“I was at Coachella, leaning on your shoulder, watching your husband swing in time, I guess I was in it, cause baby for a minute, it was Woodstock in my mind…” – Lana Del Rey, Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind.
Here’s a potentially grandiose statement: Festival life is the best life. While Coachella is across country borders and on the opposite side of this continent, here in Montreal we have Osheaga every summer and just like Lana felt some Woodstock vibes at Coachella this year, I felt the same sort of transformative magic over the 3 days at my music festival this August. The impact was so huge that nearly a month after the festival has closed, I still feel it reverberating now – this feeling that the power and energy of festival life should and must find its way into our everyday lives.
My experience with Osheaga has been limited – I attended a couple times in the first few years when the festival was in its infancy and my interest then waned for several years, perhaps around the same time that I forgot that music is my boyfriend / I bought a house and had no disposable income… But last year, everything changed. Four little (big) words: Radiohead. Lana. Del. Rey. My two favourite artists, headlining a music festival in the city I was growing to love more and more as I waited for my house to sell in the suburban countryside just outside of Montreal? It was meant for me. I went. I danced. I loved. It brought back memories of what it is that causes me to thrive in the environment of a live show – the energy and joy of people around you, all focused on the universal love of music and musicians – in other words, real life magic.
So, long before the lineup was announced in early 2017, it was already evident to me that I would be attending, if not for the music then to absorb that magic and revel in its power. When the lineup was finally released, I saw a handful of musicians I loved overpowered by a mass of groups and individuals I had never heard of. And in that moment it became clear that this was an opportunity to not only discover new music (and I did, oh did I ever) but also a chance to approach this festival with an open and free heart willing to go with the flow and do whatever felt right in the moment, with little regard for the scheduled performances.
The result was a series of vivid and magical moments that were very much true of Osheaga-August-2017-Montreal-Quebec, but could very well have been Woodstock-August-1969-White-Lake-New-York (barring all the iPhones and Instagram posts). What follows are snapshots of moments and nothing more, but while they are nothing, they are equally everything – these are my Osheaga-rose-coloured moments.
Appreciation of the weather and elements: On Day 1, Friday, August 4th, it pours. There is thunder and lightning. It rains sideways at times. Shows are cancelled for a few hours. Attendees huddle under trees in the hopes that they will not get electrocuted by lightning. Strangers become friends as they wait for the claps of thunder to pass so the music can start again. And in what most would call miserable weather, I find myself in the middle of a bleak and nearly empty field in front of the tiniest stage laughing hysterically at warm pellets of rain falling onto my face, soaking my body to its core. Because what is life, but a series of moments that are either bright and sunny or dark and miserable? Even in the dark and hot rain, my spirit soars and is in appreciation of everything Mother Nature has decided to throw at us.
Dancing with strangers: Late afternoon on the first day after being poured on for hours, the sun comes out and we find a (relatively) dry patch of grass to plop down on for 1 or 2 sets so we can gather our energy for the night ahead. And yet, after sitting for only a few minutes, I spot 2 people a few feet away dancing with an energy that is infectious. I lean over to my friend to tell her that I want to – no, I must join them, if only for a moment… So we do. We hop up and start dancing with them and they immediately accept us, even going so far as to share their dance move, uniquely called “The Cauliflower” – but they tell us that it can be named whatever we want. All that matters is embracing the arched backward and forward movement and enthusiastic waving of your arms. The time we spend dancing with them is fleeting, perhaps the length of only one song, but they are the kindest and most open dance partners I’ve ever encountered.
Love Love Love: Everywhere I turn, I see love incarnate. Free and open or delicate and closed, it is there in every form. Couples sway together or stand still, simply holding each other in a quiet moment. Friends run from stage to stage holding hands. Men loving each other, women loving each other, men and women loving each other, friends loving each other – it appears at different moments in different iterations and in every interaction I witness, there is a tenderness and passion so powerful that it radiates through the atmosphere, creating a blissful energy that is impossible to ignore.
Music Music Music: While my peak lineup was realized at Osheaga in 2016, going into this weekend there are still artists I am excited to see and they deliver performances that fill my heart and body to maximum capacity. I fall madly in love with Father John Misty as he smokes a cig while singing with fervour about the end of the world. My body explodes with energy and dance as Justice flawlessly transitions from one song to the next in a way that feels intense and epic. Alabama Shakes paralyze me temporarily – I am floored and unable to process the power of Brittany Howard’s hypnotic voice and feel the same emotion from others around me; the crowd at this set is so quiet it’s almost eerie.
Dance Dance Dance: I realize at one point over the weekend that my ability to weave through the crowds with ease and agility is not necessarily because of my small stature, but more because I have not stopped dancing since I have stepped onto the Osheaga playground. Yes, of course there is dancing at each of the sets – even when the music is soft and quiet I find myself dancing in slow motion, and this escalates all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum when an act like Sofi Tukker has me jumping and spinning non-stop for 60 minutes. But as I traverse from stage to stage around and between masses of people, it occurs to me that this too is a dance – and not the metaphorical kind. I’m actually dancing as I lead the way for my little crew of friends and this moment of realization is powerful: I am a sorceress of dance-navigation.
Style Style Style: Another moment of epiphany comes to me about mid-way through the weekend – festival style is the best style. Not because it is so crazy / over-the-top / dramatic / silly (which it is, and then some) but because it represents people in their most free and fearless state, wearing that which they most desire without fear of judgement. It is fun and wild and worn with pride – there is no trace of shame or insecurity on the faces of the spectacularly dressed, myself included. (Alright, I’ll admit it, I’m not so out there – crop tops and shorts and running shoes are low key but I leave my bras at home and that feels amazing.)
Goodwill amongst the lovers (or strangers, if you need to be literal): I feel that I cannot call the attendees of this festival strangers, particularly after spending 3 days with them in the same environment. They are all lovers… Of music, of dance, of style, of (let’s be honest) drugs and alcohol, of the manifested energy at the festival, of specific artists, of friends / lovers who love Osheaga (second-hand festival lovers)… and what they love on this list is irrelevant, because we are united by our presence in this place. We are respectful of each other’s space when it gets crowded. We offer strangers hand sanitizer at the porta-potty. We chase each other down when we notice someone has dropped a shirt or money. We love each other. We are lovers and strangers who care for each other in the tiniest but most meaningful ways.
Quiet and loud living in harmony: Most of my time is spent at what my friend and I decide to call the floating stage – a dock of inter-connected plastic blocks that rocks and bounces over a body of water under a tall DJ booth that blasts the best dance music all weekend. The music is fast and loud and the energy high – but early one afternoon only steps away over a wide bridge that crosses a calm body of water flanked by greenery, we stumble upon the quietest and smallest stage where a beautiful solitary female sings softly as the lovers around us lounge on the grass. This juxtaposition of quiet and loud so close yet so completely separate strikes us as pure magic and we stand in the quiet for several moments, taking in the serene energy around us… breathing deeply before we return to the wild jumping and dancing of the floating stage.
Bodies of water and seas of people: The location of Osheaga changes this year due to renovations on the other side of the island so the space is foreign but quickly adopted by me as an adult playground largely thanks to the numerous bridges that we need to crisscross to travel from stage to stage. Every moment crossing a bridge feels like a deep sigh of happiness (quite literally, my friend sighs with every crossing) and more than once we stop in the middle of a bridge to take in views of the water or watch people around us passing, engrossed in their own world and experience. Late on Day 3 it occurs to me that we are not only surrounded by bodies of water under the bridges and around the island; our lovers – the other festival attendees – represent a sea of people that flows around the playground in a beautiful swirl of water unlike any I have seen or felt before. There is the calm stream of people at the tiny stage where the movement is so slow we feel that we are creek-side… And then there are the strong tides of people moving back and forth between the 2 main stages, so powerful that one can get swept away if they do not keep their head up and footing strong.
Knowing looks on the Metro: The best feeling at the beginning of each day is being underground in the Metro and noticing or catching the eye of a fellow Osheaga lover. They are unmistakable, not because of their bright pink wristbands but because their style or their giddy energy screams OSHEAGA. A similar sentiment is felt at the end of the night – we all exit the playground together and as we return to the real world, we feel united even as we trickle away at every stop.
Closing ceremonies and a powerful drop of energy: The Weeknd closes Osheaga and he goes out with the best bang possible – fireworks. Yet even as he returns to the stage for his encore, lovers begin to exit – perhaps in an effort to get a jump on their special time in the Metro with other lovers? As the lights turn on and my immediate lovers suggest we depart, I request that we stand completely still. Let the lovers around us go, we’re in no rush, we have a long wait to get home. So we stand facing the main stage, watching and feeling the tide of people split and part around us… And in that moment, I feel a powerful surge of energy in the air that sparks and begins to fizzle. It is the energy of the lovers and this magical festival, slowly dropping from the upper levels of the atmosphere, quieting and softening as it releases until it drops to my toes and dissipates into the earth. I silently thank the lovers (and organizers!! WHO ARE YOU, YOU MAGICAL BEINGS?!) while attempting to absorb the energy so I can carry this magic into the real world, and say goodnight.