The Osheaga Music and Arts Festival has officially joined the ranks of longstanding North American heavyweights like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Coachella. This year for the first time in its six year history, the festival sold out to capacity.
I attended the first three festivals, skipped the last two, and returned again this year to what was a completely different experience. The first couple had less than half of the attendance of this year which capped at 40,000 per day. People lingered on the grassy hillside to escape the throngs below, people spread out blankets and set up lawn chairs, and line ups for water, washrooms, and booze were minimal. This year that all changed. There was barely any place one could escape the crowds, line ups were unavoidable, a fifth medium size stage was set up further deep back within the woods, and the two smaller wooded stages weren’t the secret oasis they once were.
As well, corporate sponsorship was everywhere with booths set up along the pathway offering discounts, promotions, and giveaways. Despite this dramatic growth and significant change in atmosphere, I had as great a time as the original three I attended a few years back. It’s inevitable for such a finely run festival as this to not continue to expand. It’s the perfect location, just far enough away from the city to allow easy access by transit or bicycle, yet wild enough to feel you’ve left the urban environs.This year I chose to cycle across the Jacques Cartier Bridge from Montreal to the Parc Jean Drapeau festival site, and would highly recommend this to avoid the crunch of trying to leave with the crowds at the end of the night on the Metro, or worse yet by vehicle.
For those that loathe corporate sponsorships, one would just have to take a look at this year’s line-up of talent to see where that money is being spent. This was one of the best schedules to date with three day and five stages of eclectic programming. I wasn’t able to get up as close to the stages as in previous years, when I wrestled with Duchess Says lead vocalist Annie-Claud in the muddy mosh-pit, although I did run into her side-stage this year as we were both watching Garbage. Also, I likely won’t have the opportunity ever again to jump up on stage and dance with the likes of Iggy Pop when he beckoned the crowd to join him up on the main stage. These are great memories of from the past, but I now have lasting memories from my latest Osheaga experience.
Despite the enormous growth, the crowds remained overly friendly and laid back, which I believe is partially due to the subdued security and lack of police presence. For the most part like-minded individuals will behave themselves even in crowds of thousands. As well, the layout between the stages allows for people to move about somewhat freely without being confined to a specific area. Alcohol can be purchased and carried throughout without having to remain in a licensed area, beer is brought around in trays and sold in the crowd avoiding the line ups at the dispensers, and I even spotted one vendor selling rum and vodka shots right from a cooler in the centre of the grounds.
As for entertainment, as usual I had a tentative agenda of acts I’d like to see, but for the most part I typically like to roam, explore, and discover. This year I found that a bit more difficult given the amount of people going back and forth between stages, however I was able to catch some great performances by Garbage, Bloc Party, M83, The Death Set, Black Keys, Metric, Santigold, SBTRTK, Ravonettes, Asexuals, and Jesus and Mary Chain. I also met many people from all over, but as it previous years it did seem like a good portion of Toronto had made the trek in for Osheaga. Considering that Toronto doesn’t have anything that compares to this event, it’s no wonder. As well, I ran into many Americans and lots of Europeans as well. Music festivals are a great tourism product, and I’m sure Montreal is benefitting immensely with the revenue brought into the city by way of accommodations, dining, transportation and other expenditures that concert goers entail.
This year was also the first that Osheaga presented the Osheaga Hotel located right downtown on Sherbrooke Street. I popped in to take a look at the property, a former Sheraton Hotel now McGill dormitory during the school year, and was impressed at how this pop-up style venue looked. Red carpets greeted guests from the street, and the lobby was filled with rock and roll photographs from past festivals. As well, each guest received a wristband upon check in that would allow them access to a private party each night after the festival ended. It’s no wonder every room was sold out far in advance of the event.
As the Black Keys closed the Sunday night main stage, a burst of rain pixels shot down from the air, courtesy of Moment Factory and Air France. Five lucky attendees who grabbed the selected "drops" were provided with return tickets to Paris. I was not one of those lucky five, but all in all I left my fourth Osheaga feeling as happy and satisfied as my first three, and I would have no hesitation of going back again and again!
So all in all, I left my fourth Osheaga feeling as happy and satisfied as my first three, and I would have no hesitation of going back again and again!