Festival organizers and music lovers across the province breathed a collective sigh of relief this week, after the province announced cultural events could resume this summer — with special measures in place.
Starting May 21, outdoor shows with assigned seating will be allowed, with a maximum of up to 250 people, the government announced Wednesday.
Just one week later, indoor venues with assigned seating can start putting on shows for up to 2,500 people — though the crowd must be divided into smaller sections of 250.
And as of June 25, outdoor shows without assigned seating will be allowed to take place for a maximum of 2,500 people.
When in-person festivals were cancelled last summer, Julien Pinardon, director general of the Festival de la Chanson de Tadoussac, decided he'd make the best of it by dedicating all his energy to planning a 2021 edition.
Basing his plans on the public health regulations in place at different points over the past year, Pinardon started figuring out the details of the 37th edition of the festival last fall.
"We're missing that in-person contact with artists and the public, so this will be a reunion — even if it's at a distance," Pinardon said.
"I really think it's going to be a great summer for festival-goers and for festivals everywhere in Quebec, especially for the regions."
Many festivals to remain small
Erring on the side of caution, the organizers of the Tadoussac festival decided to cap this year's shows, which will run from June 25 to July 4, at between 50 and 150 people.
After hearing the government's announcement, Pinardon said he is looking at the possibility of expanding some of those shows to an audience of 200, but says the venues do not have the capacity to accommodate more, especially if people need to stand two metres apart.
While the shows will be more intimate than audience members are used to, Pinardon says the festival will continue to do what it does best this year: putting Quebec artists front and centre, while immersing its audience in nature.
"The nature in Tadoussac allows us to present our shows in a different setting," said Pinardon. "It's what makes us unique and is part of our DNA."
Myriam-Sophie Deslauriers, co-founder of Festival BleuBleu in Carleton-sur-Mer, has also been planning this year's edition since last fall.
"We couldn't imagine that the summer would go by without having any events at all outdoors so we tried really to be as flexible as possible," said Deslauriers.
The festival was planned with a maximum of 250 people per show in mind and Deslauriers says that, while they might be able to raise that number a little, they too will be keeping it relatively small.
She said they have had some practice holding shows during the pandemic, as they held a couple of small, little-publicized concerts last August.
Only 40 audience members were allowed at those shows, with 10 staff members on-site to ensure health measures were in place.
Flags were placed on the ground, two metres apart, so that people knew where they could sit, and the audience was asked to bring their own lawn chairs instead of standing.
Deslauriers is expecting a similar format for BleuBleu, which will run from June 24 to June 27.
"We are going to have about 20 artists who will play about 12 shows in six different locations, so we're really showcasing the city," said Deslauriers.
Caroline Johnson, co-manager of REFRAIN, a group that represents about 70 independent festivals, says most festivals will also be planning smaller editions this summer, as they were not expecting the government to allow anywhere close to 2,500 people.
Larger crowds would also come with a whole other set of logistical challenges, Johnson said.
Because of public health restrictions, the more people organizers allow at the festival, the more people they would have to hire for security.
She said, for many organizers, there is also a concern that the epidemiological situation could change again and that the province could suddenly call them all off.
"Of course, we have a concern that the variants can appear, and that everything goes back to how it was in a bad way," said Johnson. "We try not to think too much about that."