About This Festival
Concert promoter Nick Farkas of Gillett Entertainment Group began this festival in 2006, in an effort to capitalize on the growing indie rock scene there. Shrewd enough to know that people wouldn’t completely take a chance on a first-year festival of the size he’d scoped out, so he positioned a handful of underground and emerging bands alongside bigger names. He sought out many heavy hitters of indie and alternative rock who graced the stages for that inaugural year, including Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., the Cure, Beck, New Order, G. Love and Special Sauce, the Flaming Lips and Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. Mumford & Sons played before their career exploded, as did Imagine Dragons and many others. There were singer songwriter types too, such as Ben Lee and Joseph Arthur. For the first two years, it was held over Labor Day weekend, and then in 2008, it shifted to the first weekend in August. In short, Osheaga has made its mission to discover local and national emerging talent and then bring those artists to the stages alongside some of the “biggest international artists in the business.”
Setting the Stages
That approach through the years means that Osheaga has become the premiere indie/alternative rock festivals in Canada. The first year drew about 25,000 people and through the years the attendance has swelled to full capacity of 40,000 per day, or 120,000 total. More than 100 bands occupy six stages that loosely translate from French to “River Stage” “Mountain Stage” “Green Stage “Trees Stage” “Valley Stage” and “Zone Picnic Electronic.” The largest ones, the Mountain and River Stages, are situated alongside each other and don’t ever compete for your attention. That’s where you’ll find headliners, and 49,999 of their biggest fans that day, in the audience. The third largest space, the Green Stage is what you think—eco-friendly, powered by solar and wind energy, with artists from across the genres. The electronic stage offers what you would expect—electronic acts and DJs. For more intimate experiences, the Trees Stage is nestled in the woods, creating a sense that it’s just you and the music, as everything else fades to black. It historically showcases bands that are likely go on to grace the bigger stages in subsequent years—think Patrick Watson and Hey Rosetta, along with the Sheepdogs, the Neighborhood, Ingrid Michaelson, the Joy Formidable and Vance Joy. The Valley Stage stops its smaller, emerging artist performances at sunset.
Choose Your Adventure
A standard, three-day pass nets you festival admission. If you go for the gold, which is akin to a V.I.P., you receive access to a multi-level platform by the main stages, private bathrooms and exclusive food and beverages options. Finally, the Osheaga Experience is the ultimate. Last year’s guests received a catered dinner by Montreal chef Chuck Hughes, snacks, chauffeured golf cart transit to get from one stage to the next, an Osheaga swag bag and access to a private bar. Typically, if available, single-day tickets go on sale after all the passes have been snatched up.
For the week leading up to Osheaga, the fest holds a series of concerts and art exhibitions throughout the Montreal area. The Bloc Party (not the band) takes place during Mural Fest, a public art celebration involving painting murals and people dancing in the streets to DJs, day and night. Other events include Music on Paper, a concert poster exhibition that’s curated by artist Pat Hamou. Every year it’s slightly different.
What’s in a Name?
Osheaga is the name of the region now known as Montreal. Reportedly, explorer Jacques Cartier approached the Mohawk people by waving his hands in the air at the Lachine rapids. The Mohawks used the term “O she ha ga” which means “people of shaking hands,” in reference to Cartier. To Cartier, however, it signified the rapid waters.