Want to check an international music festival off your bucket list? Let us recommend a visit to Montreal for the annual Osheaga Music and Arts Festival.
I attended the Osheaga for the first time this year, snagging a day pass for Sunday so I could catch my queen Florence Welch as she closed out the festival. And let me just say, the experience blew me away. Osheaga packs a punch. The festival boasts an unbelievable amount to do, from ball-pits to hair braiding (and haircuts for men), from large art installations to a Ferris wheel, from gigantic water-park style fountains to giant fun slides and swings, and a skate park, yes you read that right, a skate park. Osheaga truly has it all. There’s even a “secret” boat ride: the festival announces where to meet the boat a few times a day via their app and the first to arrive are treated to a trip around the lagoon. Did I mention all of this is free? While US festivals might charge anywhere from $10-20 for a single ride on a Ferris wheel, Osheaga is over here putting on an entire carnival inside its gates at no additional cost to you. In fact, they actually reward you for participating in all they have to offer. Sign up for Osheaga Play, swipe your wristband at each activity station and redeem your points merchandise at the end of the day. Honestly, guys, we might not deserve Osheaga.
From the moment I walked in the gates, I was blown away by how carefully curated the whole Osheaga experience is. I’ve found that sometimes larger festivals can be sparse with decorations, choosing to concentrate their posters, art, and even buildings in certain corners of the festival, and relying on the natural beauty of their space to provide the rest of the backdrop. Not Osheaga. There’s not so much as a copse of trees that haven’t been meticulously incorporated into the plan for the festival. You walk away from a stage and you find yourself confronted by a Ferris wheel, and past the Ferris wheel there are mister stations and past the mister stations there is a full-on hair salon and past the hair salon there is a screen printing shop and past the screen printing shop there is a river-side seating area, past the seating area there are ten foot murals. Although I was shocked by how immersive the experience was, I suppose it’s not a surprise when you remember that Osheaga is both a music and an arts festival, and they’re simply doing a great job of emphasizing both aspects of their identity.
Quite frankly, a single day pass way not enough to experience all that Osheaga had to offer. I bounced quickly from booth to booth trying to see it all before my favorite acts started, and I still don’t think I covered half of the grounds. There’s a floating EDM stage that I never even caught a glimpse of and a more gourmet food court that I wish I’d had the chance to experience. I watched Irish crooner Dermont Kennedy while getting my hair braided, then headed for the Mountain Stage for some funky jazz courtesy of Trombone Shorty. Later in the day, I found myself in a lounge chair listening to BORNS, then on a picnic blanket for James Bay. It was uncharacteristically hot for Canada at Osh this year, but the festival responded admirably with a number of misting sprays and water fixtures. After running through the main fountain for a cool-down, my festival crew and I grabbed some buffalo chicken poutine and took to the skies to watch Franz Ferdinand, a favorite of mine since middle school, from the nearby Ferris wheel. When we hit the ground, I caught the tail end of the National’s set (I love them, but I’m not too torn about missing the first half, since I just saw them just months earlier at Boston Calling) and then bobbed along with the crowd to watch Florence and the Machine close out the festival on the River stage. Their performance was, as always, transcendent, and I left the grounds that night in a haze of spiritualism characteristic of Flo’s sets.
All and all, an outstanding day. My only complaint is that the festival’s current location is extremely narrow, which means the crowd has to funnel from one location to another. Osheaga’s permanent home is under construction, so it has shifted slightly to another area of Parc Jean-Drapeau and taken up a small stretch along a racetrack. Because of the narrow set-up, the crowds at the main stages are confined to directly in front with very little room for sprawl in the wings. Perhaps relatedly, the entrances to the festival are also extremely narrow, hardly ten people across can fit through at any given time. When you have a crowd of 130,000 people trying to leave at night through, this can be quite the problem. The time stamp on my group texts indicates that it took my friends and I forty-eight minutes to walk from the festival entrance to the metro stop across the way, which is a little wild since Google Maps indicates that the walk normally takes less than ten minutes. The narrow set-up also leads to a fair amount of sound bleed for some of the smaller sets. But in theory, the setting is just temporary so this won’t matter when Osheaga is back to its original location.
All that being said, I’ll definitely be making the trip again. And, American readers, if you need more convincing that you should come along next year, let me just remind you that the USD-CAD exchange rate currently weighs in our favor: all this and I come home at the end of the weekend to find out that I’d spend roughly 1/3rd less than I’d expected. Very nice.