[Grand angle] Returning to the stage, one festival at a time

Regional music festivals are betting heavily on a return to normality this summer, after the climate of unprecedented crisis of the last two years. But if the organizers have much more heart for the party, they believe that the The pandemic has revealed the fragility of an industry that does not emerge not unharmed.

The years 2020 and 2021 have been very difficult. Plans had to be made and then undone. It was extra stress and it was complicated for everyone. After all, we’re in the entertainment business because we love to showcase artists and develop ideas. For two years, therefore, it was depressing ”, drops the general manager of the Rouyn-Noranda Emerging Music Festival (FME), Magali Monderie-Larouche.

This sentiment has been experienced by other music festival organizers located in different regions of Quebec. This is the case of La Noce, in Chicoutimi, which barely had time to hold three “normal” editions before the COVID-19 ax fell on the music community, causing widespread cancellations in 2020, when the festivals were about to be announced. . their lineups.

“We found ourselves in great uncertainty for two years, because we did not know how faithful the public could be to the event. We didn’t know if it would come back”, recalls Éric Harvey, president of the board of directors and co-responsible for the programming of the Chicoutimi festival.

At both La Noce and FME, but also Festif de Baie-Saint-Paul, Festival musique du bout du monde and Festival de la chanson de Tadoussac, 2022 promises to be a huge collective sigh of relief. “It is much easier to organize a festival without sanitary limitations. It’s almost easy, compared to what we live with the pandemic. We also feel it in the team and it leaves room for more creativity. It’s a breath of fresh air that we couldn’t wait to experience,” said Julien Pinardon, general director of the Tadoussac festival, which will celebrate its 38Y edition.

The same story in Charlevoix, where the Festif’s general and artistic director, Clément Turgeon, believes in a true summer “cultural renaissance” next summer. And the public is already responding, he adds. The proof: less than 24 hours after the opening of the box office, 16,500 tickets have been sold at the Festif, while La Noce has already sold the vast majority of its “passports” for the event.

renewed creativity

This already very real madness, three months before the start of summer, Clément Turgeon attributes it to a clear desire to “gather in large numbers at summer events”. And since there are several music festivals outside of Quebec’s main urban centers, each one is betting this year on renewed creativity to stand out.

At La Noce, we chose to return to a historically important site in the region, the Pulperie de Chicoutimi. “We see that the formula of the colorful neo-hippie wedding attracts people. they board. In 2022 it will be Las Bodas de Cera, with candles, astrology, tarot, witchcraft, etc. This will be the visual signature of the site”, explains Éric Harvey.

In Tadoussac, the organization has chosen to exploit more than ever the natural environment of the town on the North Coast, with a stage on the beach and another located in the rest area with views of the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord and the San Lawrence. “Perhaps the pandemic has influenced, at least in part, the formula. We want more open-air shows, and Tadoussac lends itself well to that”, argues Julien Pinardon.

At the Festif de Baie-Saint-Paul, the health crisis above all made it possible to experiment with new sites last year, such as a field located near the bay, or a ” grief à sable” which has proven its worth as a suitable setting for more rock shows. The edition of next July will therefore retain certain positive achievements as a result of the adaptations imposed by this crisis. “We present a mix between ideas from the COVID 2021 edition, such as the grief with sand, and the classics of the Holidays! sunny days, like the floating stage on the Rivière du Gouffre, the grand main stage or rue Festive. Added to this are redesigned sites and a return to multiple programs accessible for free.

relaunch challenges

If the expected return of the crowds is beneficial for the festivals, they are not out of the woods. The pandemic has left its mark, especially when it comes to putting together teams capable of carrying out, often within reach, events that can be summed up in just a few days, after months of preparation.

“The pandemic has highlighted the fragility of the compensation of many subcontracted workers in the cultural field, such as technicians and other subcontracted workers. We still feel it today and these are impacts that are likely to last for a few years. Some simply left the industry. Therefore, it shows the importance of securing jobs”, explains Julien Pinardon.

The challenge, in this year of recovery, is accentuated by the labor shortage in Quebec, particularly in the regions. “The impacts of the crisis, which has led many people in the cultural sector to seek employment elsewhere, coincide with a general labor shortage. We are a regional party, so we feel it directly. We opened positions and we had few applications, compared to what we saw a few years ago”, argues Magali Monderie-Larouche.

In this context, the CEO of the FME bluntly mentions a need for reconstruction. “Although the pandemic has passed, it is an environment to rebuild. It is certain that we will still need help. We will also have to be patient, because we will not come out of it unscathed. And to build a succession among workers, it will also be necessary to increase wages, but it is money that cannot go to programming, ”he explains.

The same need to rebuild is very real for the next generation of musicians, Julien Pinardon and Magali Monderie-Larouche add, after two difficult years for festivals that normally struggle to accommodate emerging artists.

Clément Turgeon therefore hopes that Quebec will learn from the crisis. “He made us realize how important culture is for identity. Having withdrawn for too long the opportunities to connect with music in real life, to vibrate all together in front of shows, makes us realize that culture and events are invaluable values ​​and that it is important to give them a higher status than the current one. . . »

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