“I can’t believe how many people are here, can you? I mean, is this normal for you?” Lana Del Rey asks, looking out into the crowd of roughly 100,000 people at Festival d’été de Québec’s Bell Stage. With FEQ being one of the biggest yearly musical festivals to take place in Canada since 1968, the answer is yes.
It’s with the same disbelief that astounded me last year while attending FEQ that I share with Lana and my festival partner-in-crime Mady, commonly known as DJ Baby Q. Having been in this position before, I preemptively schemed my plan of action upon arrival in Québec City. Step one: Request a dozen food recommendations from my driver, Lina, who is dropping us off at Hôtel Le Concorde. Lina delivered, with a robust list of places she had conveniently curated with a group the night before. Step two: Immediately head to Attaboy, a pizza place I tend to frequent multiple times on my short trips to Québec City. As always, it was *chef’s bisous*.
Settled and well-fed, Mady and I explored the FEQ grounds, galavanting through the stages, and checked out the merch stand to take a mental note of what we’d be taking home with us. As we headed toward the Bell Stage, the main stage of the festival, we could hear Isabella Lovestory performing her rehearsal, sending us into full-blown zoomies, rushing back to our room to get ready for the night to come. Before heading out of Hôtel Le Concorde, we looked out the window of the 15th floor to see a crowd rushing the Bell Stage, securing their spot for the following performances by Isabella Lovestory, Koffee, and Pitbull.
When Isabella Lovestory says, “On the count of trois, I want to hear your best meow,” before performing “Gateo”, you deliver your best impression of a cat in heat. Honduran pop and reggaeton singer, Isabella Lovestory, kicked off the evening, priming the audience’s energy with electricity. The Latina Barbie sported a pink metallic jumpsuit and knee-high boots that had Mady and me awestruck. She captured the attention of the stage fully, with frequent calls for participation in a mix of French, English, and Spanish and her infectious perreo-pop. To close her set, she ran into the audience, giving her hello-and-goodbyes in the form of high fives and returning some inflatable sharks into the pit before performing her hit “Mariposa”, wrapping it all up with a smack on her derrière and a “byeee”.
“If you love reggae music, say yeaaah,” boomed Koffee, the next artist on the bill. Koffee was the soft comedown we all needed from the previous set to not burn out before Pitbull. Backed by a band of five—a guitarist, bassist, keyboard player, saxophonist, and drummer—and two dancers, Koffee delivered her first-ever performance in Québec City with ease, running through hits like “Rapture”, “Pressure”, and “Gifted”. It’s hard to believe that at only 23, Koffee has the stage presence to capture a field of 100,000 people like second nature. Knowing she’s the youngest and only woman to be awarded in the Grammy’s Best Reggae Album category, it’s less surprising. By the time she wrapped up her set with her hit single, “Toast”, I was eager to meet her backstage.
Since the last time we connected with Koffee in 2022, she tells me that she has been steadily performing—with Harry Styles, no big deal—and enjoying every show, that night included. “The vibes,” she says, “My performances in Canada have always been very energetic.” Koffee exudes pride when speaking about performing “Lockdown” live. “It’s one of the songs I put my all into. In terms of the final product, it had everything to do with me. I went to Popcaan’s studio in Jamaica and it came about naturally.” Amazed by her calm and collected demeanor, even after performing to one of the largest crowds I’ve ever seen, I’m curious about her pre-and-post-concert rituals. “I rehearse my set and then relax. As I get ready, I sing all the songs I’m supposed to sing on stage. Then, I like to have a quiet and peaceful environment,” she explains casually. At that moment, I realized how badly I wish I could bottle up even a pinch of her relaxed disposition for myself.
What’s next for Koffee after her FEQ performance? “I will be in the studio a lot. I’ve been on the road recently, but once I’m home and settled, more studio time.” And with that, I’m off to see Pitbull, at peace knowing that Koffee will be cooking up new music in due time.
And when I say I’m off to see Pitbull, I mean I am literally running, making it through the gate mere moments before his performance begins. Pitbull opened the show with “Don’t Stop The Party”, sending the crowd into a frenzy and setting the pace for the rest of his show. He cycled through hit after hit, including “Hotel Room Service”, “I Know You Want Me”, “Timber”, “Fireball”, and “Time Of Our Lives”. Weaved through the performance, Pitbull included hits of all genres including Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina”, Stardust’s electronic “Music Sounds Better With You”, and The Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache”, to name a few. If there’s one thing Pitbull is sure to do, it’s keep the vibes up. Another surprising skill of Mr. 305 that I wasn’t completely aware of was life coaching. He dropped gems upon gems of wisdom throughout the show. He advises: “Ask for advice, get money twice”—for all the people out there who would choose $50k over having dinner with Jay-Z, a common question often posed over the internet—and “don’t take so many pictures that you miss the bigger picture.” I, for one, did take ample photos and videos despite his best advice, in attempts to hold onto this experience for as long as I can, or at least to cry over on the plane ride home. And with that iconic performance by Mr. Worldwide himself, day one of my FEQ experience came to an end.
Day two commenced with a prompt trip to Paillard, an artisan Boulanger. I will admit, I am a food establishment repeater, which is arguably worse than an outfit repeater with all the great foods to be explored in Québec. I believe I deserve a rightful pass as it was Mady’s first time in Québec City and I wanted to ensure she got the experience of a high-quality croissant that is somewhat unattainable in Toronto. A short hour and a half later, despite having two pastries each and sharing a third, we headed to Don Vegan in Old Port Québec for brunch. If you’re not going to Québec for FEQ or to prepare for a hike up Mt. Everest—it is one seriously hilly city—, you must visit for the food. We explored the beautiful streets of the nearby area as we trekked back up past the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac toward our hotel, grabbing a few IPAs brewed in Québec along the way and shopping at Twise Studio, a thoughtfully curated vintage shop with immaculate vibes influencing Rue Saint-Jean, thanks to @pro.douceur DJing outside the shop.
We began to get ready for night two—mentally and emotionally preparing for Lana Del Rey—and thought, ‘You know what we don’t do enough? Eat!’ With that delusional motivation in mind, we headed to BŌ for shūmai, kaki, and bibimbap. It’s always a good idea to be well-fed before a concert on a summer night, especially one where you can anticipate copious amounts of crying, screaming, and throwing up from seeing the mother of all mothers, Lana.
Dressed in our best Lana-inspired attire, we headed toward the Bell Stage to secure a good spot, preferably one with enough space to sway at our discretion. On our way to the stage, we decided we hadn’t treated ourselves enough and stopped by the FEQ merch table to secure some goodies to bring back to Toronto with us to commemorate the unforgettable weekend.
By 9:45 Lana Del Rey ascended from heaven to bless the Bell Stage—no seriously, she was wearing an intricate lace-detailed white dress with her newly-signature belt and looked like an ethereal angel—, opening with “A&W” and causing me to lose my voice in record timing due to the feral scream that unearthed from me. Despite being in a state of delirious euphoria, I recall moments of the show with vivid memory: singing while having her hair done, singing lying on her back in a bed of her dancers, singing lying down on a piano, and of course, singing on her iconic floral swing. She can basically do anything and sing with perfect pitch, which is what I’m getting at.
“This might be the biggest show we’ve played in a year, if ever,” she shared with the crowd in amazement, after we created a bed of stars in the form of iPhone flashlights as she performed “Arcadia”. She expressed her sincere gratitude, recalling growing up on the other side of the river, only three hours away from the stage, and thanking her fans for having contributed to her dreams coming true. Of course, a Lana set is not a Lana set without an all too human moment here and there—she needs to reassure us she’s a real person, after all. After running to the edge of the crowd, signing autographs, and sharing words into the ears of her fans, she got back on stage with a scraped knee asking, “You don’t mind a little blood, do you?” And with that, I become even more enamored with Lana Del Rey, proving to myself that my love knows no bounds. Our Lanita ended the night with “Video Games” and gave a heartfelt goodbye. And yes, maybe I shed a tear.
I won’t over-explain or justify but, we went straight back to Attaboy for pizza to close out the night.
Waking up was bittersweet, knowing we’d be leaving Québec City in just a few hours. To self-soothe, we head to Bistro Hortus for farm-to-table brunch, rich in local and organic products that are drool-worthy. I got the salmon brunch plate, and Mady got the poutine, which she specifically requested me to make note of, and I quote, “This meal satiated my anglophone-soul and my Spanish coffee was the puffiest, fluffiest, and tastiest.” Spoken like a true Shakespeare. Pathetic fallacy potent in the air, it began to rain as Québec City ushered us out, back to Drake’s homeland.