In six short years, Montreal’s Osheaga Music and Arts Festival
has become one of Canada’s preeminent destinations for hundreds of bands and fans. According to folklore, Osheaga was the first name used to describe the area that would eventually become Montreal by its European settlers, a word descended down from the native Mohawks as the place “where they met the people of the shaking hands.” These days, there are still plenty of shaking hands…and fists…and crowd surfers…and yeah you get the idea, hopefully! O-she-ha-ga, as it’s pronounced, may as well stand for, “Most awesome music fest in Canada!”
Having been to Montreal several times before, and having covered Osheaga in 2010 for Consequence of Sound, it was found appropriate that I put together a survival guide to maximize the now THREE days of “rocksanity” an estimated 25,000 voyagers going to Parc Jean-Drapeau on Île Sainte-Hélène will experience from Friday, July 29th to Sunday the 31st. It’s less of an itemized checklist and moreover a series of suggestions to, as the Osheaga organizers themselves put it, “have the time of your life!”
GET YOURSELF TO THE PARC J.D.
Montreal is a city made up of a number of islands – Osheaga takes place on one of the smaller ones off the “mainland,” Saint Helen’s Island (or Île Sainte-Hélène en français). It’s easy to get to, as the well-traveled Jacques Cartier Bridge cuts right through the island. From the JC, you take the exit to La Ronde (a Six Flags amusement park) / Parc Jean-Drapeau (where the festival is actually held), followed by a slight right at Chemin du Tour de l’Isle. An infinitely better way to get to and from Osheaga, however, is by subway. The Montreal Metro system is one of the best and busiest in the world; the festival gates are right at Jean-Drapeau Station on the yellow line. Plan your trip with this interactive map!
(Each ride is $3.00 Canadian, BTW.)
TO THE LEFT, TO THE LEFT
Osheaga’s layout is brilliantly simple and convenient, as everything is pretty much in a loop. The main concert area is actually comprised of two, identically-sized stages, side-by-side – The BlackBerry River Stage to the left and the Budweiser Mountain Stage on the right, near the entrance. If you look at the Osheaga schedule, you’ll notice that at no time is there ever any overlap between the two. Just so you all know, there is a steel barrier separating the stages, so if you’re near the front for say, Death Cab for Cutie on Sunday night, don’t expect to get the same spot for The Flaming Lips afterwards as they perform The Soft Bulletin. There are video screens all around though to ensure no one misses a thing. The stages also look out to a fairly steep hill that is ideal for those who prefer to sit and take a load off.
Once you exit this enclosed space and move to your left, after a short walk you’ll find yourself at the Green Stage powered by Sennheiser, free of any sound bleed from their BlackBerry or Budweiser counterparts. If you continue to go left (in a circle), you’ll pass by the smaller Tree Stage, sponsored by Galaxie (a Canadian multilingual pay TV audio service), as well as the popular Electronic Picnic zone, where DJs will be mixing and spinning nonstop all weekend before eventually hitting merchandise alley and the main stages again.
STAY HYDRATED AND NOURISHED
Even though this technically is a survival guide, I probably shouldn’t have to tell you to drink plenty of water while you whoop it up at Osheaga. It’s going to be a hot one, with temperatures expected to hover near the 30° C (or 86° F) mark each day. You are totally allowed to bring a clear, plastic water bottle with you, which you can refill for free to your parched throat’s content. And according to The Weather Network, there’s also a chance of thundershowers throughout the weekend, so you may want to pack one of those disposable ponchos in a small backpack along with some requisite sunscreen. For those of you who are of the opinion that beer hydrates better than water, Osheaga has got you covered, and then some. You can consume alcohol pretty much anywhere on festival grounds thanks to Montreal’s loosey goosey drinking laws (viewed as “awesome” by visiting partygoers). Not only that, they’ll even bring the beer to YOU, as Osheaga is replete with servers holding platters of plastic cups aloft. I’ve seen them go through mosh pits to get thirsty folks their golden-hued relief, without spilling a single drop!
If this is one of your first times eating Montreal, it is a GREAT excuse to indulge in some of their trademark delicacies between sets. There’s poutine, which is traditionally made up of French fries covered in rich gravy, topped off by fresh cheese curds – Just look for the unusually long line leading to the onsite ‘Resto Lafleur.’ There’s also Montreal smoked meat, a must try while in town. There will definitely be at least one vendor selling it at Osheaga, but if you can, make your way to Schwartz’s at 3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Trust me; how many other delicatessens can claim to have a musical named after them?
BE ORGANIZED AND CONNECTED
Osheaga’s lineup is especially top-notch this year, meaning there are bound to be conflicts between acts you’re psyched about seeing in Montreal. If you haven’t already, I suggest you join the other fans who have created their own custom lineup and have shared it online. Social aspect aside, it’s actually a great way to get yourself coordinated beforehand so that you’re not constantly referring to the souvenir program all weekend. Don’t be that neanderthal who carries around a tattered printed copy of each day’s schedule. Also, what’s a festival these days without its own app? You should definitely download Osheaga’s, available for both the iPhone and Android (but curiously not BlackBerry, even though the latter are a presenting partner). Finally, by following @Osheaga on Twitter and liking them on Facebook, there really is no reason to not know everything prior to and during the three days you’ll be “deserted” on Saint Helen’s Island.
THE « FÊTE » DOESN’T HAVE TO STOP AT 11 PM
Montreal has a well-earned reputation as quite the “party” city, so much so that it makes even Vegas blush! If you’re game, there are plenty of things to do downtown once the headliner wraps up every night. On Saturday night, you can keep the music going by seeing Special Disco Version, featuring some guy named James Murphy and his former LCD Soundsytem drummer Pat Mahoney, part of Osheaga in the City. It’s at the Olympia theatre on Sainte-Catherine Street East, which is less than a 10 minute drive from the parc as per Google Maps (or a short walk south from Beaudry Station). If you want to take a little break from concerts, let’s just say that walking up and down Ste-Catherine can provide ample “distractions” in the form of bars and other immoral establishments. Come to think of it, this is more of a recipe for exhaustion than a survival tip, but oh well, when in Montreal…
DO YOURSELF A FAVO(U)R…
Lastly, if you’re coming to Osheaga from a (relatively) nearby American city like Boston or New York, or are a “unilingual” from English Canada, you can enrich your time in Montreal tenfold by trying to learn a little French. Considering most of the big acts don’t (and probably won’t) speak a word of français, you can get by just fine, but in my experience, Montrealers greatly appreciate it when you make an effort. I’m not saying this is the be-all and end-all when it comes to common phrases you should know for Osheaga , but it wouldn’t hurt to attempt a few of these out on your new French-language friends.
You know, the nice folks you’re probably going to end up being shoulder-to-shoulder with for several hours a day for three straight days. Just as a reminder, gates open at noon Saturday and Sunday, at three p.m. on Friday, and the festival goes until 11 p.m. every night. Ayez un grand temps à Osheaga !