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Summer Festival Report: Montreal’s Osheaga is a haven of culture and music

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Official Oshega Facebook Page

Official Oshega Facebook Page

Festival season is the time where a road trip north can serve as a trip to another world; one of perfect summer days and fantastic music.

Where can this haven be found? The Osheaga Music and Arts Festival in Montreal, Canada.

Osheaga is a three-day celebration of music, headlined this year by Florence and the Machine, Kendrick Lamar and the Black Keys. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the festival hosted around 100 bands and approximately 135,000 people from July 31 to August 2 at Parc Jean-Drapeau.

Three-day and single-day passes were available, with options for general admission, gold, and platinum levels. I had a single-day gold pass for Sunday, Aug. 2. My bracelet read “Dimanche,” the French word for Sunday.

The most incredible component of the festival was the talented roster of musicians that performed on six stages. Beyond the big names like The Avett Brothers, Schoolboy Q and Alt-J, there were indie favorites like Milky Chance and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. Other artists included Tove Lo, Tyler the Creator and many more.

A lesser-known Sunday standout was 19 year-old Raury. Hailing from Atlanta, he keeps a focus on activism and empowering youth in his music. His powerful performance featured a moment of silence for victims of police brutality. To lighten the mood afterward, he ran through the crowd during his track, “God’s Whisper,” and unintentionally dropped his iPhone.

As the crowd started to lose energy in the blistering mid-afternoon heat, Charli XCX brought back life with infectious pop hits like “I Don’t Care”, “Fancy” and “Boom Clap.” The singer sprayed water and threw giant beach balls at the audience, livening the mood significantly.

Later, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes bewitched the park. Frontman Alex Ebert gave an engaging performance, allowing a fan in a wheelchair to crowd surf his way up to the stage. The pair sparked tears in the crowd as they sat on the edge of the stage and encouraged the audience to sing the band’s hit-single, “Home,” campfire style.

Directly after that, acclaimed English indie rockers Alt-J gave a less impassioned performance. Although the band brought a stunning light show and beautiful soundscapes, they hardly acknowledged the crowd and played a lengthy set of slower songs.

But the final act, hugely popular blues-rock duo The Black Keys, revived Parc-Jean Drapeau in a big way. The rooftop deck at the venue, fondly called a “terrasse” by the French Canadians, was alive with fans dancing and singing to hits like “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Lonely Boy.” The sea of festival-goers crowded into the park below the deck, it was simply amazing.

Beyond the music, the festival’s setup was playful and modern. The bracelets worked as an interactive key to the festival. Attendees could tap their bracelets to enter areas, track their journey around the venue, and even sync to Facebook.

The gold pass was significantly more money than a general admission bracelet, but was well worth it. The pass granted access to the rooftop deck overlooking the main stages and guaranteed admittance to real bathrooms. General admission pass holders had to use crowded port-a-potties.

Osheaga’s six stages were set up like a horseshoe with refreshments and places to hang out in between. The festival had a Chill Zone sponsored by Molson Canadian with hammocks, free Wi-Fi and phone charging stations.

Each section of the park had a different vibe, so walking around felt like an adventure. After passing through a remarkably nonchalant bag check, festival goers entered the main stage area, which featured a spacious lawn and typical concert food. Further into the park, there were artisans, large sculptures and Montreal’s best food trucks.

The smaller artists played in this wooded area and gave listeners the feeling their new favorite band was hiding just beyond the trees. Glass Animals was one of those bands, a fun group that played their own songs and Kanye West covers in the hazy afternoon.

The festival had keepsake cups for sale that could be refilled with reasonably priced drinks. The park’s food was average, but the food trucks enhanced the experience. Between concerts, there were famous Montreal bagels for sale at the St-Viateur food truck. Le Cheese Truck did not disappoint, quickly serving up tasty grilled cheese for those dashing from stage to stage.

Osheaga was well worth the journey across the border. Midway through Alt-J’s sunset performance, I found myself above the crowd on a friend’s shoulders. I was awe struck looking across Parc Jean-Drapeau at a sea of people illuminated by the purple hue of the setting summer sun. They were all singing along to my favorite song.

I was in another world, if only for a weekend.

 

Stephanie Murray can be reached at [email protected]

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