At one point during this year’s Osheaga Music and Arts Festival, I watched a dude in an Exodus tank push closer to the stage so that he could snap a pic of Montréal’s hometown Cœur de pirate. As she serenaded the crowd, her French lyrics set to a fluttery indie pop melody, the sun shone down and the birds chirped, and he lifted his iPhone and took his picture. As I watched, I thought to myself- is there any better encapsulation of this festival? Is there anything more Osheaga than what I just witnessed? Every summer, right around when July becomes August, Osheaga seizes control of Montreal’s island-situated Parc Jean-Drapeau and covers it with food trucks, pop-up shops, some of the most diverse musical offerings you can imagine, and lots and lots of Molson. It’s a beautiful festival, featuring beautiful music in a beautiful park, and packed to capacity (it was sold out) with beautiful people. Here’s a brief run-down of my weekend:
This year wasn’t my first at Osheaga, so I knew a bit about what to expect as far as getting there and getting in. This year’s marked the eleventh iteration of the festival, so it’s not a huge surprise that the organizers have produced another functionally smooth and logistically pleasant event (as someone who drives up from New York—leaving before the sun is up—this does not go unnoticed or unappreciated). My whole group actually made it inside pretty fast and was able to regroup quickly enough despite the enormous crowd.
After opening the weekend with partial sets from Jack Garratt and Elle King, I stood by and grinned heartily when the Silversun Pickups took to the stage and played their inimitable brand of wavy, distorted alt rock. The L.A. four-piece brought with them a nice mix of new stuff and the nostalgic old. After they wrapped up, I caught a few minutes of Wolf Parade, but opted to leave that a bit early so to get in close for one of my most anticipated acts of the festival, White Lung. The Canadian punk outfit was playing the Scène des Arbres, Osheaga’s smallest stage, where some of the festival’s most intimate experiences are offered. White Lung radiated an inescapable energy—a powerfully fun charge into a day that, at least for me, started way too early. Imagine Mish Way, in this serene little clearing flanked by trees on both sides, cracking skulls in all her glory. It was so much fucking fun.
Sticking with White Lung until the end made us a little late for Cypress Hill, but we still caught the majority of their (very well-attended) set which was, strangely enough, the only hip-hop performance on either of the main stages for the entire festival. Sen Dog and B-Real tore through the most energetic and iconic of Cypress Hill’s back catalog. After they wrapped up, we bolted to the other side of the festival to catch Marian Hill and enjoy the beautiful, saxophonic sunset.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers served as the first night’s headliner, and the legendary funk rockers definitely earned their billing. I was on the fence about even going to this—the crowd was sure to be massive, and the powers-that-be had scheduled Vince Staples to play at the same time. Still, I ultimately based my decision on the fact that, somehow, in all my years going to shows, I had never seen RHCP live. Backed by a fantastic setup—a radial display of screens that consistently displayed the energy and excitement of all members—the band’s exuberance and showmanship rivaled any of the younger acts that fell below them on the festival’s poster. Crowd participation was in overdrive, everybody seemingly reciting every lyric from memory (well, except for the new stuff… but that sounded pretty decent as well, if we’re being honest). So many of their songs lay dormant in our generation’s musical gut, just waiting for a night like this to be belted out.
Saturday opened back on the Scène des Arbres, with Australian future-soul quartet Hiatus Kaiyote, a band I considered a must-see. Their live show surprised me, trading my usual immersive, headphones-only experience for the atmospheric vitality of hearing it outside, engulfed in Montréal’s summer. When they ended, my serene moment did as well, and I immediately broke from my friends to hit a bunch of sets rapid-fire.
I crossed the festival to catch the end of Daughter, before making my first visit to Scène Piknik Électronik, the festival’s stage dedicated exclusively to electronic and dance music, for French DJ Feder’s set. When hanging out there solo got just awkward enough, I left for Frightened Rabbit, which I would soon discover had to cancel. Fortunately, another of Montréal’s hometown acts, Charlotte Cardin, had already taken the stage to fill in, and although I didn’t know who she was when she played, I bought in almost immediately. I became a fan by the time she ended her final song and I finished my final bite of poutine. I then walked across the field to check out Maryland rapper Logic. He seemed like a cool guy, but I wasn’t really into his show or music. Well, that is until he awkwardly stopped everything to solve a Rubik’s cube, it was funny if only because of the awkwardness it created when nobody seemed to know whether the show was over or if he was going to be playing another song.
All the running around in the sun made me want to take a breather, so I hung out after the crowd left, regrouped with a friend, and got in a good position for Best Coast, a band that I always seem to forget how much I enjoy. Given the acts I had shared my Saturday with up until that point, I was ready for something that got a little louder. I wanted to rock out reasonably, and Best Coast came through. I bobbed my head and hummed along a bit, even shuffled my feet now and then, as Cosentino and Bruno poured on the band’s signature surfy, lo-fi pop punk sound.
AURORA, the twenty-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter, put on one of the best shows of the whole festival—and she did it on the smallest stage, while most people were on their way to get a good spot for Lana Del Rey or Future. For the crowd at Scène des Arbres (most of which, given her timeslot, were probably already fans), she was the main event on Saturday night, and I think this made her performance all the more energetic. Alternating the loftier tracks with the most frenzied and frantic, Aurora played to a crowd of folks who were screaming back at her—partially in Norwegian, but entirely in adoration. It was tough to go from something that electric to the end of Lana Del Rey’s set, the finale for Day Two. Del Rey sounded phenomenal, and hearing some of her songs live made them new again for me, but I was way too turnt to hear “Summertime Sadness” right then.
Sunday was the weakest day, but it still provided tons to do. The first act I caught was Danish singer-songwriter Mø. Intrigued primarily by the two very enjoyable non-album singles (“Kamikaze” and “Final Song”), I was curious to see what a live performance would be like. She sounded pretty crisp, but really the only songs that grabbed me were… those same two singles.
The musical highlight of Sunday was probably Grimes, whose strong performance was even more astonishing given the fact that she literally suffered through it. When I saw the day-by-day breakdown, I knew Day Three was always going to be about her—I loved 2015’s Art Angels and I was so pumped to finally see her play some of it. She came out and flooded the space with her own signature brand of manic pop and appeared to be firing at a million miles a minute, until she suddenly had to run back and puke her guts out into a bucket, before coming back out to resume jumping around onstage. She kept apologizing, but honestly her performance was so great that I felt weird about enjoying it, especially given how much I can imagine she would rather be offstage.
I spent the rest of the day around and about the Scène Piknik Électronik, where I caught sets from Aussie dance group Rüfüs du Sol and Philly-born/Brooklyn-based. My friends and I walked around and checked out some of the art they had on display. We critiqued this year’s T-Shirt designs. We commended the custom Molson cans made special for the festival. We got pizza cones. We watched some M83. It was a nice way to wind down the weekend.
Radiohead would be the final show of the festival, and theirs was the biggest draw (by far). They always put on a reliably incredible show – with an audience that’s completely eating out of their hands from start to finish. Playing a mix of new songs and old, including closing out with “Creep,” which the band has only recently brought back into their set lists – Radiohead gave a closing show to remember.
Just like in past years, I left Osheaga with a million photos, a new artist to dive into (this year’s Charlotte Cardin = last year’s Milk & Bone), a few of this year’s re-usable Ecocups, a buncha laundry to do, a modest sun tan, a clear highlight for my summer, and a firm resolve that I will be back next year.
Coeur De Pirate
Lana Del Rey
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Around the Festival