Osheaga Music Festival

A lot of us have songs that we consider “ours.” They’re songs we listen to over and over again, through our headphones on the bus or turned up loud in our room. Songs carry very specific emotional attachments. Sometimes it’s like we convince ourselves that we’re the only person in the entire world who could possibly love this particular song in this particular way. Then, you go to a festival, and you stand on top of a hill and look out over an impossibly enormous sea of people who are all singing along to “your” song, and it gets a bit weird, but in the best possible way. This happened to me about ten times over the course of my Osheaga weekend. Unfortunately no cameras with detachable lenses were allowed on festival grounds, but my camera-phone was able to catch a few of the great moments. So before I begin, I just want to point out that on August 3rd-5th, 120,000 people came together on an island in Montreal, all because they love the same music. That is a lot of people. Pretty cool, right? On to the wrap-up:

The first set I caught in its entirety on Friday was fun., who were indeed a lot of fun as frontman Nate Ruess bounced around the stage and, impressively, hit every note. And when it came time for them to play their hit “We Are Young,” the entire crowd joined in on every word, of course.

Next I headed over to one of the smaller stages for Of Monsters and Men, who played one of the standout sets of the weekend to a jam-packed, ecstatic crowd. For such a new band, they have a seriously tight live act, with layered harmonies and extended trumpet solos, but they also brought a very special joy to the stage.

I headed back to the main stages to catch Franz Ferdinand, who showcased some brand new material and brought the house down with “Take Me Out,” before heading to the front of the crowd for Florence + the Machine. Despite recent vocal cord surgery, she stunned the crowd with her breathtaking voice and, even more importantly, a powerful emotional connection to the audience. Every song was a catharsis.

Up next was MGMT, who seem to have renounced the crazy-catchy hooks of their debut album in favor of psychedelic pop that skews much more on the psychedelic side. They treated the audience to a bouncy “Time To Pretend,” then did a fantastic cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Angie,” but skipped their big hit “Kids” in favor of a new track called “Alien Days.” I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed, although the fireworks over their last couple songs (not put on by the festival, I might add; just a happy coincidence) made it a special moment anyway.

We sped back to the main stage to catch the last few songs by Justice, Friday’s closer, before heading home to rest up for Day Two.

Saturday was another sunny one, and Osheaga responded by adding misting stations across the festival grounds, as well as additional employees with hoses standing at the front of each crowd. As I watched from the shade, Kathleen Edwards (second up, at the hottest point of the day) shouted, “Hey, hose guy, you and I have a date in about twenty minutes!” Despite the heat, her vocals were as soothing and serene as ever, especially on “Change The Sheets.” It was a great start to the day.

Portugal. the Man was up next on the main stages. While I had been looking forward to their set, they were one of the few disappointments of the day. Their prog-rock doesn’t translate well to a sunny festival in the middle of the day, and the setting drew attention to a sort of same-ness in their sound. It might have been a great set for real fans, but from my casual-listener perspective, I might as well have been listening to the same song over and over.

The Black Lips, on the other hand, brought an electric energy to the smallest stage. They sped through a half-hour set of country-tinged garage rock, closing with crowd favorite “Bad Kids,” and had the entire audience dancing, crowd-surfing, and sweating.

Brand New also brought the fury to a packed audience. They were one of the few acts of the weekend that would have fit in just as well at Warped Tour, but they proved why they’ve outlasted most other bands of the emo heyday. Their most recent album, Daisy, went in a newly dark, distorted, Nirvana-influnced direction, and their set leaned heavily on that sound, with even older songs performed as gritty breakdowns.

As the sun set behind them, Yeasayer proved to be the highlight of the second day. They brought new energy and innovation to favorites like “Ambling Alp,” and as most festival-goers were at the main stage for Feist, fans had plenty of room to dance to the bouncy new arrangements.

Finally, Snoop Dogg (Lion?) closed out the night with a set that can only be described as a spectacle, complete with a gigantic poster of Snoop’s own face, backup dancers, an entourage of other rappers, and some serious on-stage drug consumption. But it was all in good, light-hearted fun, as Snoop reminded us when he closed out with “Young, Wild, and Free.”

Even after all that, Day Three proved to be the best so far. Every festival-goer had heard about Lollapalooza’s postponement the previous night, and we came prepared with rain boots, ponchos, and positivity. I was really astounded by the lack of grouchiness about the gathering storm clouds.

The sky opened up just as Passion Pit kicked off their set, but it didn’t bring the crowd down in any way. There’s been a lot of talk about frontman Michael Angelakos and his mental health problems of late, and I think for that reason, the crowd was extra receptive to several new songs. And, of course, “Sleepyhead” got an ecstatic response, with the entire crowd jumping and singing along as the clouds began to recede.

The next major set of the day was The Shins, as the clouds set in once again. Half a song in, it began to absolutely downpour, but again, nobody grumbled, and James Mercer and company put on a show that was straight up rock. They powered through favorites like “Simple Song” and “Caring Is Creepy” before a beautiful, rain-soaked singalong for “New Slang.”

And then for the #1 act of the weekend: Metric. I have absolutely no doubts about saying that they put on the best set of the festival. Frontman Emily Haines was the only person who could top Florence Welch for sheer charisma and star power, but on top of that, their latest album Synthetica couldn’t be more suited for the apocalyptic clouds and enormous crowd: huge soaring choruses, head-banging beats, glittering synths, crashing drums… and then, to top themselves, a heartfelt acoustic version of “Gimme Sympathy,” with Haines dedicating it to “another beautiful night in Montreal.” They closed with stunner “Stadium Love,” and I’ll be very surprised if they’re not filling up stadiums themselves by the end of the year.

Although they couldn’t top Metric, I did enjoy the last two acts of the day, M83 and the Black Keys. I got to M83′s stage just in time for their hit “Midnight City,” and between the piercing beat and the light show, they had the crowd entranced. Finally, The Black Keys. I’d seen them before and, as expected, they were both mechanically precise with their instruments and also rocking out hard. Somehow, they make it all look easy.

A defining moment of the weekend actually happened as the 40,000-person crowd all filtered through the metro system, back to our respective homes. We were all damp, exhausted, sunburned, and disappointed that it was over, and we were all packed together on a very inadequate and overheated subway car. Someone struck up the chant: “Ole, ole ole ole!” and the entire Osheaga crowd joined in, suddenly dancing and singing our way through the metro station. It reminded me that I hadn’t seen a single unhappy face over the weekend. Through blistering sun, torrential rain, stinky port-a-potties, and sardine-tin public transportation, everyone at Osheaga was in it together, all for the music.

By Ella Zander

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