February 10, 2012

Madonna returns to roots

Peter Black, Canadian Dispatch

---- — "The Super Bowl was the rehearsal for her Quebec show," the mayor of Quebec City joked this week.

Regis Labeaume was referring to news that global megastar Madonna was coming to his city to work it out musically on Labor Day on the Plains of Abraham.

The Plains have hosted many a spectacular event over the 253 years since the field overlooking the St. Lawrence River was the scene of the famous showdown between England and France.

In the more distant past, it's been the setting for horse races, golf tournaments, hockey championships, huge anniversary celebrations and historical re-enactments.

More recently, it's been home to some massive entertainment events, including free shows by Sir Paul McCartney and Celine Dion, who came to help the city celebrate its 400th birthday in 2008. These concerts drew upwards of 200,000 fans.

The Plains also host the main stage for the city's summer music festival: Festival d'ete de Quebec, which has swelled into the largest such gathering on the continent, selling nearing 170,000 access passes at about $50 each. Last year's headliners over the 10-day event in July were Sir Elton John, Metallica and the Black Keys.

The Madonna show, though, is, like Ms. Ciccone herself, something altogether different. It would most likely be — subject to further research — the first outright commercial event to be held on the Plains, which happens to be federal property, administered by the National Battlefields Commission.

While it could (and will) be argued that many, many people profit indeed from not-for-profit shows held on the sacred historical ground — from performers, to stage crew, to beer sellers to the army of cleanup workers — the Madonna show would be a money-machine for her entourage, not to mention the Material Girl herself.

The Quebec City show, according to the tour schedule released this week, would be one of only two outdoor concerts on Madonna's North American blitz, the other being Yankee Stadium. The four other Canadian dates — Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa — are all in hockey palaces.

That means the Quebec City show will not be limited to the 20,000 or so capacity of modern sports complexes. Ironically, one of the arguments often made for a new arena for the Quebec capital is that the current aging barn, the Colisee, is not suitable to host — voila — a Madonna concert.

Organizers would not say just how many tickets they plan to sell, at prices ranging from $70 to $300, to fill the site. They are, however, promising that people will not be "squeezed in like sardines" to quote one of the promoters, referring to the Festival d'ete de Quebec's practice of packing crowds in to the max for the more popular shows, as many as 80,000. They are also vowing to provide a massive dance floor for Madge's big Quebec kitchen party.

Interestingly, Madonna is coming to Quebec thanks in part to Sir Paul McCartney. It was big-league music-events promoter Sharon Kim-Dion — married to a Dion of the same clan as that Dion — who was the crucial link in bringing the ex-Beatle to Quebec in 2008 for what is likely to stand as the biggest music gathering ever in Canada. That event cemented a relationship between the New York City-based promoter and music impresarios in Quebec City.

And wouldn't you know it, Ms. Kim-Dion, also happens to be working on a big show for Celine these days.

The Dion connection is not the only family homecoming aspect to the Madonna show in Quebec City. Ciccone herself has bona fide roots in the region on the side of her mother, Madonna Louise Fortin. The Fortin ancestors emigrated to Nouvelle France in the early 1700s and settled in villages along the St. Lawrence, from Quebec City to Rimouski.

Another genealogical account links Madonna to Zacharie Cloutier, another French settler in Quebec, and apparently, according to Wikipedia, also ancestor to Celine Dion, Camilla Parker-Bowles, not to mention Beyonce, Avril Lavigne, Angelina Joli, Shania Twain and Alanis Morissette.

Imagine this Quebec family on stage on the Plains!

Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at