Words: Sean Taylor
Poor Photos: Sean Taylor
Osheaga was a name used for the area that is now Montreal by some of the first European settlers in the region. The name is said to originate from Mohawk oral history as the white man was waving with his hands, either offering to shake hands or asking about rapids on the river. The story goes that as Champlain motioned to them from afar the astonished Mohawks looked at each other and said "O she ha ga" which meant people of shaking hands.....
OK so starting a review with a definition is not going to win over new readers- but from the various mis pronunciations of the word over the weekend- and no one seemingly able to answer the “What does Osheaga mean?” question, I found it worthy of an introduction. And now having defined the word, knowing it’s not just another nonsensical moniker created by staff to ensure a copyrightable name- I think it fits perfectly. Not only for the historical and geographical factors- but surely that the notion that Osheaga means people shaking hands. Whether it was in greeting or in exaltation, there were certainly hands being waved for two straight days at beautiful Parc Jean Drapeau this past August weekend.
Having attended the first version of this fest back in 2006, I was able to compare and contrast the two events- and am glad to report that despite gregarious placement of corporate banners and tents, this is still one of my favorite weekend music fests. The fans have an overload of top quality entertainment, the acts seem to be considered heavily in scheduling and stage sound setup (very little bleed anywhere) and even the St. Johns Ambulance and Dickie Dee folks seemed to be enjoying everything that the site had to offer. The only big difference that I noted over the course of the weekend was the removal of most of the grass, and the large sandy areas in the main concert field- which have been replaced instead with a large field of gravel. On this weekend the perfect warm dry conditions meant that the gravel was a bit of an impedance to enjoying the sets barefoot or up close in the sand storms- but I bet it will be a welcomed necessary evil the next time we hit up a show and its been raining for two days (see Radiohead 2008: The Mudbath). For me some highlights of being at a major festival among other things are watching the side of the stages, the ATM placements, and the food areas to see how crowds are being handled and whether patrons are feeling welcomed or like cattle. In this category Osheaga is amazing- they not only have a pretty perfect setup but were an organization responding to what was actually happening not just the plan on their ‘approved’ documents. I was quite surprised to see a stage slightly askew on Sunday (the Electric Picnic had been shifted slightly north to reduce sound bleed to the Tree Scene); and that in several areas beer tents/ porta potties had been moved to other areas where they were sorely needed. Kudos!
As is the case with most festivals, the value we get out of our tickets is not always derived from the batch of bands that an attendee is familiar with- but rather those acts whom you stumble upon on a mid afternoon side stage who really make the experience memorable. In this aspect Osheaga was one of the best festivals I have been to in quite some time- if only for the number of fantastic acts that I saw that previously I had not even heard of. From the outset Osheaga looked to be pretty good, but the daytime programming pretty much cinched that I will be going back next year- they really fill out their schedule with some HQ if unknown artists.
While it could easily be said that Weezer topped their wild Ottawa Bluesfest performance, and that Arcade Fire couldn’t be stopped by Dr. Freeze on their current tour- I think they were mostly the same sets by bands that do what they do incredibly well. The headliners were all acts that produce great shit but the shows were nothing to write about all over again. They were great sets by great bands, but they were mostly exactly the same as the last time I or you saw or read about them- so I’d like to share a few of those little moments of “holy fuck, who the hell is this playing?”
Saturday July 31, 2010:
The singular clusterfuck of the festival occurred upon arrival as everyone who had purchased advance tickets were waiting to pick these up when the inevitable “computer crash” came and the line stalled- not a good sign; but when things started moving quickly within 10 minutes there were more than a few happy faces to be seen. From our vantage point in the lineup we caught a bit of Sarah Harmers main stage set. Despite her popularity Ms. Harmer cannot carry a field of 20,000- and it showed early and often during her set which was uneven and strained. 20 quick minutes and we were traipsing through a security line that was only concerned with big cameras and recording devices (perhaps at one of the Saturday bands requests?). Even with the technological failure, I was easily inside the venue all the way from the (free! with a ticket stub) subway in less than 30 minutes….. Bluesfest you should send some folks to watch how they handle their will call, guest list, youth and regular pass holders lineups without aggravation or unnecessary waiting. And while I am at it- OC Transpo could learn a thing or two by offering free access to ticket holders. Its good for the earth and for your image- god knows both could use a polishing…..
Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros
Taking the stage with his rag tag looking group of what might have been long lost friends of The Grateful Dead, Edward Sharpe impressed me with his stage presence and ability to ignore the mid day heat and bright sun. While cavorting across and even laying across the stage during their own “40 Day Dream” he worked the crowd like putty in the palm of his hand- gaining more momentum with each word. The set seemed to be a showcase for not only the hits but also for each of his talented band members. Lots of choice solos, stage banter and goings on- and I was finding myself hoping the set wasn’t almost over, though it was going on an hour. I did find it a bit strange that no one on the side of the stage let Edward know he was running out of time; as he introduced the final song “Home”, several roadies had already started towards the guitars for tear down. Luckily for the crowd, the guy with the walkie talkie waved a large tattooed arm and the roadies scurried back to their spots off stage and the band was allowed a rendition, albeit shortened, of their signature song.
Jimmy Cliff > K’Naan > Bahamas > Stars > Jamie Lidell
Not much to say there- if you saw Jimmy Cliff at Bluesfest- this was the exact same show including the glaring omission of The Harder They Come from his set. K’Naan I found to be completely uninspired and boring- even though I have enjoyed his sets immensely at past shows. Finally Stars. I think I gave them way too much ink there already. That band is in desperate need of auto tune these days…… Finally the end of the afternoon and we sought some much needed shade (and funk!) at the Scene Verte. Jamie Lidell is a showman of epic proportions and his set at Osheaga was perfectly suited to a crowd getting anxious for the 1-2-3 punch of headliners that evening. Performing in what can only be described as The Technicolor Dream Coat- Lidell made use of every inch of the stage and sweat gland in his body- rocking the crowd through his hits such as “Another Day”, “Telephone” and “Enough’s Enough”. A great set to trade the daylight for the darkness as we bounded over to get close to Mr Malkmus.
I’d longed for this show since my first (and last) Pavement show in 1994, I had all but given up on any hope of a reunion when Stephen Malkmus proved his talent once again with the almighty Jicks. Naturally I was pretty excited when this band took the stage (at 7:15- another highlight of the fest, as it ran like Union Station on a quiet Sunday morning- on time every time). Greeting the crowd with “Hi we’re Pavement and its 1996 all over again” and then their seminal hit “Range Life” it was clear that the band intended to deliver as Bob Nastanovich had quoted in a pre-fest new conference: “no complaints, all compliments”. The second tune “Stereo” from the wicked ‘Brighten the Corners’ cinched it for me- this is going to be epic! Cue the best part of the song and some drunken asshole throws a beer at the stage- hitting lead singer and guitarist Malkmus in the shoulder. My stomach turned as I quickly imagined him storming off stage never to return….. but I could not have been more wrong. Malkmus got another guitar from his tech and then quickly retorted “Nice shot” and sniffed the stained shirt declaring “I think it’s Labatts!” A potential disaster averted, the rest of the set was just the same as it started- hit after hit. We got “Gold Soundz”, “Spit on a Stranger”, “Stop Breathing”. "Rattled by the Rush" “Grounded” and the inevitable “Cut Your Hair”. Everything I wanted and more- if only they could have found the beer tosser in the crowd and showed him to the subway.
The National > Arcade Fire
I'm not sure what it was about the set- but I didn't care at all about The National. I've seen them play three times and I think this will be my last. I'd have been better served checking out the potential talent on the side stages, but wanted to stay in the main field area for Arcade Fire. I thought it was just uninteresting- even the purple panties thrown on stage seemed to have more flair than the entire band all at once- and they were certainly not French cut, more of a Zellers special.
Arcade Fire killed it, but I do have to give a bit of a shout out to Ottawa here as I actually found the Bluesfest crowd to be more involved and excited. Sure I was expecting them to literally burn the island into the river- and it was halfway there, but expectations can be harmful when they aren’t fulfilled. The one part of the set worth mentioning specifically was during the new and awesome “Rococo”- all the while the fireworks display from down the river really seemed to add to the atmosphere and amped the crowd up a little bit more. This is not always the case as during Radiohead’s performance in 2008- I felt it took away from the concert experience while it seemed to bolster the power of Arcade Fire in that moment. Even Win noticed as he made some cryptic comments such as “How fucking awesome is this?”
Sunday August 1, 2010.
We started the day with a trip to Tam Tam at a park in Montreal. If you haven’t experienced this weekly event in Montreal do it! Possibly up to 1000 people in a park with vendors, drum circles, live action role players (Larpers iirc) and loads of open to space to lay down and watch the clouds and the crazies!
Unfortunately due to Tam Tam and my forgotten ticket at the apartment- I missed Blitzen Trapper- but my crew only made it for 3 songs anyways so I am glad I went back for the missing ducat. That set closing “Furr” would have had to have been the most epic version in rock n roll history to have made this Scotsman forget the extra money spent.
The Black Keys
Having spent the past few years dredging up the ghosts of blues past- I wasn’t sure how this mid afternoon set in the blazing sun was going to go over. I’d say from the size of the crowd that packed in to the main Mountain Stage- that I am not the only one rocking this duo on multiple playlists. Hailing from Akron (same Ohio city as the evenings side stage headliners “Devo” for rock trivia geeks) they played under a stage setup filled with radial tire art. The drum riser, banners behind the stage etc. all had a transport truck tire imprint- quite apropos for a band that has built their career on the long road- show after show- earning more fans with each appearance. The addition of a bass and keys player mid set fleshed out the sound on “Everlasting Light”, while the narrative style on “Ten Cent Pistol” was easily followed by the ever attentive crowd. Closing with the phenomenal “I Got Mine” I couldn’t help but feel as though- in Jack Whites absence during his Nashville period- that the Keys have taken up the torch of the blues and will carry it forward through this decade.
Charlie Winston > We Are Wolves > Snoop Dogg > Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Charlie Winston was damn near the surprise of Sunday as his style of mixed folk, blues, and just about everything under the sun. There were no less than 3 songs that had me literally turning 180 degrees and heading back for his stage. Not many artists out there can start a song that sounds suspiciously like “The Horse”, and then meander through an intro section to end up sounding exactly like “Maze” and have that build to a bridge that basically stole the thunder from Van Morrisons Last Waltz performance of “Caravan”. I will most certainly be seeking out future shows with Mr. Winston.
Snoop was as expected; a consummate performer and a hell of a good time. The one thing I wanted to mention about this set, as it constantly kept coming back to the frontal lobe during his set was that if during the 60’s The Beatles were the great equalizer- music that was enjoyed over borders, cultures and religions- that Snoop Dogg is that artist for our generation. I don’t know if there has ever been music since those heady days of Kennedy and paisley that has united everyone. When Snoop started, it was like everyone was from the same family- smiles beaming everywhere, randoms high fiving and people grooving across the gravel expanse. A surprise cover of House of Pains “Jump Around” was a great addition to the set, and got the crowd participating more than any other artists performance of the weekend (well except for the rave area- complete with huge speakers mounted in a 360 degree pattern in the trees- giving you the biggest sober trip you will ever experience!).
Well Osheaga- you cold cocked me when I wasn’t looking….and good on ya. My entire weekend was marked forever in my mind with an artist that you chose to showcase in the early evening on a Sunday as the weekend and attendee enthusiasm was waning. Taking the stage Frank said “I told my record company that Sundays at festivals are the worst- all of the good drugs are gone.” Well there was one more dose on the script and I was ready for mine….. I should say that not only had I never heard of Frank Turner- but to see one man with an acoustic take the stage between artists like Sonic Youth and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion- you had to feel a bit of trepidation for Mr. Turner. The tender nature of the music being played with some heavy and popular acts rocking out less than 500 yards on either side of him- and further coupled with the fact that this was his fourth gig on three continents in less than 96 hours; and I didn’t know how long the tired troubadour was going to keep my attention. All that was forgotten quickly as the first song (“one written while I was in the shower yesterday”) reminded us all that rock and roll can save your soul. Witty banter and clever song after song filled the 40 minute set out quickly, which went much like this:
Frank was slugging a Budweiser; playing fast Billy Bragg meets Craig Finn type songs; talking about The Boss; singing about Gram Parsons- I was smitten! I can’t think of the last time an artist has taken a stage in front of me and captivated me so immediately or so deeply. If I have any pull with any of you Ottawa folks, please join me at the Ottawa Folk Festival and see Mr Turner play (8pm on Saturday August 14th on the Main Stage). You will not be disappointed. In his final song in the final stanza he sang “Anyone can take this place and make miracles on minimum wage”- and for the first time I doubted what he was saying; I don’t know too many people that could fill those gigantic white All Stars…..
Devo > Weezer
We closed out the weekend splitting our time between Devo and the Grande finale of Weezer. While Devo quite surprised me with their energetic stage show, witty and ridiculous humor (one story involved meeting Michael Jackson on Hollywood Blvd- all the while dressed in a Ice Cream Cone costume) it was the early set placement of “Whip It” that totally caught me off guard. I guess not every band saves that one big hit for the encore….. and it worked- it got the crowd up and despite what a tour manager might warn you- the crowd did not stream for the exits after the hit. But rather the music got more intense and you could see the kids from the rave forest streaming in to catch a bit of these 80’ heroes playing their hearts out for kids not likely born when Devo first hit the charts. The only thing I didn’t like about Devo’s appearance was their $30 hats- it was the only merch item that was priced unreasonably, and to not come home with one of those was quite a mistake on my part but a principle is a principle and I had to stick to it and not lay the money out for something that the GT would sell for $1.99.
As for the lads in Weezer- it was a case once again that if you caught the Bluesfest set, you didn’t miss anything here. It was pretty much the same set- but still full of energy, crowd participation, and rocknerd wetdreams. Rivers performance in Ottawa saw him wade into the crowd- but this was not enough for the Montreal crowd as Cuomos took off for the VIP bleachers during “Beverly Hills” likely causing a commotion amongst security guards and definitely inciting a near stampede near the stands. Hit after hit had the crowd full of Weezer fans going nuts (I’d say there was one Weezer t shirt for every group of 4 that attended the show- it was insane!). The exact same set as Bluesfest save “The Four Horseman” references and Buddy Holly wrapped up the festival.........“Woo-hoo, but you know I'm yours. Woo-hoo, and I know you're mine. Woo-hoo, and that's for all of time.” You said it Rivers, I’ll be back next year and the year after that…….
All told it was a really fun weekend of great music, poutine and laughs with good friends- you just can’t beat Montreal in the summer. Osheaga was a pretty damn good festival that seemed to ebb and flow with the masses; that never dipped too deeply into my pockets and gave me more than a few rock n roll moments that I will cherish. This is a well run festival that seems to understand its core audience and caters to them- while keeping the lineup completely diverse and interesting (Arcade Fire was headlining at the request of attendees past who made AF the top requested act in the festivals history). Sure there were a lot of corporate banners- but the costs of everything were kept to a minimum as a result so I say take the good with the bad and you’ll realize that not all medicine tastes like Buckley’s; and even if it does it works. Infact just take two Frank Turners and call me in the morning……You’ll be glad you did.