Well, that was exciting.
The Osheaga Music and Arts Festival wrapped its wild, wet 12th edition in relative calm on Sunday, but it was a crazy weekend.
As if the fest didn’t have enough on its plate, orchestrating the move from its longstanding digs at Parc Jean-Drapeau on Île-Ste-Hélène to the adjoining Île-Notre-Dame, Mother Nature decided to throw a little extra chaos into the mix to kick things off.
A little background: Lollapalooza in Chicago was forced to stop all shows Thursday night, cancelling performances by Lorde and MGMT and evacuating the site.
That set things up for Osheaga on Friday, when thunder and lightning brought the festival site to a standstill, stopping all shows for the first few hours, forcing cancellations for some (Angel Olsen) and rescheduling for others (Badbadnotgood, London Grammar, Tove Lo, etc.), which left much of the afternoon program in a shambles.
The day had started off on the wrong foot with the announcement that Solange — one of the weekend’s anticipated highlights — had cancelled her Saturday show because of “unforeseen production issues beyond her and the festival’s control.”
Then around 3 it was announced that another notable act, De La Soul, had to bow out because of “travel issues,” alongside Chicago’s Noname.
And yet somehow things fell into something resembling a groove. People came, bands played, it poured, stopped, then poured some more.
Artists who benefitted from the scattered moments of sunshine — or at least non-rain — joked about their good fortune, often only to get their comeuppance by set’s end.
But music fests are music fests, and inclement weather comes with the territory. Fans got soaked and partied on. As a sort of meta-comment on the absurdity of the day, some festival-goers danced in the mid-field fountains between the main stages as the rain continued to come down.
Even Lorde got in on the fun. The New Zealand pop star had “a lot of pent-up energy” after Thursday’s cancelled Lollapalooza gig, she told the crowd of her headlining set on Friday, before proceeding to sing, dance and laugh her way through the downpour. It was a heroic performance that will go down in the Osheaga books.
Saturday brought more cancellations, as rapper Lil Uzi Vert bowed out along with several less-known acts. But the weather collaborated. The turf covering much of the site was still soaked from the downpour the day before, but the sun was out and spirits were high as the festival began to find its footing.
For the first time in the past several years, Osheaga did not sell out — which must be a concern to organizers — but it came close. Nearly every corner of the new site was teeming with people. And while the layout lacks the natural, tree-lined charm of the old grounds, it did the trick.
The main stage area took some getting used to, with the Mountain and River Stages at opposite ends of one big, long field as opposed to side by side on the regular site. It worked, but it meant that people were more spread out and had to cross the field each time a new act came on. That mirrored the feeling of the site on the whole, which is long and narrow as opposed to more naturally spacious.
Sound on the main stages was a recurring problem, sometimes because of technical issues and other times apparently out of concern for volume levels (hello, St-Lambert neighbours).
But overall, things worked out. Among the popular new features were a floating (in water) floor for fans at the electro-leaning Bacardi Island Stage, drawing huge crowds; and the ubiquitous turf, which kept the mud to a minimum, even when it got soggy.
This was the first of the festival’s two-year transition period, as Parc Jean-Drapeau is redesigned and upgraded into an open-air venue that will be able to accommodate a reported 65,000 people in 2018. You can bet things will be smoother next year.
Osheaga brass forewent their usual fest-ending press conference Sunday afternoon, either to avoid having to answer a flurry of questions about all the weekend’s problems or because they were too busy running around putting out fires.
On the bright side, they pulled it off. Friday aside, attendees probably didn’t notice most of the hiccups and will simply remember having a great time at another Osheaga.
***AT A GLANCE: The Montreal Gazette was all over Osheaga this weekend. Visit montrealgazette.com to read concert reviews and watch videos from this year’s festival.