Written and Photos By Franki Calabrese
Now on its 12th edition, Osheaga Music & Arts Festival has established itself as one of the most prominent music festivals in Canada. Being from Montreal, Osheaga has always been a staple of my and every other music lover’s summer; from the EDM crew to the pop-lovers, this festival specializes in tailoring its line-up to everyone.
Usually held at Parc Jean Drapeau on the island of Île Sainte-Helene, this year, the festival’s production team was faced with a few challenges. Due to construction on the island, they had to re-design the entire layout onto the other side. Although this posed some logistical issues with getting people on and off the island, the Evenko team did a great job of turning a challenge into an opportunity. While the old set-up and hill were missed, there were a few surprises that made this new layout entirely worth it. Namely, the EDM stage, now called Scène de L’Île, was turned into a floating stage, which was elevated about 20 feet from the crowd. Even more exciting was the dance floor at this stage, which was a floating platform that reminded me of both a trampoline and waterbed – at least that’s how it felt for the thousands of people dancing at this stage.
Starting with a thunderstorm on Friday, tens of thousands of people made their way to the island embracing what might not be the cleanest or driest of weekends. While there were pockets of sunshine on Friday, it was mostly a wet one that set everyone up for a “we’re-going-hard-regardless” kind of attitude. Minor delays to the schedule were made, but for the most part the artist’s performances went smoothly. Certain changes to the schedule, which were out of the festival’s control, were met with disappointment, others with joy. Despite Solange and Lil Uzi Vert not being able to make it, both the organizers and attendees adapted and embraced the changes seamlessly.
Saturday and Sunday were both beautiful days, although people kept their ponchos near-by. In typical Montreal fashion, Saturday around 10:00 pm brought the wonder of fireworks for all to see. Overall, the weather ended up cooperating, the turf and rocks that were laid out on the grounds kept everyone’s shoes from getting completely destroyed by mud, and the Osheaga essentials that people love, including the dome, greenery, and trippy extras were kept as integral parts of the scenery.
Music Genre: Pop, Rock, Rap, R&B, Hip-Hop, EDM +
Camping: No, the shows end around 11:00 pm, allowing plenty of opportunities to check out some after-parties, see the city, experience the nightlife, etc.
Capacity – Large (roughly 50,000 people per day)
Crowd Type – Chillers! Family-friendly and all ages welcome, with average age between 20s and 30s.
Food – Food trucks and stands were scattered at every stage, including the walkways between stages, serving local favorites (Poutine, St. Viateur Bagels and Smoked Meat) as well as Greek, Italian, Asian, Vegan, Vegetarian and Gluten-free options.
Layout & Experience
Spread out across seven stages, Saint-Helene’s Island becomes a playground for attendees during festival season; it looks onto the water and city skyline as well as the surrounding monuments. The two main stages (River and Mountain) were on opposite sides of a large open field with VIP tents and areas looking onto both. In the middle was a massive suspended schedule, which doubled as a screen for the main stages so that no one missed a beat. A little closer to the Mountain stage was a lit-up water feature, which seemed to be a favorite for the crowd. Whether it was the rain or the fountain getting people wet, all cares seemed to melt away as they frolicked in the water.
As you walked up some bleachers deeper onto the island, two other stages (Green and Valley) had a similar layout, with a large field separating the two. This made it easy to go from one stage to the other in order to see as many bands as possible. As you continued to walk, the EDM Island Stage seemed to appear out of nowhere. The floating stage and dance floor were a favourite, specifically for the electronic lovers. The Tree stage was located close-by and an intimate Perrier Greenhouse tent was off to the side; while this was less of a stage and required an ID to get in, it was a little gem featuring mostly up and coming DJs that not all festivalgoers got to experience.
Spread between the festival grounds was the Coors Light Wi-Fi Chill Zone, which featured hammocks, chairs and little flags overhead, creating the illusion of a secluded area. There was an H&M booth that you could enter, take a tour of and shop (if that was your thing). As you entered, a representative handed custom-made bandanas with trippy designs and Osheaga branding. Other fun extras included the Vans booth where attendees were custom-designing their own kicks and dancing with large Vans shoe mascots, as well as the Osheaga Play Zone, which offered plenty of activities and prizes.
As a representation of the importance this city places on art and culture, Osheaga had distinctive art sculptures scattered across the festival grounds, including an open-canvas Osheaga sign hidden in the trees for people to sign and draw on. In a sense, these features embody Montreal in its inclusivness and encouragement of people coming together, especially in the name of art and music.
One of my personal favourites was the large Elk standing almost tree-height between the two main stages. Who knows if it was meant as art, as shelter from the rain or as a way for people to find each other – when you’re from Montreal, you tend not to ask these questions. Either way, it was practical and an aesthetically beautiful sight as the hairs on it blew in the wind and as the sun shone through its semi-transparent material.
Friday, August 4th, 2017:
- Sampha (Valley Stage) – As I walked onto the festival grounds, I was welcomed by the sound of Sampha’s smooth ballads; it was the perfect foreplay for what was to come.
- The Shins (Mountain Stage) – Performing for everyone who stood in the open area between the main stages, they grounded the crowd playing charming alternative classics like New Slang.
- Tove Lo (River Stage) – The crowd loved this Swedish Pop artist. She danced her heart out, played her hits, including Habits, and even flashed the crowd near the end of her set.
- Milky Chance (Mountain Stage) – The first real highlight was when they began to perform. The water fountain facing the stage was lit up with an endless stream of people running through – the epitome of letting loose. As the German duo played Down by the River, the water fountain crowded with playful, euphoric faces.
- MGMT (River Stage) – Though new releases are imminent for this experimental duo, classics like Time To Pretend and their extended version of Kids were met with a responsive crowd. It was nostalgia at its finest.
- Justice (Mountain Stage) – This incredibly versatile French duo began the second phase of the day with an energetic electronic set. As the sun went down, they infused techno, pop, funk and basically every other style of music in a fresh and enticing way.
- 6lack (Valley Stage) – A rapper making headway in the music scene, he showed exactly why he’s beloved by fans. It was a liberating, heartfelt and memorable rap show.
- Lorde (River Stage) – She began her set holding an umbrella and expressing her gratitude for the crowd and city that welcomed her. There’s no doubt that she loves performing this festival, and the feelings were mutual. Despite the rain, she was one of the most beloved acts of the weekend, even bringing out Tove Lo to sing a duet near the end of her set.
- Zed’s Dead (Island Stage) – This was my first and wildest experience on the floating EDM stage. The crowd was wildly energetic, jumping, dancing and throwing themselves onto each other, which made it hard to even stand (in the best way possible). My favorite was their rendition of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, among other old-school classics.
Saturday, August 5th, 2017:
- Le Couleur (Valley Stage) – This energetic local act infused catchy pop melodies with serious electro beats, showing they deserved to be up on stage as much as any mainstream artist.
- Heartstreets (Green Stage) – One of my favorite local groups that played this weekend, they had a contagious stage presence that mixed smooth vocals with real, relatetable verses as they effortlessly moved in sync. See our exclusive interview with Gab and Emma HERE!
- Liam Gallagher (Mountain Stage) – The former Oasis front man took one of the main stages singing favorites like Waterfall as thousands of people poured their hearts out with him. He was a character well worth watching and even threw his tambourine into the crowd at the request of an attendee.
- Danny Brown (Green Stage) – It was more of a refined performance from the erratic rapper who mixed Trap and banger beats while rocking a psychedelic ensemble from head to toe.
- Broken Social Scene (Mountain Stage) – The Canadian collective performed a warm and celebratory set, getting down at crowd level and bringing out Metric’s, Emily Haines.
- Tory Lanez (River Stage) – In a surprising turn of events, Tory Lanez was brought in to replace Lil Uzi Vert. Some were upset, but I really didn’t mind. Though his tracks were mostly playing in the background, he put on an energetic show, jumping into the crowd during Litty Again, among countless other tracks and playing XO TOUR Llif3 as a shout out to Lil Uzi. He was shirtless for most of his set, à la Tory, and had one of his legs held by multiple zealous hands as he straddled the barrier between pit and people.
- Major Lazer (Mountain Stage) – Composed of renowned DJ and Producer Diplo along with Jillionaire, a Trinidadian DJ, and Walshy Fire, a Jamaican DJ, their explosive tracks hyped up the crowd alongside some very sexy ladies who were banging on drums and dancing in sync. Throughout the whole weekend, I never saw as much movement as when they began their set. A never-ending sea of people ran from one side of the field to the other, and with reason, as they created an insane party-vibe for the people.
- Nicolas Jaar (Island Stage) – Again, I finished my night at the EDM stage where Nicolas Jaar played a memorable and incredibly dynamic live set. He knew when to build his sound, making us wait for the drop, all while laying down his own ominous vocals and with a light show and visuals that even my techie-friends couldn’t quite figure out.
Sunday, August 6th, 2017:
- Tommy Kruise (Perrier Greenhouse) – Wanting to change it up a bit, I started my day at the Perrier Greenhouse. While it wasn’t exactly one of the main stages, this place was lit. A smaller crowd and Perrier bar made it feel exclusive as the local DJ spun Trap, Rap and popular favourites that had people getting all sorts of funky.
- Little Dragon (Green Stage) – This is the only band I have on both my party and sleepy playlists and I was pleased that they showcased their versatility on stage. From melodramatic indie to hard-hitting electro, lead vocalist, Yukimi Nagano, kept the audience guessing as she moved between extravagant outfit changes featuring large mesh hats and colourful dresses.
- Flatbush Zombies (Valley Stage) – Despite some technical issues, the Brooklyn-based rappers gave everything they had to singing their lyrics and hyping up the crowd, essentially creating a great vibe and one of the most lovable mosh pits I’ve ever seen. With an infectious energy and some dope Zombie visuals, they rocked the Valley Stage.
- Vance Joy (River Stage) – This was a nice little interlude to lead into the tail end of the festival. Singing favorites like Riptide and Georgia, he was a perfect act to sit down and listen to while watching the sunset and recuperating some energy.
- Alabama Shakes (Mountain Stage) – This bluesy, soulful band from the South, featuring Brittany Howard as the lead vocal and guitarist, played a show that was out of this world. Their performance a beaming light of hope, her quirky facial expressions and actions, although unorthodox, were a clear offering of her soul for thousands to hear. She warmed my heart as she layered killer vocal after killer vocal, enlightening existing fans and surely creating new ones.
- The Weeknd (River Stage) – Although a bit underwhelming, the Weeknd’s performance was an appropriate end to the festival. He started with bangers like Party Monster, Often and Might Not, pleased the ladies with the Hills and Earned It and ended his set with I Feel it Coming, unfortunately a little earlier than we all would have liked. Regardless, he left the crowd on a high as he finished his set with what seemed like an endless stream of fireworks behind the stage.
All in all, it was an incredible weekend filled with smiles, good vibes and music genres from A-Z. Whether you’re a strict EDM fan or a classic-rock lover, there was a place for you to enjoy yourself among a spacious and friendly crowd. Ultimately, this is an amazing festival for people looking to experience a new culture in a familiar place. Montreal has everything you could ever want in a city, including endless food and beverage options, trippy art, a unique style and beautiful people.
Osheaga is no different, as it embodies the inclusiveness and diversity of its city in all aspects of production. Don’t be intimidated by the French – the majority of us speak English, and who knows, you might learn a word or two! Nonetheless, the people are welcoming and the marriage of greenery with upbeat city-life makes this experience as exciting as it is relaxing. It’s the natural surroundings as much as the little festival details that create the ambiance of Osheaga Music and Arts Fest; and trust me, you don’t want to miss out on the fun. Do yourself a favor and check it out in 2018!