Another crazy weekend at Montreal’s Osheaga music festival came and went from July 31 to August 2 as Evenko celebrated the 10th anniversary in Parc Jean-Drapeau, where the event has grown into one of the biggest, most diverse musical experiences in Canada. Star-struck teenagers, flower princesses, care-free hippies, unabashed “bros”, city wslickers, tourists, families and young adults alike – Osheaga caters to them all.
To the relief of many, Osheaga was one of the first major festivals to ban Native headdresses on their grounds this year and organizers did impressive work handling crowds and managing artists over the course of three sun-soaked days in urban Montreal. Issues like cultural appropriation, overcrowding and access to food and water stations that have plagued the festival in the past were all suitably addressed. A notable and welcome difference on the island this year was the atmosphere of openness and camaraderie shared amongst festival-goers, artists and staff.
As the cliché for these types of events goes, it was good vibes, man. The positive energy culminated in a poignant moment on Sunday afternoon when “Edward Sharpe” (singer Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) teamed up with security to help a group of friends crowd surf their wheelchair-bound buddy onto the main stage. While Ebert and his band were criticized by some for their psychedelically enhanced performance, an epic wheelchair crowd surf followed by their rendition of the song If I Were Free as “Frank and Victor” swayed on stage with their friends brought literally thousands of people to tears.
While schedule conflicts make for tough decisions on Osheaga’s diverse musical offerings, the festival does a good job of spreading things out over the course of the weekend. Friday saw a smattering of indie rock, hip-hop and electronic dance music (EDM), including Grace Potter, Bahamas, The Kills, The Decemberists, Florence + the Machine, Run the Jewels, Schoolboy Q and A Tribe Called Red.
The latter delivered an explosive set, mixing traditional First Nations singing, colourful imagery and the heavy bass that many festival-goers crave. The three DJs came out on stage clad in bandannas as animated stills from old Disney movies flashed on stage. The images of their live show highlight the stereotypes of First Nations people that exist in mainstream media, and the crowd at the Piknic Electronik stage jumped and bounced to the beat. At one point during their performance, Montreal rapper The Narcicyst and hip-hop legend Mos Def (aka Yasiin Bey) joined the group for a tandem performance, spouting hip-hop lyrics over the Tribe’s politically charged, innovative sounds.
Saturday kicked off on the main stage with the Rural Alberta Advantage followed by young up-and-comers Xprime, hailing from Welland, Ontario. The indie rock continued with an explosive set from Canadian celebrities the Arkells. The Hamilton band’s passionate, driving, emotional pop songs with punch had the crowd singing, dancing and shoulder riding, setting the tone for the rest of the day.
“Arkells had an amazing set even though it was early on in the day,” said fan Eric Kuper when asked to sum up the highlights of his weekend. “Weezer was a blast from the past and it was my second time seeing Florence + the Machine, Of Monsters and Men and Alt-J. It was great hearing them perform the new music they’ve released since last time I saw them at Osheaga.
“The little bit of rain we had only made the Mos Def show on Saturday even wilder but the craziest moment was probably when we got charged by a groundhog while resting for a minute on Friday. He ran right over my girlfriend’s legs while we were just sitting there,” Kuper said with a laugh.
Following the Arkells on Saturday afternoon, The Narcicyst and Yasiin Bey returned to perform an entire set in lieu of the controversial rapper Action Bronson who couldn’t make it over the Canadian border. The day continued with St. Vincent’s spacey rock sounds and eclectic stage antics, a pounding, bouncy electronic DJ set from the 20-year-old Dutch producer Oliver Heldens, a hip-hop head’s dream performance by Nas and appearances by many other talented and popular acts, including Patrick Watson, Kygo and Weezer.
It’s safe to say that Saturday was the climax of the festival with so many amazing artists, bands, DJs and rappers performing back-to-back that it was difficult just to keep up. Running from stage to stage, trying to keep track of friends and push into crowds to catch a glimpse of the artists on one’s to-do list makes for a frantic festival, but the vast majority of those present were smiling, laughing and moving to the music.
Saturday’s fast-paced, talent-laden line-up was capped off by Kendrick Lamar’s masterful performance, once again featuring the iconic Yasiin Bey (Mos Def still seems to roll off the tongue better). Lamar is at the peak of his career and his game, and his music is made for the people, by the people. It deals with the realities of life in the 21st century while still finding time to enjoy life and groove to its rhythm. “K-Dot” is arguably one of the greatest rappers ever to pick up a mic.
As short films depicting life in the ghettoes of Los Angeles flashed across a massive screen behind the stage, Lamar and his band hammered out hip-hop songs from his entire discography that had a massive crowd on the main stage jumping, bobbing and screaming along to his lyrics.
“I just wanna make sure the vibe’s right, okay?” he yelled into the mic, urging the crowd to take a break and catch their breath in between songs. “I just want that positive energy right now.”
Big crowds, big names, memorable performances, and a weekend well spent with friends listening to some of the best singers, songwriters, rappers, musicians, DJs and artists in the world. All this in an upbeat, open environment, thanks to the excellent coordination and execution by the people at Evenko. Osheaga 2015 was certainly one of the best yet.