Industry Profile: Daniel Gélinas
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Daniel Gélinas, general manager, the Festival d’été de Québec.
The “Big Bang” of the annual music festival season may not be Bonnaroo, Coachella or even Glastonbury, but a four-decade old, 11-day festival on the historic Plaines d'Abraham in Quebec City.
This summer, thousands upon thousands will pour into the picturesque and historic city to view some 300 acts playing over 250 shows at the 46th annual Festival d’été de Québec.
The Festival d’été de Québec takes place from July 4-14, 2013. The event will feature a dazzling array of acts performing in various indoor and outdoor venues throughout the city.
Among acts booked this year are: Rush, Def Leppard, Foreigner, the Black Keys, Bruno Mars, Tiësto, Wu-Tang Clan, Weezer , Wiz Khalifa, MGMT, Bad Religion, Bassnectar, Belle & Sebastien, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Passion Pit, Ellie Goulding, the Joy Formidable, Solange, Ra Ra Riot, the Sheepdogs, and Marianas Trench.
Avantasia, the 15-member German heavy metal/hard rock supergroup project created by Tobias Sammet, will make its one Canadian appearance at the festival.
Festival d’été de Québec has taken place annually since 1968, when seven young artists, and a group of businessmen organized the first event in order to showcase the artistic, economic, and tourist potential of the region.
Today, the festival is recognized as a vigorous driving force behind the region’s economic life.
In the early 80s, the festival significantly broadened its musical scope to embrace musicians from Africa, Europe, and the United States.
With this evolving international focus, coupled with requests from those attending the event, the Festival d'été de Québec eventually began trying to attract major international acts.
Among the major international acts playing Festival d'été de Québec in recent years were: Elton John, Metallica, Aerosmith, the Black Eyed Peas, Roger Waters, Bon Jovi, Sting, Skrillex, Linkin Park, Van Halen, NOFX, Stone Temple Pilot, Kiss, Sean Paul, Iron Maiden, Rammstein, Santana, Arcade Fire, Avenged Sevenfold, John Fogerty, Ben Harper, LMFAO, and the Offspring.
As GM of Festival d'été de Québec for 12 years, Daniel Gélinas is credited for initiating many of the changes to the festival. This includes broadening its programming to embrace rock music, punk, hip-hop, classical music, francophone and world music, as well as overhauling the festival’s management structure.
A graduate from the Université de Montréal with a degree in sociology, and with a masters in recreation science from the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Gélinas is a late—if not, an unlikely—newcomer to the entertainment world.
After university, Gélinas worked as GM of the Corporation de développement socio-économique de la MRC de Maskinongé in Louiseville, Quebec.
In 1989, he took charge of the Orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières, spending 9 years with the organization. Next, he became GM of the International de l’art vocal de Trois-Rivières.
In 2000, Gélinas came to Quebec City to oversee the Festival de cinéma des 3 Amériques. Two years later, he became GM of the Festival d'été international de Québec.
In 2008, Gélinas was tasked with the formidable task of heading the Société du 400é which managed festivities marking Quebec City's 400th birthday.
So are you set for this year’s Festival d’été?
Yes. We had over 110,000 tickets sold by early May. We had a presale in January where we sold 75,000 tickets. After six weeks of the regular sale afterwards, we sold another 40,000 tickets. We went on sale for Paul McCartney’s show on May 4th for festival holders and for the general sale May 11th. We have exclusivity for Paul for all of the province of Quebec, and the eastern part of Canada.
Paul McCartney’s concert on July 23rd in Quebec City isn’t part of Festival d’été?
It is being produced and presented by 3 E, Festival d’été’s sister company which also presented Roger Waters’ “The Wall” here last summer. His world tour ended here on July 20th, exactly 22 years after his first show in Berlin.
[The Quebec City show is Paul McCartney’s 4th Canadian date on his “Out There!” tour. McCartney will also play Scotiabank Park in Ottawa, Ontario on July 7th; Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Aug. 12th; and Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field in Regina, Saskatchewan Aug. 14th.]
Has Festival d’été always been held over 11 days?
It has always been 11 days. Always been the same number of days. It has just been the caliber of stars, and the category (musical styles) of artists is very different now. It’s become bigger year after year, and over the past 10 years, the Plaines d'Abraham has become the branding of the event. Each time we have a big artist come on the stage on that site, they say, “Wow. It’s fantastic here, the crowd, the place, the city.” All of the artists tell their managers and agents, “The Plaines d'Abraham is fantastic.” Now we have a major brand. It’s the best known festival in Canada.
What is the overall size of the festival?
We have over 250 shows. We have three outdoor stages and a lot of shows in halls. We have 4 indoor halls including L’Impérial de Québec which holds 800 people. It (the festival) all takes places in the same place in the St-Roch district in the lower town of Quebec City.
How has the festival grown over the years?
It’s been 12 years that I have been at the festival. Each year we produce a concert and a show on the Plaines d'Abraham and all of the other venues. In 2002, the festival was not what it is now. The budget was smaller. It was $6 million. Now we have a budget of $22 million. We have changed many things to become what we are now. Having big musical events with the big stars and all that.
How much are tickets?
It is $76 for the entire 11 days. For all of the shows. It’s a full pass. It is the (one-ticket) model being used by Glastonbury in the UK, and Osheaga (Osheaga Festival of Music and Arts) in Montreal. You have a pass for all of the festival. You pay $76, and you can see all of the shows. We have some free concerts (for non-registrants), and we have places that you have to have the pass in order to go to the outdoor and indoor shows.
2011 looked like a key year for the festival due to such major acts as Metallica, and Elton John appearing there.
Our strategic plan has been the same since 2002 and 2003. We just upgraded year after year by having the big names. In 2011, the program was not necessarily better than the year before or the year after. In 2011, we had Metallica and Elton John. Overall, the program was okay. The talent in the halls was good. But (with the concerts) on the Plaines d'Abraham, I think, it was less good than the year before. It was because we had Metallica (that the bill looked better). Having Metallica for Quebec City, and the (Quebec) market was huge. It was incredible.
What is the booking strategy for the festival?
Our plan is to have big stars on all of the nights for each stage. We prefer that to having one big star where we have to put up a lot on money just for one night and to be less good for the other nights. We want to balance all of the nights. We want to have a good show with a good star in rap, a good star in heavy rock, a good star in Francophonie music. We prefer to have a balance, and have 50,000 to 60,000 people each night, rather than have 15,000 people for one night and another night with 120,000 people.
Who books the acts?
Our programming director is Louis Bellavance. He’s been with us for two years. He’s very good. He works with Arnaud Cordier, especially for the halls because he has a lot of contacts on that side of the business. Serge Grimaux, who owns Intellitix, works with us in programming, and the ticketing. He’s a nice guy. Festival d’été was the first festival to test this RFID wristband access technology. We have the RFID wristband. In special zones, you can have money in your chip to buy things.
[A seasoned concert promoter and live event professional, Montrealer Serge Grimaux—also founder of TicketPro--has promoted thousands of events across three continents over a 35 year career. He is co-founder of Intellitix, the RFID solutions provider for live events including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and Lollapalooza.]
The province of Quebec is one of the most musically diverse regions in the world. Rock, heavy metal, electronic, dance, and world beat are all popular there. As is progressive rock music.
People from Quebec, from Quebec City especially, have no complex about music. They are fans, as you said, of progressive rock, and heavy metal too. For electronic music, it’s new. Last year, Skrillex on the Plaines d'Abraham was absolutely incredible. For me, that was the best show of all of the festival. More than Bon Jovi or Aerosmith because it was a surprise for everybody. Electronic music, with the production and everything, it’s a special thing, and it is different from anything else.
With technology now, we can make anything. It’s incredible what we can do with the new technology on the stage. On one side of the stage with a cell phone, you (the audience) can have the relationship with the stage via the screen. There are no limits.
Are the local clubs in Quebec City involved with the festival or do they operate independently?
Yes we have clubs for electronic music and blues. It’s all in the same area of the city. You can walk to each venue and hall. We have Petit Impérial for blues. The ElectroFEQ will start at Impérial de Québec on July 8th, move to an outdoor venue, Place d’Youville on July 9th, and then to Parc de la Francophonie on July 10th. It (the electronic series) will end on the Bell stage on the Plaines d'Abraham on July 11th.
[ElectroFEQ electronic programming is expanding at the festival this year with shows at four different venues on four consecutive nights. Among the artists being featured are Keys N Krates, Austra, A Tribe Called Red, Bassnectar, Martin Solveig, Wolfgang Gartner, and Tiësto.]
Does the festival attract primarily locals or tourists?
It’s a balance. Some 35% (of those attending) come from outside the region of Quebec City. Of this, 35%, 80% come from the province of Quebec. The others come from Ontario, eastern Canada, and the north-east United States. About 8% to 12% of all those attending of come from outside of (the province of) Quebec. That’s not bad because all of the hotels here are full during the festival, and the restaurants make a lot of money. We are an important piece in the economy of Quebec City, especially in the summer. We also provide (tourist) interest for the city.
Quebec is a mostly French-speaking province where culture is political. In 2010, Festival d’été was criticized by sovereignists--individuals wanting the province of Quebec to separate from Canada to become a country of its own--for booking too many Anglophone acts. Still an issue?
Now it’s (the issue) finished. They had trouble with this in the past two years. It’s quiet that way, now. It’s true that we had some critics about the (lack of) presence of French artists at the festival. But Festival d’été de Québec is not a French cultural festival. It is a picture of the music in the moment of the festival. For four years, the festival has presented world music from everywhere in the world. We have that in the festival. We have a stage for the world music. Each year in the festival we have had around 25 and 30 different countries represented by artists.
We have artists in every kind of music including jazz, and blues. Sometime the people (artists) sing in German. Rammstein isn’t Anglophone. We have many (artists) that sing in Spanish.
It’s not just a question of Anglophone versus Francophone. We have a festival, the Festival d’été de Québec for all of the people. For the people of Quebec as well as the tourists, and their tastes. We have 98% satisfaction rating in our survey for the festival. For me, that’s the best answer (to the cultural question).
Still, Pauline Marois led the Parti Québécois to victory in Quebec’s provincial general election last year. As Quebec’s premier, she has laid out an agenda designed to promote sovereignist governance. Do you foresee that becoming an issue in the future for the festival?
No, no, no. Absolutely not. She doesn’t want to put pressure on us over this. I’m a French person. I’m a nationalist. I love the French, and the French culture. It is my place. But my job here is not to promote French culture. My job is to build and present an event for the people. To present what they want and what they want is to have access to international music for 11 days. This is our job.
In the mid-‘70s, there was a commitment by Festival d’été to have more performers from different countries. What happened to make that change?
In 1974, there was La Superfrancofête. It was the first big event in Quebec City that reached out to a lot of countries. All of the francophones of the world were here together in Quebec for an event. That was the start of the Festival d’été to take on the responsibility to renew that event year after year with the world music.
Festival d’été is presented by Bell Canada in collaboration with Molson Dry. Do you also receive federal, provincial, and civic government funding?.
Governments put money into the events. The governments--federal, provincial and the city--put up 14% of our budget. We have had a lot of success in the past three or four years, and we sell over 160,000 tickets. It’s a lot of the tickets. The (ticket) price is very low, but if we can sell 160,00 tickets than the money (profit) is high. That’s why we have enough money to pay the big stars and pay all of the artists in the L’Impérial de Québec. If we had a ticket office at the hall that wouldn’t work as well.
[Event revenue and corporate sponsorship fund the majority of the Festival d’été with individual initiatives (tourism, sustainability, art development etc.) funded partially by the province of Quebec, and the federal government. In 2012, the festival derived 67% of its budget from self-sustaining revenue (sale of festival passes, merchandising, etc.); 19% from sponsorship; and 14% from government funding.]
Are vendors licensed by the festival?
No because the festival is in an urban place. We have a lot of restaurants around the site. You can eat in a big restaurant on the Grande Allée, and five minutes afterwards you are on the Plaines d'Abraham with thousands of people and you can see a show. It’s not like other festival where you are in the field.
In 2008, you headed the Société du 400é which managed the festivities marking Quebec City's 400th birthday. Landing Paul McCartney for a concert that year was certainly impressive.
Yes. It was a great show, and it was a great event for people. That was the peak of all the activities here in 2008. I left my job at the festival at the beginning of 2008 to go to the Société du 400é at the urgent request from the new mayor of Quebec City. Paul McCartney was one of the last elements of the program that I booked. I booked that at the end of May, and the middle of June. The show was on July 20th.
So McCartney was booked for the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. Not for Festival d’été de Québec?
The McCartney show was one week after the festival. It was a free concert for the people of Quebec City, and for the people of the surrounding region. But it was the team of the Festival d’été de Québec that organized the show.
[Landing Paul McCartney in 2008 for the 400th anniversary of Quebec City was a major coup, especially given that fellow British rockers Coldplay had just cancelled. Many apparently refused to believe McCartney was actually coming until the former Beatle issued a video announcement on Canada Day (July 1st) confirming the July 20, 2008 date on the Plaines d'Abraham in Quebec City.
The brainwave of booking McCartney came to Gélinas as he was considering well-known acts that might be willing to perform at summertime show.
Then New York promoter Sharon Kim-Dion, CEO & Owner at SKD Arts International, told Gélinas that such a historic celebration might intrigue McCartney enough for him to consider doing a concert there.
The Quebec City concert marked Sir Paul’s only North American concert date in 2008; his first concert in Canada since 2005; and his first performance ever in Quebec City.]
You booked Paul McCartney through Sharon Kim-Dion. Her husband Jean-Pierre Dion, is from Quebec.
Yes. He works in New York City (as cultural attaché) at the delegation of the Quebec (government).
Attracting Paul McCartney was a big feather in your cap.
When Sharon called in February or March (2008) she was looking for special celebrations in the world for Paul McCartney. I don’t know if you remember that in 2008 he just booked four concerts. One was in Liverpool for being the Cultural capitol of Europe in 2008. He played his first show in Israel in Tel Aviv, and he played Kiev in the Ukraine. He just played four times in 2008. That’s why it was a big concert with Paul McCartney. It was the only concert in North America in 2008.
Were you a Beatle fan as a kid?
I think that everybody was a Beatles’ fan. The Beatles are special for many reasons. It’s universal music, you know. And this guy is alive, and still performing. The young people study music, and they study the music of the Beatles. It’s another generation, and here he is still alive, and he still performs. Many young people will go to see a show of Paul McCartney’s.
Including this summer in Quebec City.
Here in Quebec, Paul McCartney is a big star, and there’s big value (for his show). The second value for the people of Quebec are the memories they have of 2008. For that show, there was such an extraordinary relationship between an artist and the audience. I have never seen that before. That kind of relationship between the crowd, and the artist, I have never really seen that before. When (McCartney) manager/promoter) Barrie (Marshall) asked Paul if he wanted to go back to Quebec City, he said, “It was one of the most memorable moments of my career.” It’s incredible to hear that from an artist like that.
Of course, Quebec’s favorite daughter Celine Dion also performed as part of the 400th anniversary of Quebec City as well.
Yes, a month afterwards (Aug. 22, 2008), and she released the DVD afterwards. It was also a big event. It was also on the Plaines d'Abraham, but not on the same site as Paul McCartney’s concert. It was another place on the Plaines d'Abraham A very big place. You can put more than 250,000 people there.
[The “Céline sur les Plainesis” DVD contains Celine Dion's performance in front of 250,000 people, as well as appearance by artists Garou, Nanette Workman, Dan Bigras, Mes Aïeux, Zachary Richard, Éric Lapointe, Claude Dubois, Jean-Pierre Ferland, and Ginette Reno. The show aired live in Quebec on Bell TV and was watched by over 200,000 people. Later on Sept. 21, 2008 a shorter version of the concert was televised on TVA, and attracted an average of 1,706,000 viewers.]
You graduated from the Université de Montréal with a degree in sociology, and from the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières with a masters in recreation science. How on earth did you get into the entertainment business?
It’s weird, I know.
You aren’t supposed to be in the entertainment business.
Absolutely not. My parents were not in entertainment. My father was a teacher. He taught Latin and literature. My mother was a nurse. I did my schooling, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life. Never, ever. Then it was just my career in economic development in Louiseville. I did that for five years.
Then people called me saying that they had a problem with the symphony orchestra in Trois-Rivières. They need people to address financial problems in the orchestra.
You became general manager.
Yes. I stayed there for 9 years.. I learned my job as a general manager. I always had the sensibility between the projects and the audience that I always search for what the people want to be happy or to be satisfied.
You are originally from Montreal?
Yes, I am from Montreal. My father taught at the Collège Ste-Croix (now Collège Maisonneuve) between 1960 and 1968. After that, my family went to North Africa. We went to Algeria for three years, from ’69 to ’72. From the age of 9 to 12. Afterwards, we returned to Quebec, and my father taught at Collège Des Eudistes in Montreal.
How was Algeria?
It was fantastic for me as a young boy, and for my sister too. That was a great time because the country had been independent for only 7 years. It was a very nice time to be in Algeria. In the ‘80s, it became bad there. But that was a very good trip for me at the time.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”