2009 Quebec City Summer Festival

Bill King By

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Québec City Summer Festival
Québec City, Québec, Canada
July 9-19, 2009

The 42nd summer edition has been an endurance test of sight, sound and leg work. With three large outdoor venues—the Bell Stage on the Plains of Abraham featuring mainline artists Pink Martini, Sean Paul, Loreena McKennitt, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Styx, French cult group Indochine and The Lost Fingers; the Molson Dry Stage with Jeff Beck, Québec rock group Miriodor, Van Der Graaf Generator, hip hop K-OS and the Metro Stage with world beat artists Asa, King Sunny Ade & his African Beats, Jane Bunnett Embracing Voices—it was an Olympic challenge traversing the hillside climbs from one outdoor venue to the other. Get ready to shape up!

Thursday night, Pink Martini headlined with a languid and, at times, predictable performance. It was lounge music given a severe polish with reverence for Cuban society music of the 40s and 50s. It was grand ballroom styling with brief controlled solos, much like the stage band charts of the dance band era. In the center was one exceptional singer—China Forbe—who easily shifted between French and English, or wherever else the lyric traveled. There was a natural rhythm to phrasing and attractive, graceful stage choreography. The background players fulfilled their roles with precision, but it was Forbes who kept the eyes and ears of the audience. Rarely did Pink Martini bring the heat even though the evening was one of the few days the summer of 2009 blessed with generous temperatures.

Friday night, Canadian world artist Loreena McKennitt connected with what seemed to be a mile-deep audience of fans. The Bell Stage on the Plains of Abraham was used to house Paul McCartney's extravagant set in the past, and it must be one of the largest concert structures. The stage is comparable to those mammoth events reserved for the world's undeniable legends.

McKennitt quickly cut down the distance both vertically, horizontally and across the adored landscape with her otherworldly voice. Throughout the Plains, jumbo screens brought McKennitt within feet of everyone. Her voice was angelic—coloured with true emotion and crafted to give each distinct travel song purpose. With a crowd both broad and numerous, the programming could have been that with which only those artists with high energy pyrotechnics engage. McKennitt quickly dispelled the theory transporting the entire populous from Celtic adventure to a night crossing of the Sahara desert.

McKennitt is somewhat a mythical character herself. Her dress was Victorian, her smile practiced and her hands thin and delicate. Her golden locks seemed to fall dreamily from the pages of a childhood fairy book. Altogether, image and style worked beautifully as companion props in support of a genuine artist. McKennitt is known to control and protect her enterprise with fierce determination. The same could be said for her vision and astounding artistry.

Jeff Beck followed local hero Steve Hill on the Molson Dry Stage at the Parc De La Francophone with a confident display of guitar dominated virtuosity. Every moment was consumed by Beck's lyrical playing. Hill, for his part, took the sledgehammer approach, hitting hard, harder and then leaving the audience for dead! As a showman, Hill won hands down including rock God facial ticks, flying hair and exaggerated body posture. Hill even won in the excessive volume category. Beck, however, captured the evening with sublime taste. Each carefully considered note spelled a complete meaningful sentence. Hill's ideas were borrowed fragments left dead on the stages by the giants who paved that way long before—pocketed then recycled.

Place Metro De Place D'Youville was the stage to the rest of the planet. The Kasai All-Stars from the Democratic Republic of Congo gave one of the most bone chilling performances. There was a level of danger at the core of the rhythmic and vocal exchanges. The North American interpretation of all things African comes for the most part with a costumed sweetness, but there was nothing in these voices and thunderous pounding that conveyed anything less than the pure, unvarnished truth.

The 11-day event featured 280 concerts was spread between four outdoor stages. One $45 dollar pass allowed access to all of the concerts. Attendance has risen dramatically since 2004 when 400,000 patrons made the trek from stage to stage. The budget has increased from $6 million in 2003 to $17.6 million covering the cost of big name international acts. Sting, Placido Domingo, and Kiss certainly do not come cheap.

Last year's free outdoor show celebrating the city's 400th Anniversary attracted over 250,000 attendees for Paul McCartney's show on the grounds of the expansive Plains of Abraham Park.

Photo Credit:
Bill King


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