Osheaga celebrated its 10th anniversary this past weekend at Montréal’s picturesque Parc Jean-Drapeau, and with a decade of the massive Canadian festival in the books, it’s apparent that the organizers have created a well-oiled music machine. What’s more, the festival does its best to erase significant scheduling conflicts by placing its major stages in pairs.
There were the two main stages (Scène de la Rivière and Scène de la Montagne) side-by-side, alternating sets so there was no down time for sound checks and setup for major artists. There was also the other major stage, Scène Verte, and the smaller Scène de la Vallée, for more up-and-coming talent, in close proximity.
The park itself is beautiful, with sweeping views of the rivers that surround the island and the Montréal cityscape. While the grounds did get crowded, especially on Saturday, the venue never felt suffocating, and there was usually a space to find a seat or grab some shade. The weather held up for most of the weekend, with warm but not stifling days and breezy nights (save for a brief, torrential storm on Saturday evening).
Osheaga also shored up its artistic installations, with boards that attendees could draw on, a tent full of beautiful screen-printed artwork for past and present musicians, and various colorful signs. The one downside to this gorgeous locale was leaving the grounds, with only one train station serving the island for public transportation. This resulted in a claustrophobic slog through massive crowds on the way out, although this was basically out of the festival’s control.
The festival’s dining options were also varied, with a ring of food trucks in a certain section serving up all the different kinds of poutine you could ever want. (The winner in my books was the chorizo and bacon poutine, by a long shot.)
And music-wise, great performances could be seen from the small stage (Leikeli47, Twenty One Pilots) to the main stage (Florence and the Machine, Kendrick Lamar with a great surprise appearance from Yasiin Bey). So raise a glass, preferably filled with Molson, to the best moments of the festival’s 10th anniversary.
Best Set You Probably Missed
Not much is known about Leikeli47, and the energetic New York rapper and her team of backup dancers and a DJ all wear matching black balaclavas and jumpsuits. “See I wasn’t born royal/ So I don’t give a fuck about a crown or a throne,” she declared on “Fuck the Summer Up”, where she had the audience break through the afternoon lull and raise middle fingers in the air with her. Leikeli47 closed her set with “Heard ’Em Say” (not a Kanye cover, although it did feature a blaring production style that wouldn’t be out of place on Yeezus) and the badass “Drums II Clean”, which saw the rapper get the crowd bouncing to her chorus in between her refrains of swaggering braggadocio: “I’m a lot mo’ Biggie/ I’m a lot mo’ Pac/ I’m a lot mo’ Diddy ’cause I ain’t gon’ stop.”
First Aid Kit
In the middle of First Aid Kit’s set, the Swedish sisters unleashed a rocking rendition of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. It was definitely an unexpected choice, and the duo’s harmonies gave extra power behind the vocals. First Aid Kit’s chemistry bolstered their performance throughout the rest of the set as well, especially as Johanna and Klara Söderberg headbanged in unison on “Master Pretender”.
BEST DJ SETLIST
Impressively for all three days, the Scène Piknic Électronik featured non-stop electronic performances. Friday featured a rousing set from GTA, followed by Henry Steinway’s trap project/alias, RL Grime. The crowd got especially hyped for his remix of TNGHT’s “Acrylics” as the audience collectively jumped during the drop. His set drew evenly from his take on huge hip-hop hits (highlights included Kanye-featuring tracks “Sanctified” and “All Day” and Drake’s “Know Yourself”) and songs from his excellent VOID, like “Kingpin” and “Core”.
BEST USE OF THE BAD WEATHER
The weather for the entire weekend was generally picturesque and not too hot, but for a brief hour, a torrential downpour made the festival grounds (and attendees) especially soggy during Nas’ set. The veteran emcee wasn’t fazed at all by the turbulent weather, starting with “N.Y. State of Mind” near the beginning as the impending storm rolled in. Even as the downpour continued, Nas pushed through “The World Is Yours”, “Hate Me Now”, and “I Can” as the drenched crowd enthusiastically jumped and sang along in the rain.
BEST DANCE MOVES
Grace Potter gave the audience a taste of her upcoming new record with performances of “Delirious” and “Empty Heart” as she kicked off the festivities at the Scène de la Montagne on the first day. Her twangy, pop-meets-country-meets-folk sound was accentuated by Potter’s dynamic stage presence, as the singer sashayed across the stage and crouched on top of an amp, singing near the security barrier. While the new content proved intriguing, it was a throwback that finished the set strong. “How many people speak French here? So you’re gonna help me out on this next one, OK?” she asked the cheering crowd before closing with “Paris (Ooh La La)” and fittingly subbing in Montréal in the place of Paris in the track’s chorus.
St. Vincent has been performing her robotic routine in support of her excellent self-titled since last year, but her technical skills and movements still impress live. Dedicating the show to the “misfits, queers, dominatrixes, and dominated,” Annie Clark systematically moved about the stage, with a highlight being her shuffle with fellow bandmate Toko Yasuda on “Rattlesnake” and the synchronized head-nod during “Digital Witness”. From her perch on top of her step platform to the extension in the front of the stage, Clark’s guitar wizardry was on full display, especially on the breakdown during “Huey Newton”.
BEST BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
Charli XCX and her band started things off with a kickass rendition of “Sucker” (with middle fingers raised, of course). Aside from her biggest hits “Boom Clap”, “Break the Rules” and “Doing It”, Charli also performed two of the major tracks she’s featured on: Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”. (Charli rapped Iggy’s verses before starting a chant of “Pussy! Power!” with the audience.)
However, it was the one-two punch of a new track, “Mow the Lawn”, and “Body of My Own” that stole the show. Charli’s live performance brings a punk edge also apparent in her recordings, which makes her live show even more raw and entertaining. And the former song comes from her still-unreleased punk album, with a gritty bassline and Charli roaring, “I’m so over getting high/ But trouble always comes to me, and I don’t know why!”
It should be noted that before Charli emerged onstage, the crowd loudly sang “Happy Birthday” for the British singer, who celebrated her 23rd in style at Osheaga with a massive audience of adoring fans.
MOST HEARTWARMING MOMENT
EDWARD SHARPE and THE MAGNETIC ZEROS
While it may seem cliché to write about a concept as seemingly nebulous as “the power of music,” Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ set featured a truly heartwarming and powerful moment. A man in a wheelchair was crowd-surfing, and he eventually made it to the front barricade. Lead singer Alex Ebert slowed the intro for “If I Were Free”, as he hopped off the stage and instructed security to bring the crowd surfer and his friends onstage. Ebert seemed overwhelmed by emotion, saying, “It’s the least I can do,” as the crowd roared in approval as he pressed his head by the side of the man in the wheelchair. After, Ebert sat at the edge of the stage, proclaiming that it would be the “house choice” for the final song of the set, but everyone already knew what was coming: “Home”. The hit track brought the set to a powerful close as everyone onstage shook tambourines, and the crowd shouted the words in a giant sing-along.
BEST FAN INTERACTION
RUN THE JEWELS
Before Run the Jewels played a single song, they entered to Queen’s “We Are the Champions”. A bold move for sure, but the fans were ready, loudly belting out the words to Freddie Mercury’s vocals before Killer Mike and El-P threw up their fist-and-gun hand sign to wild cheers.
After “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”, Killer Mike noticed someone in the crowd holding a hand-painted canvas with Run the Jewels’ artwork. “Get your skinny artistic ass up here!” Killer Mike yelled with a grin, as security lifted the fan out of the crowd and boosted him onto the stage. Killer Mike then embraced him in a big hug and had him watch the rest of the set from the stage.
The duo continued through the heat of the afternoon, running through other favorites from Run the Jewels 2, like “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” or “Lie, Cheat, Steal”, and helping the crowd stay cool by spraying a giant hose of water. And, of course, Killer Mike and El-P’s fine-tuned chemistry was on display, as the two high-fived and shuffled together in a little dance.
Eventually, Run the Jewels closed with “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”, a fitting ode to where each member came from and where they are today, as the duo won over yet another crowd.
The Black Keys
The Black Keys closed out the main stage on the final day of Osheaga, and the latter half of the set featured most of their biggest hits (“Fever”, “Tighten Up”, “Your Touch”, “Lonely Boy”), which earned huge cheers from the crowd. The band saved the best for last to close out the main stage on the festival’s last day. The stage went dark except for a lone spotlight on guitarist Dan Auerbach, who performed the acoustic intro to “Little Black Submarines”. When that part ended, all lights cut off. Auerbach swapped out the acoustic guitar for an electric as the palpable excitement and tension grew in the crowd. With the crunchy opening riff of the next part of the song, the lights kicked back on Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney to bring the set to a lively close as fireworks exploded overhead.
MOST INSANE ACROBATICS
TWENTY ONE PILOTS
Twenty One Pilots, with their enthusiastic fan base, drew a huge crowd at the small Scène de la Vallée stage. Emerging wearing ski masks, the duo of vocalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun commanded the attention of the rapt audience with their difficult-to-categorize yet wildly entertaining fusion of hip-hop, piano pop, and rock. (They even covered Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”.) Joseph made for one of the most charismatic singers of the weekend, as he leapt from atop his piano and stood on the crowd to sing. And Dun proved to be even more acrobatic, performing a backflip from the piano during “Holding on to You”.
Later crowd-surfing with his entire kit, Dun also unleashed a drum solo while being lifted by the crowd on “Ride”. In a set full of insane visuals, Twenty One Pilots saved the best for last – toward the end, both Joseph and Dun manned dueling drum kits topped off with water, which sprayed everywhere with each hit of the drumsticks. Seeing the level of enthusiasm the crowd brought, it seemed that Twenty One Pilots could have just as well thrived at the main stage, but the Scène de la Vallée let the two bandmates easily get up close and personal with their wild fans.
MASTER CLASS IN TROLLING
FATHER JOHN MISTY
Who would’ve thought the fastest way to the audience’s heart was outright admitting you don’t give a shit about them? This was Father John Misty’s approach, as he jokingly asked if the crowd was tired of musicians asking them how they were doing every hour. This was the start of Father John Misty’s master class in trolling (in a good way), with choice one-liners such as “alright let’s fuck this pig, ‘kay?” and “this next song is a huge, huge hit on the Internet, racking up literally thousands of plays on any given streaming platform” and “sorry to those of you for whom the ecstasy is just kicking in.”
Despite his sarcastic demeanor, Josh Tillman delivered a deft blend of performance art, insult comedy, and good, old-fashioned rock-and-roll, as he performed most of the hits from his excellent I Love You, Honeybear, including the title song, “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow”, and “Bored in the USA”. In the crowd, there was a dead ringer for Tillman, and the singer ran down to the crowd, seizing a phone and taking a selfie video while continuing to perform the latter track. At the “they gave me a useless education” line, the crowd issued a Bronx cheer just like on the record.
“Y’know, I don’t think we got it,” Tillman deadpanned as he motioned to return the phone. “This will take just one second only. Just do the fucking stupid fist pump again.” And the enthralled crowd continued to indulge Father John Misty, whose magnetic stage presence – from swinging the mic stand around to thrusting his pelvis to lying down on the stage while crooning – carried the show.
BEST SING-ALONGS / MOST ADORABLE GUEST STARS
Weezer are an ideal festival band in that they’ve made such a large number of well-known, memorable singles in their 20-plus-year career. Their main stage set (the penultimate performance on Osheaga’s second day) made for rousing sing-alongs for the L.A. band’s greatest hits, from The Blue Album’s “Undone (The Sweater Song)” to Make Believe’s “Beverly Hills” all the way to Everything Will Be Alright in the End’s “Back to the Shack”.
Frontman Rivers Cuomo upped the aww factor by bringing his daughter Mia out during “Perfect Situation” to play the keyboard. For “Back to the Shack”, Rivers’ son Leo joined dad onstage, jamming on an inflatable plastic guitar – the crowd cheered wildly as Leo kicked Rivers’ effect pedal into gear. At the start of their final song, “Buddy Holly”, Cuomo briefly yelped, “What’s!” before abruptly pausing, making it abundantly clear which song was coming and riling up the crowd.
At the end, all the Weezer band members gathered around to bang on the drum set, and Leo had re-emerged with his inflatable guitar – quite the successful family gathering.
BEST GUEST APPEARANCE
KENDRICK LAMAR WITH YASIIN BEY
As Kendrick said that Bey “inspired me to do what I do,” he and Bey shared the stage during two of the best tracks of the set: “King Kunta” and “Alright”. Apparently Bey was just hanging out on the side of the stage before K. Dot brought him out, but by the time “Alright” rolled around, Kendrick had passed off the mic, and Bey was performing a simple, ad-libbed version of the chorus. It was amazing to see the unbridled joy on Kendrick’s face as he rapped in the presence of one of his idols.
I had seen Kendrick Lamar twice before – once during an inspired opening spot before Kanye West’s Yeezus homecoming in Chicago in 2013, the other a less-than-inspired headlining spot at the Hudson Project in 2014. K. Dot’s headlining performance at Osheaga was definitely more akin to the former than the latter, and he seemed energized by both Bey and the crowd. After “i”, Kendrick paused his dialogue, with a huge smile on his face, as a growing chant of “we gon’ be alright” flowed through the massive crowd.
As previously noted, Kendrick’s sets still are skewing heavily toward good kid, m.A.A.d city, as it took over half the time of the set to even get a taste of To Pimp a Butterfly. This didn’t seem to be problematic for the fans, who jumped to “Backseat Freestyle” and heartily sang along to “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”. But the three tracks – “i”, “King Kunta”, and “Alright” – that he did play from his newest opus set the crowd into a frenzy with ease.
FLORENCE + THE MACHINE
Late in the evening on Osheaga’s first day, dark clouds rolled in, and a few rogue droplets of rain fell from the sky. “We were worried they were gonna stop us because of the storm,” Florence Welch quipped. “Little did they know, we brought the storm with us!”
From the outset, Welch had total control of the audience from the sheer voltage of her energy, as she ran barefoot and twirled and bounded from each side of the stage. “Jump! Jump!” she implored on “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” as the audience bounced, matching the singer’s dynamic movements. On “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful”, Welch slowly raised her arms to increasingly loud cheers as the lighting behind her intensified. And on “What Kind of Man”, she sat prostrate before the drum set before clambering down off the stage to sing directly before the barricade.
Mentioning the inevitable burnout from a long tour after performing her Calvin Harris collaboration “Sweet Nothing”, Welch said, “Wherever we are, when we’re together, we’re home. You’ve all made me see everything beautiful again.” While it seems hard to believe that Florence and the Machine could put on anything less than a dynamite performance, the band blew the crowd away once more with their final song, “Dog Days Are Over”.
“I want you to embrace each other,” Welch implored. “Tell each other you love each other! … When I say, ‘Jump!’, I’m gonna need you to jump as high and as long as you can!” For a final, exuberant moment, she ran through the crowd once more. Fittingly, as soon as Florence and the Machine walked offstage, the rain started to lightly fall again.
Photographer: Killian Young