Osheaga Music and Arts Festival

By Erin Shumlich

Sweat drips down your forehead from the heat of 50,000 bodies all around, compressing you into a tight area where your hands can hardly move. An arm raises and a hairy armpit is shoved in your face, the sweat mixing with your own. In the heat of the night, you wait in anticipation.

The second headliner Eminem walks on stage, your body sways with others’ in excitement. The soup of sweat is all worth it for that moment as you, and everyone around you, belts out every single word of “8 Mile.”

Don’t like Eminem? Well, even though I know you’re lying, luckily music festivals offer something for everyone.

Unfortunately, there is such a short amount of time in Canada when major outdoor music events are possible- that is, without the threat of freezing to death after passing out from too much beer. With the remnants of the Montreal music festival Osheaga slowly fading away after the last weekend in July, the Canadian festival scene is coming to a close.

Joey Greco is one fiery Calgarian who, like me, made the pilgrimage to Montreal for the “best festival of the year.”

“Is it already over?” Greco asked. “It was amazing. I would do it ten times over. After that, I would probably need to sleep.”

Greco has been heavily involved in the festival scene this summer, trekking to big-name shindigs like Coachella, Sasquatch and, most recently, Osheaga.

Of the three, he claims Osheaga has the best food. Can anything beat French-Canadian poutine?

“It’s not just about the music,” Greco asserted. “It’s about hanging out with friends and like-minded people and just having a good time.”

Osheaga was not just a good time for music lovers, but for music makers as well. The three-day-long festival in Parc Jean-Drapeau, a small island in Montreal, has seen its popularity skyrocket since it started five years ago. This year’s attendance was a record 81,233 people, and this climbing number shows no sign of slowing down. This figure is far from unimpressive, especially for a festival that features many lesser-known bands.

Due to logistical issues, the schedule failed to advertise in advance one of the festival’s best rising talents. Experimental indie-soul electronica duo Freedom or Death was added to a second day of the schedule at the last minute, and I was lucky to find the smallest stage at Osheaga on the Sunday afternoon. The stage, hidden among a bundle of trees, hosted a trio of musicians that enchanted the audience for a thirty-minute set.

Vocalist Sway and DJ Fernandez used to be prominent fixtures on the professional side of the music industry until they both quit their cushy jobs to pursue their own musical fantasies. Thus, Freedom or Death was born, and with just four years under their belt, they have become a name to watch out for.

“We write music the way we want to hear it, not [according to]what other people say we should do,” Fernandez says of their new seven-song EP, Ego, that came out in April.

“Art is always in conflict with business. Artists are trying to make a living and they have to think about business, but business doesn’t always think about the best things for art. Working in the industry is kind of the lens showing how things are done. We were discouraged by the means that we used to promote music versus focusing on the art.

“If [this] doesn’t work, at least we swung the bat at trying to make our own art form.”

With big plans for the future, including a road trip across Canada, Freedom or Death live by the mantra their name implies.

“The whole ‘freedom-or-death’ thing, it’s much bigger than the music thing. It’s more of a conversation starter for how people live their life. Deal with the choices you want to make or don’t even try it.”

The sixth edition of Osheaga provided unequivocal fun for those lucky enough to find themselves there. The only glimpse of unwanted chaos was caught at the end of the night when the fun times ended and thousands of festivalgoers waited for the single train off the island. However, this was a small price to pay to see the incredible performances of bands like Beirut, the Rural Alberta Advantage, Ratatat and Mother Mother.

Until next year, Osheaga Music and Arts Festival I can’t wait to kick off my shoes again and spend another three days in music heaven.

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