Confession: I am an Osheaga virgin. Year after year, the musical lineups were impressive, but it just seemed too overwhelming, too many bands, too many people, too little toilets. This time last year, I accompanied my daughter, who craved to experience Osheaga, and although we were not able to enter the site for lack of a magical genie granting my daughter her wish, we did hear it. I remember being on the Casino bridge, close enough to see Lorde on the big screens, but far enough to hear her words out of sync as it travelled to our location. Although on the outer edge, we felt the energy emanating from inside the festival. I had made it to first base with Osheaga.
It was with great anticipation that I strapped on my RFID bracelet and entered into the inner sanctum of the event grounds. Twenty-five degrees and sunny, the hordes of music lovers stream in, to a well laid out site with something for everyone.
Montreal was once called Osheaga by the first European settlers as the Mohawks noticed the white man waving their hands and called them “O she ha ga” meaning people of shaking hands. For this three day festival, there was surely going to be some shaking going on!
There are several ways to experience Osheaga. Some will stay by the Piknic Electronik Honda stage and dance to the electronic rhythms throughout the day. Some will stick to the small stages and experience bands up close and personal, while others, like my daughter, will stay planted early at the very front of one of the main stages, a prime location to see, hear and feel her chosen bands. I chose the “Tapas” approach, which is a sample of mini sets at various stages and locations.
I first went to the Rivière Virgin Mobile stage to catch Catfish and the Bottlemen, a Brit Rock band that makes you think of a British version of the Strokes. They kicked off the 3-day festival with their hit “Kathleen” which deals with a toxic relationship. I’m sure the swarms of girls would love to be given a chance to prove them that Montreal girls are better! “Pacifier” next got everyone bobbing their heads, followed by “Fallout”, another one of their hits. After the song “26” it was time to make my way to the next band on my “Tapas” tour.
Evenko are gracious hosts and their organizational skills have improved year over year. Throughout the festival are food trucks with their tasty offerings, which will please those who eventually get the munchies. There are quite a few corporate tents that were either offering some sort of activity or samples, which was tastefully placed at various locations. To give an example of how a company can make their branding fun, Jack Links offered a mechanical bull ride to visitors and gave them samples for their efforts.
I made my way across the bridge to the Scène de la Vallée stage to catch Strand of Oaks. Their set was hard and heavy and the crowd loved it. Timothy Showalter was appreciative that people NOW want to see them and complemented us on our “beautiful city.” Playing songs from their much loved (I speak for myself here, but I’m not alone) “Heal” album, they really brought their A game and I look forward to seeing them live again. By far the funniest comment I received during my two days at Osheaga was when I caught up with Timothy later in the day, we were getting our picture taken, he told me: “You smell like fresh laundry!” Shout out to my wife for keeping me clean and smelling fine. They will return to Montreal towards the end of the year, Timothy said, when they start touring the new album. Can’t wait!
The next band on my list was The Franklin Electric. Thrust into the music scene because of a tragedy, Jon Matte went on to win a Nashville songwriting competition. There was quite a number of people to greet our fellow Montrealer, trumpet in hand who started us off with “Uninvited (Storm)” off their album “This Is How I Let You Down”. They next played “17” which cemented their sound as folk pop. Again, another winner in my books, a band I want to catch live when they visit Montreal after their European Tour on October 30th at L’Entrepot in Lachine. There was a lot of buzz when they visited the media tent, but at least they had a few minutes to simply chill for some shots.
The next band on my Osheaga bucket list was the DMA’s whom I reviewed for an Osheaga pre show on May 25th. After their last show, I immediately bought their album on iTunes and it’s been in heavy rotation on my iPhone since then. Think of Oasis meets The Stone Roses, their songs instantly infecting those I have been sharing it with. They played songs from their EP and although there were some technical issues, they recovered and played the songs I’ve been listening to for the last few months. You can pick up their EP for $4.99 here.
As 4 PM approached, the crowds intensified, the bathroom lineups got longer and the communal energy level rose. I was beginning to feel the magic that this event can create.
I was truly looking forward to seeing The Kills on Scène Verte. They kicked it off with “U.R.A. Fever”, the first song I heard from them…and I was hooked. Alison Mosshart was energetic and hypnotic while Jamie Hince was the epitome of cool, while two robot looking percussionists handled the beats. They followed with “Future Starts Slow” and an older song: “Kissy Kissy” catch an excerpt here:
After a few songs, I enjoyed the rest of the set of the Kills from the side of the stage, unfortunately for The Kills, technical sound issues, of no fault of their own, killed the vibe. As they attempted to fix the issue, Alison just chilled and lit up a smoke as the crowd cheered her on. They played a few more songs, but I’m sure the set was cut short and Jamie stormed off by himself behind the stage, a look of anger in his eyes. This is definitely a band to see live and I’m sure the next Montreal show will be much better, as they rely on their own sound techs to make the magic come alive. You will not want to miss the next show; I will be there for sure!
I spotted Johnny Took from the DMA’s so I shared a beer with him as we spoke of their performance and their next gig. The DMA’s were next heading to Chicago for Lolapalooza, like many of the bands on this year’s lineup. I commented on how he was singing without a microphone, and relayed that he was just enjoying the moment, feeling compelled to sing the songs he wrote being sung by his best friend. He confessed to swiping his manager’s running shoes, but I was assured that the manager would be cool with it.
Nana from Of Monsters And Men was admiring the rare band themed shoes from Vans Off the Wall when I met her. She was so sweet, as I confessed that my kids started playing the guitar because of the songs off their first album and I took them to see the band when they played the Lachine Canal, a truly memorable experience for the kids and I.
Well… it was time to return to the media tent where Twenty One Pilots were getting interviewed. Although I didn’t see the band, my daughter heard them and said they were very energetic and got the crowd going, letting them sing parts in every other song. Obviously the fans knew the songs well enough!
I next entered the VIP Festival Lounge. If you are going to truly experience Osheaga, you need to consider the VIP experience (Gold or Platinum). Think about it. How much would you pay to see just one of these well chosen bands? As regular guests, you have to fight for your right to crawl across the sea of people to get from one stage to the other, wait for bathrooms and drinking water fill up stations. The VIP experience will allow you to bypass the crowds, give you access to special areas at the front of the biggest stages and of course give you access to this amazing chill out experience. Special food service, as well as air-conditioned bathrooms all await you for this VIP enhanced Osheaga experience.
From the VIP Festival Lounge, you can cross over to the VIP Terrasse with a great view of the main stages.
I quickly made my way to see Stars and Friends as they played their “Set Yourself on Fire” album in its entirety, celebrating 10 years of their album as well as Osheaga Festival.
Although I love the Stars, my “Tapas” approach tore me away to see the legendary Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth fame. It was easy to find him, just follow the loud riffs of the guitar. You never know what to expect from a solo project, hit and miss, but this was definitely a hit for me. Mesmerized by the sound of The Thurston Moore Band as Thurston tortures his guitars to give him the sounds that we have come to love. I watched a master truly enjoying the experience and transferring to us that same affection for what we were hearing.
After having met Nana, I had to check out Of Monsters and Men. I decided to catch the first half from behind the stage and take in their view of the crowd. As they took the stage, I could feel from this vantage point the love from the crowd, which gave me goose bumps. Playing songs from their current and past albums, the crowd reciprocated the love, seemingly preferring the classics from the first album such as Dirty Paws, King and Lionheart and Little Talks. This set was a so well received by the fans, as you can see from the following clip.
Closing the evening was Florence And The Machine. I have always enjoyed Florence Welch, but I was in no way prepared for the intensity, bliss and explosion of energy that I was to be subject to. Opening up with “What the Water Gave Me” all the way to the closing song “Dog Days are Over”, Florence sang, ran back and forth on the stage giving everyone attention, sang a song “right in the face” of a lucky fan as well as singing in the middle of the crowd. Dressed in a flowing white outfit, I was mesmerized by the power of her voice, her presence and her ability to give more then any artist I can remember. At one point during the show, she collapsed in a dramatic conclusion to a song, only to be revived by renewed energy. I will never listen to one of her songs in the same way again, knowing the raw energy that she can emanate and share with her adoring fans. Come back Florence, for we need more artists willing to give their all in a performance.
Day One is over and I am beside myself, kicking myself for not attending this magical event sooner. All those bands that I missed, all those moments that will never be repeated! If you ever were hesitant to go to this event, start saving now and get the Gold or Platinum ticket next year. It will be a weekend you will never forget. If you are younger and can’t afford it, gather your friends and simply join in the collective joy of seeing so many great bands perform.
What will tomorrow bring? I can only imagine.
Review – Randal Wark
Photos – Steve Gerrard