Walking into Osheaga, it looked like a theme park.
I’d never been to a festival, but I had been to Disney World, and Osheaga seemed to share much more DNA with Magic Kingdom than the small-scale concerts performed at my local town theatre.
There were rides, for example, and games. People walked around in ridiculous costumes that’d put Mickey, Goofy and Buzz Lightyear to shame. There were sculptures, displays, venders that made the whole thing looked big, cartoony, and fake. The grounds were covered with artificial grass, and water spurted from a fountain placed in the centre. The festival was divided into two main sections, the big stages, and the two smaller ones.
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The set-up was really quite incredible. Huge structures and pathways had been constructed. It must have cost a fortune, which is probably why refunds were not being offered, despite the threat of oncoming thunderstorms and band cancellations.
As for the clientele, I would imagine it’s along the same lines as most of these things: half-naked teenagers, hippie poseurs, punks, groupies, and a surprising number of children (there was even a “Kidz Zone” in the back. What?). Oh, and if you’re following the latest fashion trends – under-ass is most definitely in.
There is an inherent problem with reviewing a festival, which is that you’ll likely miss a large number of people who folks will want you to write about. But since I, not Cultured Vultures, paid for my pass, I saw who I wanted to see, and my mind was almost singularly focused on Danny Brown, Father John Misty and Run the Jewels. Most of whom thankfully played at the smaller, more manageable section of the festival. I hope you don’t mind.
After cruising the grounds for a bit, my girlfriend and I began our Osheaga experience with Canadian jazz band BadBadNotGood. Or, at least, we tried to.
We arrived a little early, during sound check, and we were starting to feel pretty amped up. We stood there, all huddled together, patiently waiting for our first big festival experience.
*CRAACK* – Lightning tore across the sky.
Okay, we thought, we knew this was coming. We began putting on our ponchos just as huge spheres of water began to crash down on the audience. Suddenly, it was a storm.
The roadies covered the equipment, delays were announced. Clearly, the band was not going to play any time soon. Instead, the crowd began performing rousing renditions of AC/DC’s “Thunderstuck” and the national anthem.
After about an hour my back began to ache. The wait was made all the more frustrating by the sounds of other concerts off in the distance. What was happening here?
Around 3:20, people started to bail. There were better shows to wait around in the rain for. We considered doing the same, until it was announced that both De La Soul and Noname had canceled, eliminating any reason to go to another stage.
By the time the band finally arrived onstage, we were feeling pretty grumpy. Also, we soon discovered that maybe a small jazz instrumental band isn’t the most exciting way to kick off a festival. They sounded good though, so I can’t really fault them.
We then moved across the way to see Sampha, who I believe had one of this years best albums. He may not have the most powerful voice for a live performance, but nevertheless managed to put on an impassioned and engaging performance, playing all of his greatest material.
Since the other shows we most wanted to see had been canceled, we just sort of wandered about after that. We got some food, took some pictures, drifted from once concert to the next. We saw a few that were pretty good. Rag’n’Bone Man, for instance. He wasn’t bad.
We then caught a couple teeth-rattling minutes of 6lack’s show before crawling through the mounting mud and trash to get to Lorde’s headlining set. When we hit the main stage area, we suddenly found ourselves enveloped by an incredible mass of people. There were more people than I have ever seen in one place.
So many people you could fill five decent-sized lakes.
So many people that it’s safe to assume more than 100 of them will be either be the victim or perpetrator of a homicide some day.
So many people that one or two of them might have even gone to the Trump inauguration.
There were a lot, is what I’m saying.
Lorde sang well, powering through the downpour to perform her songs as earnestly as possible. The show peaked, surprisingly enough, during her sets slowest ballad, “Liability.” She sat at the edge of the stage, a pool of rain forming around her. It felt like a truly genuine and intimate moment, even if it happened on a stage in front of thousands of people.
While exiting, the metro was like the stock exchange during a market crash. People pushing forward in uncertain directions, yelling incomprehensibly at one another. I couldn’t make head or tails of transit itinerary, but luckily my girlfriend could, and she moved us in the right direction.
We got back to our Airbnb around midnight. Overwhelmed, wet, and more than a little disappointed.
We awoke on day two to four more cancelations. Not a good sign. Nobody we were dying to see, but after Friday, we had little faith left in the festival.
The midday line up was looking pretty weak, so we used our metro passes to hit Montreal’s Arts Museum that morning. We showed up on festival grounds around 3:30, getting there early to start off with Liam Gallagher.
Or, so we thought.
Unlike Friday, when we just strolled on into the festival, we were met with a huge, unmoving line.
We waited impatiently as we slowly inched forward. Perhaps “inched” is too strong a word. We millimetered ahead as we heard the muffled sounds of bands playing on the inside.
Two steps behind us a young girl was being supported on either side by her girlfriends. Her clothes were covered in dirt, her eyes were glazed over and she swayed nauseously. Her top fell to her waist as she lurched forward to vomit…Nothing. False alarm.
Later, as people in the line became better acquainted, a guy behind me showed me his crotch.
“Does this look like I’m hiding something?” he asked, adjusting the bottle in his shorts.
“I dunno,” I said. “A huge cock, maybe.”
This seemed to please him.
After about 45 minutes, it became clear that we weren’t going to catch Liam Gallagher’s set. This was unfortunate, but I kept my mind fixated on Danny. Danny Brown. Danny Brown. As long as we make it to Danny Brown, I’ll be okay.
That’s when the teenager behind us puked on the back of our legs.
Finally, whatever was holding up the line broke like a seal, and people began to flood through once again. After rushing through security, we grabbed each other’s hands and rushed towards…What? Was that there yesterday? And how…
It soon became clear that the festival’s set-up had been adjusted the night before. Not much, but enough to throw us off. We looked for the green signs and followed them to the correct stage. We arrived just as a set was finishing up and people were beginning to disperse. We rammed our way through.
Bam! Second row. Alright, we thought. Things are finally starting work out.
Just then, my girlfriend spotted a guy snorting a bump of coke to our left. We began to consider the possibility that the very front of a Danny Brown concert may not be the safest place to be.
“Aw man, man. It’s starting to hit me, man,” said a shirtless dude beside us, sipping water from a cord connected to his backpack. “I’m feelin’ it.”
“Dude, you can’t drink water with MDMA. You’ll piss out your spinal fluid.”
Minutes later, the DJ came out, booted up his laptop and began bobbing his head to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”
Then Danny entered, sticking out his tongue and sporting a blue Transformers outfit. The beat kicked in.
“Brown bless the mic like gesundheit…” he screeched.
The crowd went nuts, instantly lurching forward, bouncing, swinging and yelling.
“Ohhhhhhh fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuuuuuuuck,” said the molly-dropper beside us. “I’m Pickle Rick!”
I thrust two arms out on either side of us. If someone was going to ram into my girlfriend or I, they were about to catch an elbow to the face. I wasn’t fucking around, man. This was what I came to see.
Danny killed it. Hardly missing a word as he powered through his biggest bangers on XXX, Old, and Atrocity Exhibition. I got a good punch in the back of the head around “Smokin’ and Drinkin’,” but it didn’t really bother me much, considering.
I felt exhilarated. Finally, a really good concert at Osheaga. We moseyed on over to the opposite stage as John Bellion ramped up his set. Even my girlfriend, who had some mild desire to see him based on his massive single, “Low,” quickly lost interest after he played his opening number a second time.
No biggie. We went and got ourselves cool asian-style poutines for supper before waiting far ahead of time for our other, personal headliner, Father John Misty.
I’ve been a fan of FJM since 2015’s I Love You Honeybear, so I was excited to see him. I expected that his slow ballads would provide a great laid-back contrast to Danny Brown’s upbeat set. I was wrong. Backed by a big band, he started straight into “Pure Comedy,” bringing an incredible energy to the stage that only increased with each song.
Halfway through through his set, the wind ruffled the stage as rain drizzled on the audience. He stopped a moment to look up at the sky.
“Is it raining,” he asked, “or is the acid kicking in?”
It was probably both.
He danced his way through “Strange Encounter,” he crooned “When the God of Love Returns” on his knees, and during his closing number, “Honeybear,” he roared desperately as the music swelled around him.
This was the best concert I saw at the festival.
While it was our shortest day, we left that night feeling pretty great about the experience, deciding finally that it had been worth the drive up.
We only caught a couple minutes of Muse as we made our way to the exits. Bad journalism, I know, but, man, that exit situation.
We arrived Sunday afternoon and strolled in like we owned the place. Where we were once awed and overwhelmed, we were now unfazed by its incredible scope. We were too cool to be starstruck, or put off by the public nudity and drug consumption. We were festival people now.
The crowds really thinned out on the last day, giving us a clear view of the destruction wrought on the grounds. The festival crew had been doing an adequate job of picking up trash, but still, glasses, packages and cigarette butts littered the floor. The matts were soaked and dirty, turning the synthetic greens into a sickly beige.
Our first show that day was Ho99o9, a couple of punk rappers who we had been inexplicably excited about for months. We got to the front row, which wasn’t hard, since there weren’t many people there to see them. But, when they started their set, they killed it. They jumped and thrashed about the stage as the tiny audience on the ground did the same.
One guy, who looked to be in his mid-forties, started a mosh pit, which he soon cleared out by throwing legit punches. Kids today, they just don’t like getting clocked in the face anymore.
After Ho99o9 we caught our first surprise hit in the band Whitney, who I’ve never heard of, but have a really cool, unique sound. Good stuff.
We rushed to the main stages to get the best possible spot for Run the Jewels. As we got there, we noticed that the experience on this side of the festival was much different than the one we had been having in our more comfortable section. There had to have been ten times the people – but they were loosely packed, so we rushed past them until we hit the front.
RTJ’s set was pretty sweet. After their opening number, they gave the audience a quick lecture on crowd etiquette and respecting women. They laid it on a little thick, but bless them all the same for doing it.
After that I think I was starting to get pretty exhausted, because things started to blur. I barely recall the bands I saw next. I think we caught about half of Flatbush Zombies, some dude name Foxygen, and Vance Joy from a distance.
At a certain point in the day you have to ask yourself how much can you take? The constant standing, the loud, eclectic music, the big crowds, the piss-poor porta potty conditions – it starts to take its toll after a while.
By the time the Alabama Shakes took the stage to deliver a spirited performance, I was feeling sore, overstimulated and terribly, terribly, old. After that we shuffled over to the other side of the field for the festival’s big headliner, The Weeknd.
We got ourselves a nice spot on a hill a little ways back from the stage. It wasn’t close, but we were comfortable and no longer cared. Shortly, the lights went up and the audience screamed.
For about an hour The Weeknd stood, crooning ballads about doing this, that or the other to the pussy while elaborate staging and pyrotechnics swirled around him. Thankfully, the set picked up once he began diving into his reservoir of upbeat hits. The crowds bounced, and I caught my second wind.
“Let’s go while we still have the energy,” my girlfriend said. I agreed.
We made our way to the exits for the last time, not bothering to look back as The Weekend sang to the audience about the lack of feeling in his face. Experiencing similar sensations in our legs, feet and back, we sympathized.