Sun shines on Summer Fest, Aznavour croons and the Blind Boys belt

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Photo: Jay Ouellet

French balladeer Charles Aznavour sings for an enormous audience on the Plains.

Driving home late in the afternoon on Friday from Île d’Orleans after a swim and a nosh on sweet island strawberries, my friends and I were caught in a sudden and unexpected rainstorm.

As we drove off the bridge into the sunshine again, a huge double rainbow appeared over the bridge – a promise of glorious sunshine and warm weather for the opening weekend of Quebec City’s Summer Festival.

My exploration of the festival began Sunday. I headed out around 2 p.m., schedule in hand and was immediately impressed by the onslaught of people on St. Jean.

Just past Côte d’Abraham, I came upon a big crowd of grey heads, chubby faces, and round bellies all smiling in the sun and gathered around Anita, a performer in Les Arts de la Rue Loto Québec. At first I was a little sceptical, but her silly rendition of Michael Jackson’s Beat It while wearing a huge, ridiculous wig reminded me I was taking myself too seriously. Everyone else was letting it all hang out after all.

I then meandered down into St. Roch at 3 p.m. to take in the parade for the Children’s World Folk Festival on St. Joeseph. Groups of gorgeously costumed children in traditional dresses accompanied by adult musicians folk danced throughout the parade; Belgians hopped, skipped and jumped, the Nayants of the Mexican delegation astounded by clanging their machetes, the Pols coo-cooed sweetly. Many people walking by stopped dead to watch.

 

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Photo by Jay Ouellet

Van Halen’s David Lee Roth opens Summer Festival.

 

I began the long trek back up the hill in the now sweltering heat, stopping in at Place de la Famille le Lait on De la Couronne. Tons of little ones lined the stage, completely enthralled with Mon ami Benoît’s theatrical musical and sing-along. I decided to stay a moment to add my voice to their rendition of Le Soleil.

I hustled up the hill already late for the Motion Trio’s accordion performance at the Scène Metro at 3:30 p.m. I could already hear something good brewing as I turned the corner onto St. Jean. Since the accordion lends itself to so many different sounds – harmonica, organ, piano and even bagpipes – the Polish trio played it hot and cool, frantic and weird.

The song Pigs in Space was so eclectic it had some in the crowd pumping fists, others jumping around, and even a couple mock juggling.

I settled in on stairs at the side of Place D’Youville, a great place to be if you don’t want to be in the crowd.

For a few dollars more you can sit and enjoy a drink from the Bistro SAQ on the terrace above the stairs. I couldn’t help but stay until the last performance.

Feeling like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, I raced off late to the urban dance presentation at Place McDonald’s in the City Hall gardens.

I caught the end of the show put on by Studio Party Time, an urban dance studio in Quebec City. I thought the show was a bit lacklustre since it was more pop-fusion than New York City break dancing, but it did have toddlers swinging from their strollers afterward, so what do I know.

I decided to head up to Grande Allée around dinnertime with a picnic packed from the afternoon. While others waited interminably in line for restaurants, I had enough time to enjoy my meal in front of the Old Armoury and even stretch out for a nap before the night’s concerts

I settled an impending scheduling conflict by deciding to see both events.

Why anyone would schedule the Blind Boys of Alabama and Charles Aznavour at the same time was beyond me. Despite thousands being drawn to the Plains early for the French crooner’s opening acts, Bratsch and Linda Lemay, Scène Metro was in full religious revival by the time I arrived with thousands swaying and clapping to the Blind Boys’ layered gospel music.

Feeling partly revived after People Get Ready and Amazing Grace, in which my neighbour felt it necessary to add her own out-of-tune vocals to the chorus, I headed off.

The Plains were bursting with people by the time I arrived and hundreds were being turned away at the gate. Despite my seat near the Citadel walls in what could have easily been row ZZZ, the privilege of hearing Aznavour sing ballads was overwhelming, especially when a hundred thousand voices came in to sing the choruses.

I walked home under the stars with a warm wind blowing, humming Emmenez-Moi until I crawled into bed.

Summer and the festival had finally arrived.