Descending into Parc Jean-Drapeau’s festival crowds and dust in the sweltering heat for three days of incredible music and ambiance that is the Osheaga music festival has become a summer ritual.
This year I joined 130,000 other festivalgoers August 2-4 for the 14th edition of Osheaga (my third) as it returned to its original renovated site at Espace 67 of Parc Jean-Drapeau. This was the first time I attended all three days at the original site and I did miss certain aspects of the old site.
Gone was the giant valley between the opposing main stages, and the large spread-out grounds of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – Osheaga’s temporary home for the past two years that I’d become accustomed to. In its place were the old parallel main stages and cosier, forested grounds.
And while the renovated grounds were pristine and made the distance from stage to stage shorter in order to see all your favourite acts, something felt off. The energy of the crowd was different, at times lackadaisical, and I racked my brain trying to figure out why the whole weekend.
Perhaps the spread-out spaces of the temporary site with all its logistical issues forced festivalgoers make choices. Who were you going to see and what show would you sacrifice to do it?
I clocked my walk from one end to the other at the old site at close to 45 minutes. That meant I wasn’t going to be able to see everyone I wanted but it also meant that the shows I made it to were must-sees. I was never lukewarm about any artist I saw because it was an odyssey just to get there.
Alternatively, the new-old site made it a lot easier to find and stick with your friends and I spent much less time flying solo this year than I did at previous events. And as always, the music was excellent.
The first act on opening day for me was Interpol on the River Stage, one of the festival’s co-main stages located next to the entrance. I caught their set from the VIP section, a perk of the press pass, as they played some of their older hits sprinkled with selections from their new album.
Later that night I was faced with a decision, Flume on the Mountain Stage or Kurt Vile & The Violators on the Valley Stage?
In past years, it would have had to be one or the other. This year however, I was able to catch the opening of Australian producer and DJ Flume’s set then, after he was joined on stage by singer Kai to perform the hit Never Be Like You, I moseyed over to check out the end of Kurt Vile.
The night ended with the Lumineers back at the River Stage. And though it’s been some time since they had a massive hit, they have some crowd-pleasing numbers in their repertoire.
Instead of starting strong with their more recognizable tunes, the set opened with obscure selections from the Lumineer discography. It resulted in what felt like a disconnect with the crowd. At one point lead singer Wesley Schultz stopped the music mid-song and implored the crowed for some energy. By the time they got to their 2012 break-out hit Hey Ho, it succeeded in getting everyone singing, but it felt forced.
Even though I wasn’t familiar with many of the artists gracing the stages on Osheaga’s second day, it turned out to be pleasantly full of surprises.
I showed up a bit earlier to catch Young the Giant. They played a lot of their pop-rock hits like Cough Syrup, followed by some anthemic and melancholy B-sides.
Later that day Janelle Monae’s over-the-top theatrics blew the crowd away. She was followed by City and Colour fronted by Canadian Dallas Green, and then hip-hop artist Logic. Both acts had good sets, but failed to reach the bar set by Monae.
Like the day before, Logic asked the crowed for some energy as I was leaving the main stages to catch Beach House, a band I’ve followed for years on the Valley Stage. Their artsy pared-down performance was a perfect accompaniment to the depressingly beautiful voice of singer Victoria Legrand.
After seeing Beach House, I would have been on my way home had it not been for a friend who implored me to check out the Chemical Brothers. I was not disappointed.
While Monae set the bar for live performances at the festival, the Chemical Brothers video accompaniments to their heavy electro rhythms was a literal trip. I was hypnotized as colourful balloons exploded on the jumbo stage monitors in the dead of night while giant robots on stage shot lasers out their eyes to the beat.
Osheaga always does a good job of saving the best for last, and this year was no exception, with the festival’s heaviest hitters gracing the main stages in back-to-back fashion.
The first act I saw was Mac DeMarco. I’d describe his brand of indie-rock as hipster-folk. Nearing the end of his set, DeMarco announced he was “getting too old for this shit,” before taking off his shirt. His words rang true – after two days of wandering around the festival grounds I was riddled with aches and pains.
After making his declaration, the shirtless DeMarco cracked a beer, lit up a smoke and went into a completely surprising rendition of Metallica’s classic tune Enter Sandman.
Metric was next on the big stage and I managed to find Nation colleague Matt Dessner in the crowd before they got into the meat and potatoes of their performance.
Every festival season seems to have its fashion trends. Last year it was see-through shirts with strategically placed bits of tape. This year it was no pants, proving once again all fashion comes from the past – in this case before the advent of bottoms.
I asked a friend how people knew that they wouldn’t be the only one not wearing pants. “Basically, whatever people at Coachella do is what everybody wears at Osheaga,” she yelled into my ear over Metric’s big hit Breathing Underwater.
Next up was Hozier, whose debut album I wore out the year I moved to Montreal. Following Hozier was another one of my all-time bands. I was in the VIP section again when Tame Impala made their appearance and I regretted I wasn’t as close to the stage as possible when my shrieks scared the jaded VIPs around me.
I went to the concession stand complaining of back pain before the festival’s final headliner Childish Gambino AKA Donald Glover got on stage.
“Tell me about it,” said the woman serving me. “Try working 16-hour days in this heat.”
By the time Gambino came out on stage everyone was a bit ground down, I think, but that seemed to dissipate as soon as the first gospel-like bar of Altavista hit the speakers.
Gambino, who performed on one of Osheaga’s smaller stages a few short years ago, had the entire amphitheatre in the palm of his hand from start to finish. I still get goose bumps thinking about it.
He played all the hits including 2018’s This is America, the song that shot Gambino into another stratosphere. And when it ended, even though I was exhausted, I wanted more.
I left the festival on aching heels thinking to myself that Osheaga might be a teenager’s game; it made me feel old at 33. And even though there were a few downs over the weekend, they paled in comparison to the sky-scraping highs. And who knows, I might just try my hand at the young man’s game again next year.