Osheaga 2017 – Something Old, Something New

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Osheaga 2017 Montreal

A little change can do some good. With its delays, cancellations and the occasional thunderstorm, Osheaga 2017 threatened to be a low point in the otherwise long and happy life of Montreal’s favourite music festival. But despite the odds, we somehow still managed to pull it off. Depending on who you ask, it might have even scored a notch above some previous years. Our avid concert goers were partying in the rain, chanting for the sun, as well as dancing in those park fountains well into the night, and let’s not forget that floating & bouncing EDM dance floor…

There were plusses and minuses no doubt, with the way Osheaga 2017 had been newly arranged. I have to disclose that 7 festivals in, any new format is always enticing to a veteran just for the novelty alone. But above those surface differences there were some serious wins on the weekend. Listed quickly, the major plusses to the new venue:

+ The new EDM stage: It no longer blocks through-traffic, and has a bouncing, floating dance floor. Typically, Osheaga’s EDM stage sits on a path between the Green stages and main stages. A popular act can crowd this path. With the new placement, this problem no longer occurs, and the stage is great! Even people uninterested in the music were jumping around on the ‘raft-floor’ just for the fun of it.

+ The ‘walk-in’ fountains: in between the two main stages is a fun, refreshing new spot to chill and splash around. From noon until the night, people were dancing in the fountains to get relief from the heat or just have fun feeling soaked and enjoy being a bit silly. Sitting nearby offers a breeze and spray which was really pleasant.

+ Mini-sets on the Sirius XM gazebo: near the Scene-des-arbres-stage was a new small white tent shelter wired for sound, and some mini-sets from talent like Broken Social Scene and Plants/Animals made for some intimate surprises through the weekend.

+ Navigation is easier: With a single big and wide circuit connecting all stages, it was easier to reach stages as well as avoid walking through the other venues on the way.

That being said, there were also some shortcomings that might be improved upon:

– There’s no grassy ‘chill-hill’ amphitheatre overlooking the two main stages. This is the classic, if not quintessential Osheaga chill spot and it was sorely missed.

– The kiosks between the two main stages caused some serious bottlenecks. The layout put one too many Bacardi bars between the opposing-facing Mountain and River stages, meaning crowds passing between sets had to squeeze unnecessarily just to avoid another promotional kiosk.

– Two strikes against crowd-surfing/mosh-pits: Any long-time Osheaga veteran must remember the madness of DFA 1979 on the main stage in 2011, as well as other epic aggressive, mosh-inducing rock shows. Well, we cannot really do that now, because falling on the Formula One track would probably *really* leave a mark. Combined with the new (typically empty) fenced-off ‘VIP front stage zones,’ fans that want to jump around in the zone up-front get hurt twice over.

– The Scene-des-Arbres has no Arbres (that’s ‘no trees’ for Anglo-readers).

In between some obvious wins and loses, there are also some ambivalent differences:

+ – Deforestation: For one, the new setting has far less ‘nooks and crannies’ of shady tree-laden areas to sit down and chill with friends. I can see how this is missed, but one thing I doubt anyone misses is also the inevitable dark side of festival seclusion. No one was peeing in the bushes, or doing worse.

+ – A bridge too far: the giant Drapeau-draw-bridge is an imposing trek. It was a bit windy and cold on the first night, and people ended up being packed like sardines while muttering about engineering weight capacity on the way back. On reflection however, this is not too different from the fenced-in chattel-treatment exiting previous Osheagas. At least on the bridge you get fresh air and a nice view.

Was it worth it?

To pinpoint the moment for me when in the face of rain, wind, and cancelled acts, my confidence was restored, it was about three songs into Justice’s set on the main stage Friday night.

Walking across the astro-turf field between the Mountain and River stages, following MGMT’s final sugar-coated summer anthems, your eye is struck by a horizon dotted with the glittering yellow and purple lights of our magic festival decor: ghostly stars, Christmas lights and concession signs, flattered by the brighter and stranger shapes of La Ronde. Looming to your right, the blue biosphere, illuminated like a frozen planet on the horizon, just to make the nightly atmosphere more surreal.

Having pushed head-down through the crowds, fences, and liquor-dispensing girls, in the dark, we reached the middle section between the main stages. People were side-stepping mud puddles, anxious about the cold and the wet, shivering. The growing Justice beats reached through the bodies of the crowd, and then stole our sullen attention like a thief in the night.

Reaching a crescendo and looking up, plumb in front of me was something simultaneously novel and yet timelessly Osheaga. About 20-30 other kids, sensing the peak of the song and seeing the fountains, rushed in to dance it out. Between the columns of glowing water, ear-to-ear grins speckled by cheap sunglasses, and awesome music, the moment suddenly made the weekend. It all came together: the music, the light, the energy, the crowd. We didn’t care about being soaked on a night out in the rain, and we made it something else.

There’s much to be said about whether the best shows are great because of, and not despite, their adversity. But the surest thing to say is that many of the things that often detract from music festivals, the typical ‘Brosheaga’ crowds of obnoxious Toronto teens, can get washed out by a rainy day. On a miserable wet opening night, it seemed only the fans are left. We were going to make it a great time, undeterred, you could feel it in the air. Maybe Justice said it all, on repeat. ‘We are your friends.’

Staring down at my own puddle on the floor of an STM subway car headed back, my head was still buzzing with the D-A-N-C-E. Lorde was a spectacle, but the energy really came from Justice set. It set the tone for the weekend, and we owe the french duo a debt.

For some reason, even though the nay-sayers and my shivering skin had made reflection terse, walking past the mural of Leonard Cohen on the way home, having gone to Osheaga that night made me grateful to be living in Montreal again. Even with all the rain, fancy that.

From then on, things only got better, as well as sunnier, and a little bit dryer.

Review & photos – David Loach

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