Storming Osheaga

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Despite inclement weather, some high-profile cancelations (Solange, De La Soul and Lil’ Uzi Vert) and a change of venue, Osheaga still impressed in its 12th year on the festival circuit.

Montreal’s foremost music festival held on Île Sainte-Hélène attracted a comparable crowd to last year’s, with Evenko tallying 135,000 people in attendance. Though still located in Parc Jean-Drapeau, a new temporary venue near the Montreal Casino housed this year’s edition, and will again in 2018, while a new amphitheatre is constructed on the old site.

The double mainstages that festivalgoers had grown accustomed to over the past decade were separated and wound up face to face at either end of a long corridor. The four smaller venues were a bit more of a trek from the main stage than they had been in the past. Even the entrance seemed to take its time, winding through security checks, over a flight of stairs and around a corner before arriving at the main concert site.

On the bright side, the new venue did feature AstroTurf carpeting as opposed to rocky gravel and mud, though there were still a few puddles. There was a fun, bouncy Island Stage floating on the river, constructed especially for electronic music lovers, and the Tree Stage was appropriately tucked away on the far end for a spectrum of wild and weird bands like the strange, energetic rock spasms of Lemon Twigs.

(Photo Credit: Tim Snow)

Osheaga Play’s contests, activities and art installations that decorated the old site were the same pleasant diversion, and of course the music, as it does every year, offered up something special for everyone, regardless of creed, culture, ethnic background or musical taste.

This year’s headliners were an eclectic bunch, to say the least. Indie pop singer-songwriter Lorde was a bright light on a Friday marked by clouds, thunderstorms and heavy rain. Perennial rockers Muse ended Saturday with a living exclamation point of a show.

On the hip-hop side of things, heavy hitters Denzel Curry, Run the Jewels, Die Antwoord and Flatbush Zombies were all highly touted by festival-goers and delivered powerful performances that ran the gamut from psychedelic to socially aware to borderline insane.

Osheaga 2017’s final performers were Canadian Hip-Hop artist The Weeknd, who wowed the massive crowed with his dark lyrics and angelic voice on la Scène de la Rivière, while Montreal rockers Death From Above brought heavy bass, synthesizers, drums and a cynical, laissez-faire attitude to la Scène Verte. Also included were heavy mosh pits and crowd surfing,

Other big names included Major Lazer, The Alabama Shakes, Cage The Elephant, Father John Misty, The Shins and Broken Social Scene, to name just a few.


Ironically, it was the first day during the heavy rain that provided some of the most memorable moments. It showed who was there for the music, and who was there to party.

It was eerie seeing a torrential downpour come down on a crowd and yet no one run for cover during London Grammar’s abbreviated set. It was like they were all frozen by Hannah Reid’s haunting voice.

The weather broke shortly after that and I spent the rest of the day listening to bands from my high-school bucket list. I grew up idolizing The Shins and MGMT. To see them play live as an adult in a huge open-air venue was awe wrapped in nostalgia.


Saturday started out looking like a great day for R&B and hip-hop fans until Solange Knowles cancelled her set due to “unforeseen production issues out of her and the festival’s control.” Then her replacement Lil Uzi Vert had trouble crossing the border and cancelled. His replacement, Tory Lanez, was late for his set.

Saturday still offered a lot for the indie and alternative rock fans. Liam Gallagher of Oasis, Cage The Elephant, Broken Social Scene, The Arkells, Father John Misty and Muse rocked the main stages while Choir! Choir! Choir! had everyone singing well into the night. It was an trippy way to end the evening, singing along with a hired act on a secondary stage, giving a tribute to the late Chris Cornell and belting out tunes like “I Want it that Way” by the Backstreet Boys.


The final day of Osheaga had perfect weather and a bevy of impressive bands to boot.  Phantogram kicked it off, followed by Run The Jewels (touted as one of the best new rap/hip hop acts of 2016-17), and Montreal favourites Tegan and Sara. The day was capped off by an electric performance by The Weeknd. While he had the majority of the festival jammed in to hear his set on the main stage, rockers from Montreal and beyond moshed, slammed and crowd surfed to Death From Above.

Outshining all those impressive acts was co-headliner Alabama Shakes, in particular their lead singer, Britney Howard. Hearing her booming voice echo across the island brought chills to the spine and tears to the eyes. You heard it here first, she has one of the all-time great voices – right up there with Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles.

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