Quebec’s city-arresting Festival D’Êté kicked off yesterday, and we were there to witness it. Rolling out simultaneously across seven stages, the festival didn’t unleash its heavyweights—Ellie Goulding, Weezer, and Black Keys play later—but it kicked off in fine form, unveiling a mix of Francophone faves, clubland electro, and brash rock ‘n’ roll. We parked ourselves at Parc de la Francophonie yesterday, where we caught New York’s Here We Go Magic, Toronto’s Born Ruffians, and Belle and Sebastian play back to back. Here’s how it all went down.
- Belle and Sebastian’s spinster charm, well, charmed. Despite weathering initial technical difficulties, not-quite-twee outfit Belle and Sebastian stole the show, sifting through their 15-year back catalogue to deliver their sprightliest material. It was by design, too—earlier in the day, singer Stuart Murdoch told us that he’d craft a career-spanning setlist brimming with the Glaswegian troupe’s danciest numbers.
Opening with tracks from 2004’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress and 2005’s Push Barman to Open Old Wounds—“I’m a Cuckoo” and “Le Pastie de La Bourgeoisie,” respectively—the band was in top shape, despite the three years since their last LP: Murdoch’s affable banter and effortless gait had the performance feeling more intimate than it ought, while the band’s easygoing backup vocals and orchestral instrumentation wowed without stealing the spotlight. It was a relentlessly charming affair—especially when multi-instrumentalist Sarah Martin addressed the crowd in Scottish-inflected French—but few moments were as glee-inducing as their late-set rendition of “Boy With the Arab Strap,” where Murdoch invited the audience onstage to jaunt along. Precious? Sure. Cuddle-worthy? Indeed. But incredible? Abso-fucking-lutely.
- FEQ took over the city. We arrived hours before the festival hit its fever pitch, but the setup was impressive: Grand Allée was transformed into a pedestrian-only concourse, the city’s downtown was bursting with stages, and best of all, everything—from Parc de la Francophonie to the Plains of Abraham—is in walking distance, meaning that 30,000-person stages paired up side by side with 5,000-person venues, all in an urban setting. Colour us impressed.
- We’re still wet. It was an act of God, perhaps, but the festival couldn’t have asked for worse weather for their inaugural day. We know, we know—it’s unfair to bitch about the weather. But a drenched crowd standing on soupy grass soured the mood, and Born Ruffians—who, by the luck of the draw, played during the storm’s worst—couldn’t elevate spirits, despite their best efforts (and a rock-solid set that, were we not distracted by water-logged Vans, would’ve been noteworthy). We felt even worse for those caught on the Plains of Abraham.
- Schedule conflicts. This, of course, is the knock on any festival worth its weight in wristbands. But despite FEQ’s diverse programming—tonight, for example, will have Wu Tang battling with world music, folk, and EDM—stages often feel segmented, with each genre being confined to specific venues. Mixed bills might’ve been wiser, here, as last night, we chose Belle and Sebastian (who, for transparency’s sake, is one of my favourites) over a French music spectacle at the Plains of Abraham. Which was curious, sure, but when push comes to shove, I’m not passing up a chance to see “Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying.”