itinerary, affirming in introducing the title track of their 1989 album, "Let's celebrate all these things for which we have no control" — a statement made all the more believable by a sudden inadvertent, ultimately humorous mic drop.

Green Day

Replaying the fuzzy memories I hold from watching Green Day from high up in an arena during their tour behind 21st Century Breakdown over a decade ago, I expected nothing short of a punk rock spectacle with all the hits — whether their own or other artists' — and a healthy amount of theatrics from the band that made the leap from creating concept albums, to a full-blown Broadway rock musical.
Now outdoors and much closer to the stage, I experienced all of that in much greater fashion. There were fireworks launched both onstage and from the stage roof, explosives expertly timed to the "Bang Bang" of "Holiday," coloured pyro heating things up on the backline, confetti cannons that showered the first few rows for "Good Riddance," and drummer Tré Cool being, well, très cool in hurling his toms around the stage at the set's end before tossing two utility buckets worth of drumsticks to the fans.
Billie Joe Armstrong, an ever-energetic master of ceremonies, laid out the terms for the evening as follows: "Tonight, we're going to dance together; scream together, and make some fuckin' noise!" During "Know Your Enemy," he brought a fan up to the stage to help sing the bridge make a stage dive of a lifetime, later asking another crowd member for a six-string assist on an Operation Ivy cover, gifting them the guitar afterward. The joyous "Minority" even saw him lean into folk punk, busting a harmonica solo before launching the instrument into the stage wing. Coursing with all manner of pumped up punk energy, he briefly forgot the lyrics to "Longview" with a laugh, holding it together thanks to Mike Dirnt's unshakeable bass line.
If Green Day weren't charging into their own catalogue classics, they were treating the audience to those of their contemporaries. Before taking the stage, the band established crowd camaraderie in turning the main stage site into one giant sing-along through playing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Later on, the crowd delighted in singing along to a punkier take on KISS's "Rock and Roll All Nite" and a more faithful run through of the Isley Brothers' "Shout," and clued into brief teases of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" and George Michael's "Careless Whisper" handled by saxophonist Jason Freese.


This year's slate of late-night festival programming, hosted inside the walls of the Quebec City Armoury, was comprised exclusively of DJ sets, and TDJ (aka Ryan Playground) had the honour of closing out the final weekend with an hour-long mix beginning just after the stroke of midnight. To a lesser selector, this early Monday morning time slot would have been an unenviable position, but the enthusiastic crowd steadily grew in size as her set spun on, the emphatic bass bumping thoughts of the imminent workweek a bit further into the future.
Geneviève Ryan-Martel's newer pseudonym is an acronym for "Terrain de Jeux," and her playful hour behind the decks was marked by unrelenting low-end grooves punctuated by bright moments of melody and expectedly clever edits of beloved favourites. Once the mood was set, she never let up — my own dipping only upon witnessing the stagehand give the artist a five-minute warning. Highlights included the elated house escapism found in Yves Larock's "My Dream Is to Fly" and Alex Gaudino's "Destination Calabria," a wicked wheel-up giving way to a pumping rework of "Fu-Gee-La," Sean Paul's "Get Busy" at its punchiest with the tempo dialled up, and a spin of David Guetta's "Memories" with Kid Cudi that had the room wistfully pining for a time before "I'm Good (Blue)." That track effectively captured the spirit of TDJ's appearance: "It's getting late, but I don't mind."

Tour Dates

Latest Coverage