My, my, Osheaga! You have grown! Montreal’s little music festival in the forest has become a grand and debaucherous extravaganza, dwarfing its former self and raising the bar for all music festivals around the world (last year Feist claimed that Osheaga was like Coachella, but with better food – pretty good assessment). Osheaga is not just a festival, really – it’s a romping three day bender! And, certainly, one thing must be mentioned foremost – thank you to all the volunteers and workers who kept Parc Jean-Drapeau from transforming into a swamp of garbage and bodily waste and preserved an enchanting park from start till end. Bravo guys! Osheaga (which is a Mohawk phrase that means people of waving hands – fun fact of the day) began in 2006 and saw 25 000 audience members in total that year. The last two years Osheaga has had close to double that number per day, which is about 120 000 people stomping the grounds of Ile St. Helene. When I attended the festival in 2007, the size of the crowds were modest, the food stalls were simple – mainly hot dogs and fries – and you usually bought a couple of beers at a time because you didn’t know when someone would come around again. This year, the size of the crowds were dizzying, the selection of food was beyond expectations (not only did I have dim sum, but I had really good dim sum!), and there are actual bars to sit in. In short, Osheaga is now like a cool little town on the water. But it’s not just the festival that offers more, the crowd itself is a wonderful spectacle, and there is a sense of collectivity and community implicit in every gesture. People dress up in costumes, paint their bodies, and roll around in the mud and gallantly strut around like the emperor in his birthday suit. There are families and large groups of friends, all ages and sizes. People smile as you walk by like we all share some funny secret. In fact, festival enthusiasts are in nothing short of ecstasy and are happiest when they are immersed in the throng of the crowd, blasted by woofers, and covered in dirt. Still, you have you’re more laid back and languorous festival goer who comes prepared with portable chairs and finds a little piece of shade to call his own for the day and blissfully gazes at the madness from a distance in between naps. Now, I heard a lot of guff about the festival becoming overly commercial and too big. Yes, the festival has a celebrity chef (Chuck Hughes) that caters to the artists; yes, H&M has a stall where you can make your own t-shirt; yes, even Air France sponsors the festival; and, yes, you have the opportunity to win a car (more than one, actually). But, on the other hand, most of the food available to people came from small and local food trucks. Moreover, I was never once asked to participate in anything or solicited to buy something. Merchandise and activities are all available but not pushed on you. You really make your own experience. The best example of this I saw was when I witnessed a guy hop on stage at one point and ask his girlfriend to marry him (she said yes). He simply took over Hollerado’s set and the band was very happy to indulge a die hard fan realizing his dream. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of anything, but it’s even easier to own your own experience, and I loved that the festival doesn’t interfere with that maxim. And though I’ll need a few days to catch up on sleep and rehydrate, Osheaga yet again made my summer!
Words: David Rozon
Photos: Pierre Bourgault