Going into Osheaga, a music and arts festival based out of Montreal, Québec, we really didn’t know what to expect.
Being Canadian we had obviously heard a lot about the festival since its inception in 2006, but we were always drawn to the hype and lure of its American counterparts, like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Coachella.
But this year Osheaga proved that it stacks up against its North American competition – it was the first time in the six year history of the festival that it sold out to capacity, with roughly 120,000 festival goers over the three day period. Despite the fact that some said Osheaga lacked a “big name” draw, people came out in the thousands – 40,000 more than last year’s festival which featured rap sensation Eminem.
But the mega growth of the festival wasn’t without its drawbacks. Having gone to Coachella in 2011, a festival that has had years of experience dealing with massive crowds and A-list acts, it was hard not to draw comparisons. Nevertheless, Osheaga should definitely be on the radar for any music fest junkie, because it’s certain that the bar has been set high for next year’s event.
To give you a taste of what Osheaga has to offer, here’s some of the highlights:
Location and Venue
Osheaga takes place at Jean Drapeau Park, a man-made island east of downtown Montreal. Montreal is an incredibly fun, vibrant, and young city, and because of its close proximity to the event site, we were able to make the most of our time by taking in vintage shops, unique restaurants, and afterparties throughout the city.
Montreal is so laid back that it makes for a perfect festival destination. Public drinking is legal, so we were never confined by beer tents or plastic fences. That said, beer prices fluctuated between $5 and $8 depending on the person, and there definitely could have been a more varied food selection (we ate poutine every day, twice a day). But overall it was a chilled and relaxed atmosphere, which could also be attributed to the lack of blatant police and security presence.
The Park was an amazing backdrop for the event. All five stages were interspersed amongst the forest and the trees, and the cityscape framed the entire area. It could have been the heat, or it could have been the alcohol, but at times it almost felt surreal.
While it was sometimes hard to get from stage to stage in the crowds, the location couldn’t be more perfect. Except for the transportation part. Being on an island, there were few ways on and off: the majority of people opted for the subway, which at times got hot and overcrowded.
Osheaga differs from events like Coachella and Bonnaroo in that it isn’t a camping event. Some people prefer the Osheaga Hotel option, with the ability to shower and hit clubs in the evenings. Others prefer the camping aspect and the community feeling that comes with tenting with thousands of like-minded people for three days straight. Really it’s a matter of personal preference, but there’s definitely different vibes that come with the two.
The other thing you have to know about Montreal is that it’s a fashion mecca. While I was sweating to death and trying to discreetly remove every piece of clothing I had on, girls in flower crowns and gladiator footwear stood unspoiled. But because Montreal is a creative capital, they had some amazing people doing some really cool art instalments. My one regret from the whole weekend is not getting a pair of custom airbrushed All-Stars.
If you think the desert heat is hot, think again. It might be hard to believe, but Montreal was even hotter than Indio, CA. The first two days were scorching, and with the humidity, it was hard to even move from one spot. Day 1 we made the mistake of quenching our thirst with only beer (did we even see Justice?). The last day we finally got some relief with dramatic thunder storms that catered to the music at play. People loosened up and got dirty, and isn’t that what festivals are all about?
Osheaga, if you could do just one thing next year, please get more shade and heat relief for us white-skinned wimps.
When Osheaga’s 2012 lineup was announced earlier this year, it was pretty comparable to Coachella. With the exception of Tupac, a lot of the artists we were looking too see, Justice, Madeon, Snoop Lion and M83, were there, and the depth of the other artists selected to round out the event was equally as impressive.
Friday we took in the beautiful Florence & the Machine at the main stage, and while we watched from a distance, her voice carried over the crowd and unified the thousands of people in attendance. Before we left for Montreal we had also heard a lot of positive things about Sigur Ros, so we caught the first half of his set before running over to the Green Stage to catch MGMT. MGMT had a great show under the stars with hundreds of glow sticks hurled into the crowd, but not performing their biggest hit Kids was a bit of a let down. Nevertheless, Justice was the main act we wanted to see that day, and making it up front for their show was an amazing experience. It was so good, we could almost ignore the people peeing in the crowd at the base of our feet (I mean really, who’s going to give up their spot for Justice?).
Saturday wasn’t a big day for us act-wise, which may have been a good thing because we were still hurting from the hangover and heat combination. Our first show was A$AP rocky, but compared to Common who we saw on Sunday, we felt like he lacked stage presence. We caught Garbage for nostalgic reasons (yes they are still a 90s alternative rock band) followed by the angelic voice of Feist. I’m pretty sure Osheaga is the only festival that would have Feist open for Snoop, but somehow it worked. Snoop Lion, who was 30 minutes delayed, finally made his debut, but it wasn’t an all-out reggae show. He performed all of his classics which were underscored by his new persona.
Sunday was by far our favourite day. Finally we had relief from the heat, and the shows were actually better enjoyed by being hot, sweaty, dirty and wet. Passion Pit thrilled the crowd early in the afternoon, and Common followed-up by wooing a crazed fan. We made our way up front to catch Santigold, who was probably one of the best performers at Osheaga. Giant water guns quenched the crowd as she pulled up 10 people for a dance party to The Creator. Her dancers were serious, stiff, and amazing. I wish I had their moves.
Woodkid was another favourite for us. Even though the crowd was small, the energy was high. During Iron, thunder and lightening struck, and it couldn’t have been more epic. Soaked and adrenaline rushed, we then caught Madeon at the electronic stage. Despite the technical screw ups that seemed to plague that stage over the weekend, Madeon was a huge party and a definite highlight.
Finally, our last show of Osheaga was M83, and it was the perfect ending. M83 live sound just like their recorded album, so it was a really flawless show, and they probably had the best light show of the whole event.
- More hand sanitizer (I have OCD)
- More heat relief (sponsored tents with A/C, mist fans, anything really)
- More food variety (some vegetarian options would be nice)
- More pyrotechnics! (I have a thing for lights and fire)
- While in Montreal, take advantage of the Bixis. Montreal is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, and the breeze from biking is so relieving.
- Make sure you get accommodations with A/C and book early.
- Bring an iPhone or iPad or some kind of smartphone. Make sure you download the Osheaga App to keep track of set times and changes. Also downland the Bixi, STM, and Urban Spoon apps. We would have been lost without them.
What festival do you think we should cover next? SXSW? Tomorrowland? The options are endless…
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