How Festival D'été Can Charge $70 for 11 Days of Major Headliners

Wu-Tang Clan performs at the Festival d'ete in Quebec, Canada on July 5, 2013

Renaud Philippe

Festival D'été in Quebec City may not yet have the same cachet as Coachella or Bonnaroo, but the 11-day music festival (July 3-13) boasting such A-listers as Lady Gaga, Bryan Adams, Billy Joel, deadmau5, Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age, The Killers and Snoop Dogg is the best value.

Now in its 47th year, the promo price for the first 60,000 ticket buyers is $68 for the entire fest before the price jumps just $10 for the next 70,000.

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Taking place mainly on the vast historic Plains of Abraham within The Battlefields Park — in addition to 11 other stages indoors and out — last year the festival hosted such names as Stevie Wonder, Guns N' Roses, Rush, Bruno Mars, Wu-Tang Clan, Def Leppard, Tiesto, The Black Keys and Def Leppard.

How do festival organizers manage to stage an event with this caliber of talent for such a low ticket price?

"The money come from three sides," general manager Daniel Gélinas, whose first language is French, tells Billboard. "The first side is the box office and the outcome from the festival door and this is around 45 to 50 percent of all the budget. The second is the sponsorship and this is around 35 [percent] portion of our income. The rest is from government and it's around 15 percent.

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"Another thing too, Festival D'été is a non-profit organization and we are not there to make a lot of profit. We have to make a little bit of profit to put the money [into] the organization year after year, but we at least want to balance the budget. That's why we can offer for the public a lower price for the best quality. It's kind of a hallmark slogan.

"We can also can put around 100,000 people at the same time in the festival on our site and many other festivals can't do that," he adds. "You can see Bonnaroo or Coachella or some other festival in Europe, they can put maximum 75,000 people in the same place and that's another reason why [their] price is more than our price."

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For the past three years, Festival D'été has also offered VIP pass for $535 enabling 3000 people to watch the concert at the front of the stage, again for all 11 days. "It's extremely popular," says Gélinas. "We sold that in a few minutes."

The budget for 2014 was $22 million. The title sponsor, telecommunications giant Bell, pays over $1.5 million a year (including services), says Gélinas, and other sponsors pay anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000. The government — municipal, provincial and federal — also provided grants totaling about $3 million this year, he says.

"Around 40 percent of our budget goes directly to our project, which we call talent for all the shows. It's more than any other festival, I think, at least in the province of Quebec because I know that they put less than that. [The Quebec] Jazz [Festival] is more around 20-25 percent," Gélinas says.

Booked by Louis Bellavance for the past three years, Gélinas says the pay scale for the talent that performs at Festival D'été — over 250 shows, ranging from street arts to children's performers to popular francophone acts — varies considerably. "We have a show at 500 dollars to one million."

Gélinas joined Festival D'été de Quebec 13 years ago, but it has been going 47 years.

"In the beginning, it was a meeting of a group of businessmen [and artists] of the city, who decide to make some event to reach the people to come in the city. The first edition of the festival was in '68 and the budget was $5000."

Luci Tremblay, director of communications for the festival, who has been helping Gélinas a bit with English translation while speaking with Billboard, explains, "They wanted the city to be animated during the summer time and at first they wanted to promote the artists from the city."

One turning point in the life of the festival was 2003 when Gélinas came onboard.

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"The festival was in the bad time because the young people were not there and critics were coming from the reporters and the public," Tremblay explains. "We were not selling as many passes as we do now and the festival has no objective, has no vision, at the time.

"The peoples from the province of Quebec really liked the music from Quebec, the folk singers from Quebec, so that's what they wanted, but in 2003 they [Festival D'été] are going through a crisis. The festival did a focus group with the public and the festival said, ‘What do you want?' and people said, ‘We don't want to pay more for Quebec act, but we're ready to pay more to get artists that we don't have the opportunity to see during the year here in Quebec City,' because Quebec is not a big city. All the tours stop in Montreal but they don't stop in Quebec all the time and they were ready to pay much more but [for] international artists, big stars."

"So more big stars, more international music," Gélinas adds. "The decision was opening up the music all around the world."