Words by Doug Sutcliffe. Photos by Katrina Lat
For 2019, Osheaga returns to its old grounds following major re-construction work on Parc Jean Drapeau in Montreal. The result; a larger park with increased capacity at the cost of some less desirable traits like a greater distance between the stage and the hill, and less grass cover, which lead to much more dust in the air than in previous years. Increased capacity can’t guarantee a bigger crowd though, and while it made festival entry quick and easy, there were noticeably fewer attendees than in previous years, rare for arguably, Canada’s best music festival that usually sells out weeks in advance.
Despite some changes to the festival grounds itself, the music was on point and every bit the Osheaga experience we wait for all year!
As veterans of the festival, Interpol didn’t let us down. Appealing mostly to the older crowd more familiar with their music, they set a nostalgic tone for the evening with their classic indie rock sound and well-loved tracks reminding us of festivals past. While most of their set was well-suited to relaxing up on the hill in the afternoon sun with a drink in your hand, the band picked up the tempo towards the end of the set with The Rover and Not Even Jail, sending fans off in the perfect mood for the rest of the night.
Unfortunately, showing up 12 minutes late wasn’t the only issue with Gucci Mane’s set, but it was just the beginning of technical difficulties and a lacklustre performance which failed to fully engage the crowd throughout the show. Starting with the DJ and continuing halfway into Gucci’s first song, the mics were not connected to the main speakers but were still playing through the monitors so he had no idea there was an issue until a few minutes in.
Looking for something to liven up the night after Gucci’s set, Fisher was just the ticket. The crowd was big, the ground (and our legs) were muddy, the air was hot, and the water cannons were blasting just enough to keep everyone alive and dancing. While sampling a wide range of tracks from Donna Summer to Kanye to his own thumping hits, the Gold Coast Australia DJ never missed a beat with the crowd.
Despite a smaller crowd at her Green Stage performance, Mitski gave her loyal fans everything they came for. Her stage show was almost theatrical with a simple table and chair repurposed throughout the show as props for her dances, stage pieces to fit her lyrics, and even a raised stage platform to draw the crowd’s attention to her voice and the lyrics of some particular songs. This was a show for fans and newcomers along with hits like Why Didn’t You Stop Me from her latest album, Be The Cowboy, which she played to open the set.
An hour and a half of easygoing, sing-along, summer evening vibes drew the biggest crowd of the day as The Lumineers were the perfect closers. They made good use of their deep repertoire of well-known songs to keep the crowd in the moment throughout the entire set. While the whole show was everything you’d hope for from a headliner on the first day, the highlight was about halfway through the set when the band came out to a raised platform in the middle of the crowd to get up close and personal with the fans who had waited hours to see them. The whole crowd seemed to feel drawn in a little closer. For their closing piece, the Lumineers added a special local touch with a cover of Democracy by hometown legend Leonard Cohen.
King Princess aka Mikaela Straus started off right. For a New York native, walking onto the stage in a Raptors jersey definitely won her some points with the Canadian crowd, not that she needed much help. With all the presence of a veteran performer, she owned the stage and kept her fans smiling throughout the show with tracks like Make My Bed and Upper West Side. In a touching turn, she performed a solo rendition of Pieces of Us, dedicated to Mark Ronson who wrote the track.
Before the festival, many people were taking to Twitter to complain about what they felt was a disappointing lineup for this year’s festival, but however you feel about the headliners, one thing the festival certainly did get right was bringing in a TON of slightly lesser-known but incredible talent for festivalgoers to discover during the event. One of the best of these was Vladimir Cauchemar. Vladimir appears on stage in a full white skull head mask with a black neck cover, giving the appearance of a floating skull for a head. With absolute bangers throughout his set, and transitions and mixes so smooth they made even unknown tracks feel like old favourites, Vladimir Cauchemar was definitely the new discovery of the day.
Where Interpol brought out the festival spirit in the older attendees, Young Thug was definitely a favourite for the younger crowd. With huge stage energy and back-to-back hits, Young Thug had the whole crowd jumping up and down with their hands in the air for what seemed like the entire set. The entire audience was moving together like a wave for the better part of almost every song. It was the kind of show you go to festivals to be a part of.
An idyllic summer dance music experience with a packed crowd, people on shoulders, and a chill afternoon vibe throughout it all. If Rufus du Sol’s afterparty that night was anything like the festival experience, it was surely a night not to be missed.
In his first return to the festival since 2016, Logic put on a solid show and gave fans the quick lyrics and intelligent wordplay they’ve come to expect. However, with almost no stage setup and very few interactions with the crowd between tracks, the show lacked engagement for non-core fans. That said, the crowd was still quite full, if only in waiting for the Chemical Brothers who were to come on next.
The Chemical Brothers’ performance was more than just a music show, it was like Fantasia set to house music. With wildly creative visuals that were impossible to look away from, constantly reconfiguring lighting rigs blasting a seemingly impossible array of lights and lasers out over the crowd, and a pair of 20’ tall robots suspended above the stage for the better part of a major track, this show had all the nostalgia, ground shaking bass, and iconic beats you could hope for from this Manchester duo. From their opening track, Go, till their triple encore featuring Galvanze, C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L, and Block Rockin Beats, The Chemical Brothers stayed mostly behind the decks but seemed to have no trouble keeping the crowd cheering at full volume throughout the show. No doubt some voices were lost that night.
Having earned her name as a member of the American girl group, Fifth Harmony, it was clear Normani wasn’t yet fully established as a solo artist. Relying heavily on the notoriety of her former group and #1 hits from other artists such as Rhianna and Aaliyah, she played mostly covers and Fifth Harmony tracks as well as a few collaborations with other, better-known artists. Despite relying on the star-power of other artists to put together enough music for her seven-song set, Normani did put on an incredible dance show with some big moves that really got the crowd cheering.
Mac DeMarco is a completely unique character with a stage presence all his own. While a west coaster, DeMarco found his feet as a solo artist in Montreal, clearly having soaked in some of the upper plateau’s shabby chic, thrift-shop esthetic. Mac has an enormous range of energy and mood, all of which he exhibited on stage to create an effect that was endearing, joyful, and yet fully relaxed. Fans and first-timers alike were drawn in by his authenticity and positive vibes, as well as sweet moments like when, mid-song, he went up and kissed his keyboardist Jon Lent on the cheek and then just stood beside him watching and admiring his playing. DeMarco also seemed eager to show off his athleticism with a handstand and some pike jumps which had the entire crowd laughing and cheering for more. As a perfect end to this fun and welcoming set that felt like hanging out in your best friend’s college dorm, Mac DeMarco launched into a passionate rendition of Enter Sandman by Metallica complete with headbanging and even some Angus Young-inspired leg kicks. The perfect way to kick off the evening’s lineup of back-to-back stellar shows.
An Osheaga staple, Metric was back again with a bag full of hits to keep the crowd pleased. Fortunately, it seems lessons were learned since their 2012 set, and the sound quality was much improved leaving the crowd to sing along with classic after classic from opening track Breathing Underwater to Gold Guns Girls and Help I’m Alive, which they played to close out the set.
Despite some of the dark themes of his latest album, Wasteland Baby, Hozier kept crowds happy and the vibe positive with his powerful voice and engaging stage presence. Saving his biggest hit, Take Me To Church, till the end of his set, Hozier spent most of the set introducing fans to newer tracks from Wasteland Baby. The fans were not disappointed. With rich vocals throughout and an impressive touring band, the crowd was loving every track. In fact, the touring band played much more a part than just background music with guitarist, violinist, and vocalist Suzanne Santo often equaling his presence on stage and creating chemistry adding even more power to the show.
Coming all the way in from Perth, Australia, Tame Impala did not disappoint. Over the course of the show, they took the audience through a journey from nostalgic psychedelic 60s vibes to confetti cannons and anthemic tracks like Elephant, before settling into a more melodic groove for the end of their set to bring their crowd back down to earth. One of the biggest highlights was the accompanying light show which included a mass of lasers and well-coordinated video displays.
There’s no doubt why Osheaga picked California singer/rapper Childish Gambino to be the final performer of this year’s festival. This show hit all the right buttons from beginning to end. Starting with his riveting entrance, appearing on a small lit platform about 15 feet above the crowd, Gambino immediately proved his vocal talents, with his unaccompanied voice belting out the first lines of Altavista for about a minute before the music kicked in, raising the crowd to another level, which they didn’t seem to come down from for the rest of the show. This was no surprise as Donald Glover wove together his impressive vocals with extremely talented background dancers, a modular stage setup which was constantly being transformed by the stage crew between and even during tracks, to transport the crowd through numerous moods and environments throughout the show. Though his massive entrance was hard to outshine, Gambino continued to build on the initial excitement of the crowd all through the set with multiple descents from the stage to get up close with his fans. The long setlist of huge hits kept everyone fully absorbed throughout the night. A major highlight of the night was 3005, which it seemed every single person in the crowd was rapping along to, word for word. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, fireworks started bursting over the stage, punctuating the exuberant feeling the crowd was already pulsing with. A masterful performance from a true headline artist. You couldn’t ask for more from a final set.
So there it was, despite a torrent of tweets complaining about the lineup, a less than perfect new park construction, and smaller crowds than most years, Osheaga ’19 turned out to be one of the best ones yet. The festival’s focus on bringing in great newer artists for fans to discover, while selecting seasoned performers with powerful stage shows for the headlining acts. Using these artists to end each night and providing them with all the tech and power to make their shows as big a spectacle as possible paid off in big ways. In the end, we got everything we wanted and more.
See you next year, Osheaga.