Some roads are less traveled, and like the saying goes, that's why you take them. While Americans booked flights and packed bags for one of the largest festivals our summer has to offer, we mapped out driving directions to the Lollapalooza of Canada, Osheaga in Montreal. Since its inception in 2006, Virgin Mobile presents an impressive lineup at Osheaga year after year. This year, the Canadian festival shared headliners - Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lana Del Rey, and Radiohead – with Chicago’s event, yet there was a greater appeal to travel north. Maybe it was the hype around the poutine. With the currency in our favor, and sunshine in the forecast, we had nothing to lose as we made our way across the border.
We would quickly learn that our weekend on the festival island at the Parc Jean-Drapeau would be a beautiful one. Overwhelming at first, the back-to-back lineup of all the most buzzed about artists across genres seemed intimidating on the never-ending park grounds. Osheaga had the right formula: notable lineup with the top talent across genres giving you worthy reasons to attend each day, thoughtful layout to make this new world manageable, and a stunning, easily accessible location at Ile Ste-Hélène island. Even with all of these elements perfectly constructed, the one thing that any festival cannot plan on is the crowd that attends, and Canada even had that down. If you didn’t know, now you know: Canadians (or at least Montreal-ians) are the most welcoming and genuinely nice festival-goers. (Seeing Red Hot Chili Peppers would have been a massive pain at Lollapalooza, squeezing through people feeling entitled to their spot as they scream out bro-like comments, where Canadians felt the need to share the best seat in the house without spilling bière on you.) Even when using colorful Monopoly money, saying "Merci", and not understanding every conversation around us, we felt more at home and comfortable than other mass, (may we say, more commercialized) US festivals.
Osheaga does not air on the side of caution - It unapologetically blew our minds on the very first day. We got a sense of the local flavor with Half Moon Run and their charming mix of French/English lyrics and uplifting indie rock as they played tracks off Sun Leads You Home fittingly as the sun began to set. Even with a fun day lineup, there was still no distraction from feeling the inevitable high-anticipation-energy in the air that was building up for the legends: Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Thousands of people were buzzing as the four icons and their tour band entered the stage. Anthony quickly lead into “Can’t Stop” as Osheaga-goers screamed lyrics, starting the set at a climax and only climbing it higher hit after hit for a two hour set. Flea and Josh ran from one side of the stage to the other, guitars in hand, jamming out to the breakdown in “By The Way”. Neither breaks nor hesitation, The Chili Peppers went full force into each song, performing each as if an encore. Chad played off Flea’s distinguishable energy going into “Otherside” as the crowd let loose. When we thought there might not be anything left to give, Flea entertained with handstands, and the band went into “Californication.” It was in this moment while thousands of people sang and swayed in unison, that the bar for Osheaga was set. We were all reminded of the importance of experiencing music live and why we all came from near or far to share these significant memories... and it was only day one.
On day three, Grimes broke up the rock acts with her girl gang, performing her experimental pop Art Angels live, sharing a new version of her older song “Be A Body,” and rapping in Russian, with apologizes in-between for not dancing hard enough because she had the flu. "Sorry about that, had to go throw up in a bucket,” as she then continued to scream into the mic, rocking out harder than any act that day. The second day of the festival was concluded with the silky smooth coolness of Lana Del Rey, as she swayed to the opening “Cruel World,” surprised the audience with an a cappella version of “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”, had everyone ecstatic to her mellow version of “Summertime Sadness”, and shared a song she wrote ten years ago while playing the guitar. With a blue pastel background, trees on stage, fireworks in the distance, and her voice cascading over the audience, we were all taken to the dreamy world of Del Rey.
At this point, Osheaga has given us everything: a day headlined with the nostalgia of the Red Hot Chili Peppers encouraging us to use all our energy on the first night into a beautiful dream-state induced by Del Rey, an array of female kick-ass artists, and an eclectic blend of genres... to then complete this three day weekend with the one and only Radiohead seemed unimaginable. How were we to handle of all this goodness?
All 45,000+ ticketholders were crammed on the field, in every possible section, and every walkway as the lights brightened the stage for the highly anticipated act. Radiohead took us on a musical journey, swirling music into the air with tracks that flowed effortlessly into each other, causing a trance over the audience as they played new tracks off A Moon Shaped Pool. Thom Yorke then announced, “Now that you’re all awake...” and conducted the band into a buildup that the crowd shot up to. Radiohead played with our emotions as we were swooned into “The Gloaming” and “Pyramid Song” as Yorke played the piano with keys hitting our heartstrings. As thousands of us sat on cloud nine together, our fantasies came true when Radiohead performed “Karma Police” and “Creep” just in time as we woke up from our dream weekend.
As we did our final exit off the festival island, we looked back to see the remarkable stage lights for the first time all come to a dim. The curtains finally closed on the jam-packed weekend. Montreal put on a hell of a show. Even with one less day and shared headliners as Lolla, can we dare say, Canada did it better!
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