The first thing you notice when you exit the Metro is the massive construction. Imagine being one of the biggest festivals in Montreal and having to completely redesign your site in a completely new location. This is the challenge Nick Farkas and his team took on while a permanent 65,000 seat natural amphitheater is being built, slated to open in 2019.
“Are you nervous?” I ask Nick as our tour of the new facilities stops for lunch. “Always”, Nick comments. This isn’t a job for Nick, this is a passion that started in 2006 with a small team of around 15 people, working under the spell of Nick’s vision. The evolution of Osheaga is impressive. Year after year, Osheaga is the talk of the town in terms of must-see events. 120 bands over 3 days comes out to a little over $2.50 per band! It’s more than just a festival for music. Art installation are throughout the site and the whole experience is unlike any other festival out there. Even the sponsors get creative with booths and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for us this year.
Get your tickets and avoid the lines: https://www.osheaga.com/en/passes
Week-end & Day Passes are still available.
The new layout will be quite different from previous years. The two main stages, Scène de la Rivière & Scène le la Montagne will face each other instead of being side by side. A large digital screen will separate the two areas so all can see. A similar layout will host Scène Verte & Scène de la Vallée which neighbors the main stages. This new layout should create less walking for those that like to hop from stage to stage to catch their favorite artists throughout the 3 day festival.
The most innovative change this year will be a floating stage for Scène de L’Ile for the EDM fans. This floating grid will bounce throughout the week-end on the waterways of Parc Jean-Drapeau. Ships at sea will wonder where all these rhythmic waves came from, as they keep on rocking.
Having a festival on Ile Notre-Dame creates an atmosphere similar to another world where music lovers can immerse themselves in the music, art and food of Osheaga World. Rodeo FX have created some visual imagery for each stage inspired by their names.
Montreal Rocks sat with Nick Farkas to discuss the Osheaga legacy under the hot sun of the day. When I asked if he wanted to go inside in the air conditioning, he said he preferred to stay outside and prepare to get his “Osheaga sweat on.”
Montreal Rocks: The first thing I noticed about you is that you were driving one of the carts that was touring our group around. Obviously, you are right in the thick of the action.
Nick Farkas: I love the carts! They don’t usually give me one.
MR: I want to bring you back to 2006. What was your vision for Osheaga back then? Did you think it would become what it has evolved to be today?
NF: I’ve thought about this question and we didn’t really think about it at whole lot. For me, at the time, I was thinking: If we could ever do 20,000 people a day, then we can keep doing it and it would be amazing. I also knew it would be hard to get to the point where we could get 20,000 people. So the goal was to get to 20 and not lose money. We came from very humble beginnings and the gradual process to get to this size has been unbelievable. I don’t use that word lightly. It’s unbelievable. I cannot believe that Osheaga is this. At the beginning, when I walked around, I knew everybody that worked on the site. Now, I hardly know half the people, there are thousands of people everywhere. It’s crazy. It’s an absolute orchestrated chaos.
MR: I was speaking to Sandra in the cart, who is part of your original team, back when you were under 15 employees. As a leader back then, you had a vision and you built this team who all bought into your vision. What are the qualities of the people you surround yourself with?
NF: People that listen to me (we laugh). What I look for in a team are people that are incredibly competent and incredibly driven. They have to believe in what we are doing. I’ve done panels and spoke to school regarding the music & entertainment business. It looks glamourous. Hey, I get to meet Kate Upton at the Formula E. People look at that and say that’s really exciting, but the reality is that the hours are terrible, you work harder than you could ever possibly imagine and you have to be passionate about it. You have to love it. You have to see that the output of what you are going to do is worth all this pain and suffering. For us, that first year, sitting and watching Ben Harper in the rain… and I don’t think it stopped raining since the day I stepped foot on the site two days before… and going WOW, this is incredible. We did it. We had a great team and we were so proud of the fact that we were able to put on a four stage festival with a bit of art and no people, but the people that were there had a great time and so did we. I’d been a concert promoter at that time for a while already. What concert promoting is in 2017 is so different. You book a band, you put them in your venue. They give you the artwork, tell you what to say and then you market it. That’s it. That’s why Evenko is such a great place to work because there is nothing that we won’t try. We’ll do a car race. We’ll do a food festival. We have a team in place that embraces challenges, that loves the idea of getting up the next day and doing something completely different. If it was just cookie cutter arena booking… I still love that, I always have… but what allows your team to be creative is that you have to gather and bring them in as a unit to feel that once it’s done, they did something impactful. We create the name, we created the artwork. Everything that happens is from us, there is no one telling us you have to use this picture, etc. This is the look we are going with. This is the way we are going to cover the water (referring to the new EDM floating dance floor). Whatever it is, it’s all on us, so that gives people a tremendous sense of commitment. You can’t let people down and it’s a massive team now. If you can’t handle it, you are letting down an entire team of people. It’s really camaraderie. I like the term a “camaraderie of misery.” You have the guys sleeping under the stage waiting for bands to come in at 3 AM. You are all living it together and you are all getting something more out of it. It’s more than just a job.
MR: It’s like a Band of Brothers & Sisters.
NF: Exactly. I was a tree planter. I was a bike messenger. In all these jobs, you are miserable together and that brings people closer together. People will work harder for each other, look out for each other and help. That really is the spirit we have at our small company of about 80 people. We do 1,400 events per year along with massive festivals because everyone is so bloody committed, so good at their jobs that we can do a volume that is, I think, unprecedented.
MR: The Eminem Osheaga (6th) was the one that put your name on the map and was the first one that made you a profit. What did that allow you to do going forward, now that you had this momentum?
NF: What Eminem really did for us was to give us a mainstream notoriety in this city. At that point, we were still a very niche indie rock festival. We had Coldplay and Arcade Fire, so people were starting to be able to pronounce the name, which was cool. Eminem took it to another level in the fact that I think he only did us and Lollapalooza that summer and he never plays.
MR: It’s like he put you on par with Lollapolooza.
NF: Exactly. He hadn’t played forever. People came from everywhere. People in the city were saying: What is this Osheaga thing? Eminem is playing. My initial instinct for that day was that everyone was going to show up at 8 o’clock to see Eminem. At doors, people were piling in, watching all of the bands perform, going from stage to stage and having a great time. So I go, OK, the longevity of this thing goes beyond an indie rock festival and becomes something bigger.
(At this point in the interview, Nick takes a call. They need his permission for something. His first question to them is: “Does it block anyone’s view of the stage?” Up until then, I witnessed the passion shine out of his eyes behind his shades. Now, I see a man dedicated to making this an unforgettable experience for guests. His guests are foremost on his mind. They are placing 200,000 square feet of synthetic grass in front of the stages to cover the rocks below it. Crowd flow is being considered in every detail along with placement of the various facilities needed for such a festival.)
MR: This makes me think of the fact that you have synthetic grass. You are really thinking of the guest experience. What are you hoping people will think, as they leave the festival on Sunday night?
NF: I’m hoping that they will write down next year’s dates. I’m hoping that they will say: OK, that was awesome. I want to come back. We weren’t sure about this new site, but they did a good job. We are not going to wait for 2019, this was so much fun we will come back and do it again next year.
MR: What was your first festival?
NF: It must have been The Police Picnic in the 80s at Molson Stadium. Rubin Fogel did it back in the day. That was probably the first festival, other than that I saw small stuff with my folks. There was one also at the Olympic Stadium that was billed as a festival with Peter Tosh & The Police and a bunch of other bands.
(Nick is speaking of a show on August 3rd, 1983 with Peter Tosh, Talking Heads, Stevie Ray Vaughn & The Police)
MR: What performer do you not want to miss this year?
NF: I’m not going to miss Dawes. That is one performance I’m not going to miss because I really like that band and I’ve never seen them before. It’s rare that a band is playing Osheaga that I really like but I haven’t seen. For me, a chance to see a band that most people don’t know who the hell they are, these amazing singer/songwriters, is the one I will guarantee myself I won’t miss. Also, whatever my son wants to see. Last year, we missed the Strumbellas and he hasn’t let me forget about it for an entire year till we saw them at Canada Day on July 2nd at Niagara-on-the-Lake. We saw them and City and Colour and he loved it. Whatever band he tells me we absolutely have to see this year, I’m going.