Just off the island of Montreal, there is another smaller islet. The quaint Île Sainte-Hélène – as it’s known in the native tongue – plays host to Osheaga music festival and the masses of new wave beatniks, brain washed by a hippie culture that has since been bastardized by MDMA and consumerism. It reminds me of the immortal words of Frances McDormand as Elaine Miller in Almost Famous: “Look at this: an entire generation of Cinderallas and there’s no glass slipper.” It’s nearly impossible to look away from the madness.
The festival is truly unlike any other of the major summer festivals in Ontario or Quebec, it’s clear the focus is just as much on the peripherals; carnival games, food, drinks, parties, half pipes, mechanical bulls, oh and there’s music there too. The crowd comes from far and wide to experience genres from house music to folk, minus anything remotely close to heavy metal (unfortunately), but the organizers did manage to sneak in a few hard punk acts, which was nice of them. The beautiful Parc Jean Drapeau is a maze of somewhat controlled chaos and while the grounds may be confusing, it is a nice place to get lost in.
The first day was scorching hot and fans were crowding to shade like cows in a pasture trying to get relief from the sun. The free water refill lineups were long and mouths were dry. The grounds are equipped with many different types of hammocks, beanbag chairs and other alternative seating structures to support weary wanderers.
The Decemberists played on the Montagne Stage to a sun-drained crowd. They sounded incredible and it was clear that those in the crowd were enjoying the performance; it was just too hot to do anything other than stand and bake. Across the hills and far away Chet Faker played to a more active crowd of avid fans. His songs are generally a bit slower paced but that did not stop people from moving around. His voice combined with some mixing and a great backing band made for a well-polished sound.
The Thurston Moore Band on the Arbres Stage and The Avett Brothers playing the main Riviere Stage added a more old school feel to the festival lineup. While Thurston Moore and his group were a great revisit of classic rock sounds, The Avett Brothers band has put a new spin on the old big band country sound. It’s happy party rock and it is infectious. With quick rapping vocal parts and an excellent stage presence including a long hair, head banging cellist, the crowd could not get enough.
Of Monsters and Men played a more toned down set than most of the day’s other acts but everyone let loose when they played their hit, you know the one. The band is rebranding folk for a younger generation, and while everyone in attendance may not have fully appreciated the musicianship, the fact that they were there and watching is good enough for this old soul.
Edinburgh hip hop/pop group Young Fathers put on an incredible performance at the Vallée Stage. It was some of the best party music I have had the fortune of experiencing. As the three frontman danced around the stage and hyped up the crowd to a whole other level, their drummer jammed behind them relentlessly. At the same time over in the trees Viet Cong were ripping apart the minds of everyone watching with their intense, atmospheric post-punk rock. I seriously thought they were caught in some sort of time loop at one point when they played a riff until they just could not anymore, and then went right into their next song.
While I did not see it myself, Mos Def made an appearance on stage with A Tribe Called Red and I am pretty bummed I missed it. The next day, the festival announced that Action Bronson could not make it so Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) would be filling in for him “last minute” coincidence? I think not!
Florence and the Machine returned to Osheaga to close out the festival’s first day, and they blew the metaphorical roof off of the place, well Florence did at least, the focus was not on The Machine as they were at the back of the stage and backlit. I overheard one person describe the experience as “spiritual” and my buddy Ralph swears he saw her take acid on stage. A female Robert Plant, in both looks and vocal range, Florence managed to connect with every single person in the crowd of thousands as she danced around the stage barefoot in her flowing white outfit. “Do you want to get high with me Osheaga?” She said to the cheering crowd, and then prompted everyone to get up on their friend’s shoulders. Overall her set was “incroyable” and I am personally not a fan of her recorded music. If acts like Florence and the Machine are going to be the future of pop music, I think I’m ok with it.
As Florence was finishing her set rain started to spit and everyone made a mad dash for the exit. Heed my advice and do not worry about catching the encore, it’s not worth being crammed like a sardine for half an hour trying to exit the festival.
Overall, Osheaga’s first day was chaotic yet freeing, hypocritical yet beautiful, frat guy infested yet stayed by real music fans and talent chasers. Now, let’s see what the rest of the weekend has in store.
About Griffin Elliot
I enjoy dogs and long walks on the beach. My interests include Lord of the Rings and black coffee. I recently completed a double major in Journalism and Greek and Roman Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. I plan on spending my life writing, playing music with my friends and experiencing the world, one tune at a time.