Osheaga 2011 in review: When does a lot become too much?

It seems the current trend with music festivals is to focus on cramming as many acts as possible onto as many stages as possible, in as few days as possible, pushing the ideas of comfort, enjoyment and feasibility much, much lower down the priorities list.

Montreal’s annual Osheaga festival is known for bringing audiences a wide array of performances, from different genres and regions of the world, but this year’s installment seemed to fall victim to the aforementioned trend. Now, before you decide whether you agree with my review or not, please allow me to plead my case.

So, let’s get right to the numbers: 92 bands on five stages over three days. At first, this seems exciting and extremely appealing (92 bands for one ticket is a steal, right?), until the reality sets in that it just won’t be possible to see all the bands you want to see (unless you have a time machine you’re not telling us about). But life is all about choices so I must say that I would have interpreted the sheer volume of bands on the bill as a great plus, if the event’s organization wasn’t so lacking. Where last year’s Osheaga went off without a hitch (at least as far as I remember it), Osheaga 2011 had several downfalls.

My festival experience truly began on Friday night with Janelle Monáe’s Montreal debut. Having seen her perform at CMW only a few months ago, I knew what a spectacular set she was bound to put on and I waited in anticipation for her entrance. The wonder that is Monáe did not disappoint in the least and within minutes, she had both devoted fans and passersby in the palm of her hand. The dynamo – who is a bit like a mix between Michael Jackson, David Bowie and Lady Gaga – put on a killer set packed with costumes, dancing and her own miniature orchestra, which included a unitard-clad cello player whose instrument was nothing more than strings on a black frame.

Having arrived early, I was able to snag a place in the front row, which I was excited about, until my view (and the view of those next to me) was blocked by the arrival of numerous individuals in the photo pit who were not photographers. Let me say that I was given a photo pass, or so I thought until I showed up at the media tent and discovered I was allowed to take photos but not from the pit. Slightly confused by this concept, I accepted the fact that there must just have been too many applications and only a few were selected, which was fair game. The arrival of other bands, techs, families and unidentified individuals in the pit, not just for three songs but for a majority of the set, was unnerving.

Known for its ability to serve up every genre from hip-hop to hardcore to rock in one weekend, Osheaga delivered once again. After all, in what other scenario could you imagine seeing Canadian rockers Sam Roberts Band, American rapper Lupe Fiasco, francophone indie darlings Malajube, alt rockers and music veterans Death Cab for Cutie and Canadian hip-hop artist Shad playing as part of the same line-up?

However, the one minus I’d like to point out is that having changed the festival’s length from two to three days, Osheaga seemed to wear itself out a little too quickly. The most anticipated act of the weekend, Eminem, rocked the crowd on Friday night and it was a downhill journey from there. Saturday night headliner Elvis Costello, for example, drew a crowd that wasn’t anywhere near as big. The buzz seemed to build up to Eminem, explode during his set, then venture off for the rest of the weekend. In past years, when the festival only ran for two days, the talent seemed to ooze from every passing second, but this was not the case once everything was stretched out to span over an extra day.

As for Eminem’s first return to the city in over ten years, it left me wanting more. Eminem’s newest material, which made up a large chunk of the night, just isn’t as impressive as his classic stuff and the moment a rapper uses a backup singer for most of his set, I raise my eyebrows. Last year’s performance by Snoop Dogg was unforgettable and this one, not so much. The throngs of fans leaving before the end of the set (many of them wearing Eminem merch) made me think I wasn’t alone in my opinion.

On Sunday, the third and final day, the Tragically Hip and Flaming Lips managed to bring the end of the festival back up a number of notches by delivering solid performances. However, what wasn’t so solid was how Beirut, due to technical difficulties, cut half an hour into City and Colour’s set. No matter how loud City and Colour fans screamed and booed, Beirut would not stop playing. Even once all City and Colour members were up on their stage, ready to play, nobody stopped Beirut. The fiasco seemed like the perfect moment for an organizer to step in, but that was not to be and City and Colour left after twenty minutes, their fans sad and disappointed after having waited in the scorching sun, thinking they were going to be treated to much, much more.

The question I was left mulling over on my way home that night was: Where do you draw the line and when does a lot become too much?

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One reply on “Osheaga 2011 in review: When does a lot become too much?”

This issue is becoming a real problem facing Festivals. There are an increasing number of festivals cramming in an increasing number of bands and by consequence diluting the whole experience. In the UK the organizers of Glastonbury and Isle of Wight are complaining that Festivals are driving themselves to extinction because of this very problem.

While some will argue it is a better bang for the buck, others (and I would count you in this list) are starting to wonder whether too much is maybe just too much. I mean really, how many stages can one possibly check out in one day without getting frustrated?

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