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Festival d'été de Québec Made All of Our Lana Del Rey Fantasies Come True

Quebec City’s iconic summer music festival cures our summertime sadness, and then some. 

by Glenn Alderson

Photo by Phillipe Ruel

July 6 - 17, 2023

Quebec City, QC

The Plains of Abraham

Regardless of what time of year you make the trek, Quebec City is a magical and historical Canadian destination, but there’s something about the weight of the balmy summer air that makes the month of July an especially exhilarating time to visit. When paired with the excitement of the world class musical talent swirling around Festival d’été de Québec (FEQ), there really is no better place for a music fan to be. 

The annual music festival, having just celebrated its 55th trip around the sun, has been growing in scope and size; this year alone featured headliners Weezer, Foo Fighters, Pitbull, Green Day, Lana Del Rey (more on her in a bit), and even legendary French Canadian folk troupe, Les Cowboys Fringants, who recently announced that their singer Karl Tremblay was diagnosed with cancer, making FEQ the band’s triumphant farewell, closing out the festival on Monday, July 12 with not a dry eye among the +90,000 in attendance when they took the stage on the historic Plains of Abraham. 

Regrettably, RANGE wasn’t able to be there for the extra day the festival added after Les Cowboys Fringants’ originally scheduled date was postponed due to thunderstorms on the day we arrived. However, the amount of talent and genuine Quebecois hospitality that we witnessed while we were on the ground was more than enough to satiate our cold music-loving hearts. 

I woke up rested on Friday, July 14, singing “Who Let The Dogs Out,” which I realize is a Baha Men song, but I’m convinced it’s because Pitbull was headlining the Plains of Abraham that evening — Mr. Worldwide himself, the biggest dog in the pop world! Clearly I didn’t know any Pitbull songs going into FEQ this year, but as it turns out, I’ve heard them all. At least the ones he performed when we arrived halfway through his set after catching all of Alvvays (read our interview with singer Molly Rankin here!) and most of The Smile’s performances at the nearby Loto-Quebec stage. 

Thom Yorke performs with The Smile at Festival d’été de Québec 2023 (Photo: Phillipe Ruel)

Being in the presence of music legends like Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood is not something we took lightly, but I was told we had to see what 100,000 Pitbull fans looked like and I have no regrets. We walked onto the main stage site just in time to hear a riotous “ole ole ole” chant that had a very sweaty Pitbull smiling from ear to ear, before he closed out the evening with his iconic dance-floor anthem, “Give Me Everything,” a song that has permeated pop radio airwaves from Miami to Mumbai with more than 1-Billion streams on YouTube. Woof! 

Pitbull performs at Festival d’été de Québec 2023 (Photo: Stephane Bourgeois)

Saturday night (July 15) was reason enough for any music fan to make the journey to La Belle Province, if only to catch a glimpse of the illusive anti-pop chanteuse, Lana Del Rey. Before her set, the War On Drugs performed, which might seem like a strange pairing, but the more I looked around at all the happy well-dressed couples in the audience, the more brilliant I realized it was from a programming perspective to balance the night out with some blue-collared Springsteen inspired rock and roll, making it the perfect date night for everyone. 

The War On Drugs perform at Festival d’été de Québec (Photo: Phillipe Ruel)

The War On Drugs played until the sun crept behind the Plains of Abraham, at which point the mood was set; dark and mysterious, perfect for Queen Lana to make her entrance. The stage was covered in lush green plants, a full-length mirror, and a vanity, creating a voyeuristic bedroom vibe. Lana walked out wearing a beautiful white gown that resembled a wedding dress, which only further accentuated her angelic public-facing persona. The first proper song on her lengthy setlist was “A&W” from her latest album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. There’s something about hearing thousands of obsessed fans shouting in unison: “Jimmy, Jimmy, cocoa puff, Jimmy, get me high” that will always stick with me; something that set the tone for an evening of hits that spanned Del Rey’s vast and storied discography. 

The evening was a homecoming of sorts for Lana Del Rey, as she reminded everyone at the beginning of her set that she grew up just a few hours south of Quebec City in Lake Placid, NY. Judging by the look on her face as she acknowledged her early days and the people she may have forgotten along the way, she seemed nervous and overwhelmed, but like a true queen, she persevered. 

Over the course of the next two hours, Lana Del Rey entranced and enchanted fans with all the right notes: “Bartender,” “Chemtrails Over The Country Club,” “Born To Die,” “Blue Jeans,” (of course), and a shortened version of “Norman Fucking Rockwell” were all loaded into the top half of the set, perfectly imperfect, while her dancers performed around her, giving her space to shine on the wide open stage. She took a break at one point to go down and greet her fans in the front row, taking selfies and shaking hands. And by the time she closed out the evening with “Video Games,” we were sufficiently serenaded but still singing along, hanging onto every last moment that we got to spend with an artist who so rarely makes appearances such as this.

Walking out of the festival grounds that evening I was reminded that FEQ is a right of passage for many and a special privilege for all. To be among so many other music fans in one place is an experience unlike anything else. 

The following day (July 16), was originally supposed to be the last day of the festival (before the rescheduling of Les Cowboys Fringants), and FEQ was committed to going out with a bang – literally. Headliners Green Day were joined by the equally prolific Bad Religion who chased the sun away while warming up the stage with their hits that spanned from as early as 1982, right up to their latest album, last year’s All Is Calm.

Bad Religion perform at Festival d’été de Québec (Photo: Sebastien Dion)

Before Green Day took the stage, in a not-so-rare moment of Quebecois solidarity, the overstuffed Plains of Abraham, comfortably bursting at the seams with nearly 100,000 fans, broke into singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in its entirety —  a strangely beautiful live music moment that was followed by an equally successful sing-along of “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones. Shortly after this, the So-Cal punk rock trio burst onto the stage with their hit single “American Idiot” — fireworks and all.   

Frontman Billie-Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Durnt, and drummer Tre Cool have been playing together for longer than many of the fans in the audience that night have been alive, which perhaps explains why Armstong momentarily forgot the words to their 1994 single “Longview.” But clearly their music is intergenerational and ageless. Green Day proudly blasted through hits from every era, including a cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge,” a defunct and often forgotten ska-punk band featuring members of Rancid that came up in the same iconic 924 Gilman music scene (Berkeley, CA) that first gave Green Day life. 

Green Day performing at Festival d’été de Québec (Photo: Sebastien Dion)

Working through the hits as though he was starring in his own punk rock broadway performance — he did turn American Idiot into one after all! — Billie-Joe Armstrong seemed effortlessly cool and strangely ageless as he strummed away on the same Fernandes RST-50 that he’s performed with throughout the band’s entire lifespan. Closing out the evening with “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” — which came with a blast of confetti and a mesmerizing fireworks display — Green Day was the perfect almost-ending to another action-packed star-studded year of Festival d’été de Québec.

Vive Quebec and vive Les Cowboys Fringants. Oh and god bless Lana Del Rey, Green Day, and Pitbull too. Amen.