I would’ve gone with the clichéd title “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly,” but quite francophonely, there was so little bad or ugly about the 2013 iteration of Montreal’s hyper-efficient Osheaga music festival, that it’d be pointless and flat-out misleading to have those words headlining this post.
Having been lucky enough to attend several music festivals, in North America and abroad, I’ve seen good, bad, and terrible: organization, locations, and logic. I’m ecstatic, and more than a little surprised, that Osheaga seemed to utilize/implement the best of other festivals while minimizing/mitigating many of the annoying aspects of such a huge undertaking.
This post deals with what I considered good/great about the festival (non-music performance related, that’s coming up in part 2). Probably the best thing about the festival, and something I hadn’t seen any other festival employ, were the beer vendors who stalked the grounds and came to you. Brilliant. And it’s not like there were 2 or 3 vendors and you had to wait 45 minutes between visits; there were a tonne of vendors and they were always around (and managed to stay out of the way for the most part). Kudos to those workers for their efficiency, timeliness, and ability to work such long hours under such physical duress (cool triceps brrrro, how much do you bench? 100 reps of 20 16 oz. pops, thanks for asking brrrro). Also, the pricing for the beer/alcohol was really good, in a relative sense of course. Toronto sporting events and/or festivals would see similar-sized beers go for anywhere from $8-$15, while they were “only” $6 at Osheaga.
The main stages or 2 Mainz for all the kids out there, were set up with sound logic. Having the festival start at 1 pm with no downtime required great planning, and could’ve only been accomplished by doing what they did: whilst one stage was in use, the other was being set up for the next act. All-in-all, I think the plan was smart and it was executed extremely well (kudos to all the behind-the-scenes workers, I’m sure you dealt with some hairy situations, but all the crowd saw was seamless transitioning).
The other stages were also well positioned and well spaced out, and there was always an opportunity to get as close as you wanted to any of the stages (especially the Verte and des Arbres stages). You could even clear a path close to one of the two main stages if you threw in a healthy dose of “je m’excuse’s.”
There were a tonne of food options. If you wanted to go with stock festival food, it was convenient to do so and the lineups at those places were never long, and if you preferred something a bit more nuanced, you had a bevy of food trucks offering unique items at your disposal. I didn’t get to try a lot of stuff, but the grilled cheese (can’t remember the name of the truck) and the nutella-laden beaver tail from the Queues de Castor truck were sensational.
Lines were never too long for washrooms, though in saying that, I’m relying solely on what I saw, and not what I experienced. If there were an Olympic event for bladder control, I would be competing for the gold medal every time. I didn’t go once at the festival. Maybe one time, I felt the urge to go, but I had better things to do. I had a music festival to attend to.
It was great to not feel like Big Brother (popos, rent-a-popos) was lurking everywhere. They were definitely around, but I didn’t have to see them “make a move” once. A good sign that their directive was sound and that the attendees conducted themselves with at least some semblance of decorum.
The landscape of Parc Jean Drapeau is beautiful. It’s right off the St. Lawrence river for starters. At the Parc, there are a tonne of trees and many places where people could rest if they felt like getting away from the music for a bit (not my cup of tea, but it was possible, if the desire was there). Where it could take 20-25 minutes at other festivals to get from one end of the grounds to the other, a brisk walk could see one get from the Verte stage to the main stage area in around 10-12 minutes. Not bad at all.
The Metro was fantastically organized, thank goodness, because it was essentially the only way (a few cars or Bixi bikes notwithstanding) off the island. Sure, there was a bit of a wait each night to get into the station, but that was never not going to happen, and the crowds were dealt with in a clear and orderly way. The Metro workers deserve a huge round of applause for their patience and service.
A few quick hits: there weren’t nearly as many smokers as I thought there might be, and I was so happy, as a non-smoker, for that. Rock Werchter, the Belgian festival, had the best lineup of any festival in the world last year, but the experience really was tempered by the fact that every one of those bloody Europeans smoked. There was little-to-no tomfoolery (the bad kind), I didn’t see any fights, and the attendees seemed to be really well behaved and friendly (good job drunk people!). Set times were adhered to exceptionally well (this is no small thing — you don’t notice when everything goes according to plan, but when set times go awry, it throws the whole production off). The Osheaga app worked and updated like a charm, and Wifi seemed to have always been accessible. Osheaga had workers taking surveys, which, in theory, can only lead to an improved experience next year. Lastly, the Parc had cool installations. My favourite was the red-lit foresty area that came alive at night.
All of the good is possibly even more surprising because Osheaga is still in its relative infancy as a festival. It’s been around for a mere 8 years, and it’s really only been a “big” draw for the past couple years, so to have everything operate so smoothly and with such efficiency speaks very loudly of the people who worked at and organized the festival.
If I were to pick nits, a couple of small issues arose here and there. I would say the sound could’ve been a bit better at times. Ellie Goulding’s energetic and hit-filled set was marred by an incessant cracking that lasted as long as she was on stage. Unfortunate. I was standing to the right of the main stage when Imagine Dragons performed, and I thought the volume of their set was really low.
To the people who instagrammed/tweeted ad nauseum: why? Just why? I ask the question rhetorically, because there’s no good answer I could be given that would be justifiable (you’re at a music festival, how about you enjoy the moment a little bit?).
K-os, what happened to you dude? Your head could barely fit on the main stage. I don’t think he was always like he is now. His attitude took a sharp left somewhere along the way. Here’s hoping he gets back to the man he used to be.
The cancellations seemed to be an issue for a lot of people, though for me, it was no big deal. Some were upset, as Frank Ocean was the first to cancel (legit reasons, torn vocal chord), and he was replaced by Miguel who then cancelled (he had a prior leg-dropping engagement — a little birdie told me that he had a brunch date with Hulk Hogan in Florida to reminisce about past leg-dropping experiences, to confer about the best way to, anatomically, slam leg-into-head, to illuminate the philosophical and anthropological deductions one can make after connecting, with brute force, one’s leg to another human’s skull and/or esophageal region, and the future of leg-dropping (theory, practice, and dissemination). Then Azealia Banks cancelled (prior ruining-of-cunts commitment), and then finally, Death Grips (prior beating-the-fuck-out-of-people commitment) did the same. All of this wasn’t ideal, but with a festival of over 100 acts, it’s always going to be a high-wire act to ensure that everyone shows up healthy and/or mentally stable (enough to perform). I’m not going to focus on that though because there was way too much incredible artistry going on to be focused on who wasn’t there.
Finally, and this isn’t really an Osheaga problem as much as it is a city planning issue, but I left Montreal on Monday afternoon and just got back yesterday (Thursday). I may have fallen asleep at the wheel and lost track of time or something, but I think the trek home took somewhere around 76 hours. There’s a lot of construction, and not nearly enough multi-lane action, once you hit the outskirts of Montreal, and it makes for an awfully tedious ride home. The traffic told me that Osheaga is a de facto Toronto festival. I can’t say how many Osheaga attendees were from Toronto, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was half or close to it. Torontonians love their music, and since city council and downtown residents really shat the bed when they conspired to cancel the awesome and practical V-fest (that took place at Centre Island for several years during the late 2000’s), Torontonians need a place to get their festival fix. I don’t have a problem with going to Montreal; it’s prettier, more cultured, more organized and cheaper to stay/eat in than Toronto, I just wish there were more options when leaving the city to get back home.
So that’s the good, the better, and the miscellaneous of Osheaga 2013 as it relates to everything not related to the actual performances. The next post will look at my favourite performances of the festival.