An artist’s guide to playing (and surviving) Osheaga

Survival tips from someone who's played Osheaga (and didn't have the greatest time)

July 26, 2016

If you’ve ever lived in Montreal, you know that this is a special time of year.

Just like that, the depressive, angsty haze that’s settled over us all dissipates and we‘re drawn together instinctively, like migrating sea turtles, to descend upon the city’s terraces, bars, parks and music venues to congregate and remind each other that we’ve survived another winter and are stronger because of it. All of a sudden, we remember why we love it here. Plans begin to form. After all, there’s plenty to be excited about. Not least among them is Montreal’s world-renowned festival season, including its now 10-year-old crown jewel, Osheaga.

This year’s iteration might just be the biggest Osheaga yet, headlined by iconic funky hitmakers The Red Hot Chili Peppers, neo-noir femme fatale pop star Lana Del Rey, and on the final night, a resurgent Radiohead, who seem to be creatively reinvigorated and will almost assuredly lead the many thousands watching their performance into a state of blissful transcendence. Also performing are synth-pop masters and potential 80’s time-travellers M83, catchy pop-rock trio Haim, Montreal’s own Half Moon Run, the Barr Brothers & Wolf Parade (!), folk-rockers The Lumineers, current zeitgeist rapper Future and legendary cholo bong-hitters Cypress Hill, along with Todd Terje & The Olsens, Dragonette, Silversun Pickups, and a whole slew of other terrific performers and artists from across the genre spectrum.

This lineup will also inevitably include a handful of lesser known acts that have perhaps not yet had the opportunity to play at such an incredible event. Well, the following tips are meant for those up-and-comers, and they’re coming from someone who just so happens to have played at the very first Osheaga all those years ago; someone whose experience there was… less than ideal. [Ed note: It’s the author!].

Follow these simple guidelines, and your day performing at Montreal’s premiere music festival will go off without a hitch.

Be professional

This is one that I wish someone had told me way back when. Because, while eating hallucinogenic mushrooms and drinking heavily in the sun all day when you’re attending a music festival can be a wonderful, life-affirming experience, when you’re playing at the festival, and thus have various duties and responsibilities that need to be carried out with some basic level of competency, the same formula is a recipe for utter disaster. So, don’t be that person. This is coming from a place of hard-earned experience.

Take advantage of the catering

Even if you’re not hungry. If you’re a mid-level band, chances are you’re not exactly wielding the kind of clout that gets you much more than a handful of crumpled beer tickets and, if you’re a really big deal, a few bucks to order a pizza after your show. At Osheaga you’ve got a world-class catering service that can attend to your every need, so you need to hit that up. But keep in mind this means eating healthy, nutritious food. If you skip dinner and find yourself downing ill-advised shots of Jack Daniels with a few complete strangers in a dark tent, totally oblivious to the fact that Sonic freaking Youth is playing just a few hundred metres away, you’re going to have a bad time.

Pace yourself

In 2005, we were one of the very first bands to play, and we finished at around 1:30 in the afternoon. Ostensibly, this might seem ideal. In theory, you now have the whole day to enjoy the festival and imbibe in a few frosty brews, right? Wrong. This is a big time rookie mistake. If you still want to be standing and at least somewhat coherent at the end of the night, you need to take it slow and steady. Remember the hare. The one who angrily vomited while screaming obscenities at his hare friends and had to call them individually to apologise the next day.

Act like you’ve been there before

When you’re playing at a large festival like Osheaga, you’re sharing the stage with some great musicians, maybe even musicians that you’ve admired and followed for years. You have a chance to respectfully engage them in conversation not as some fawning fan, but as a peer – an equal. Or you could do what I did, and corner J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr in the food tent while he’s just trying to eat his vegetarian burrito in peace, and ramble incoherently about the ancient astronaut theory while he shakes his head sadly and tries to politely excuse himself.

Take lots of pictures

Remember: just because you’re here now doesn’t mean you’re going to back. Make sure you end up with a few visual keepsakes to remember the experience. That last thing you want is to retire from music to become… I don’t know, let’s say a writer, and then, years later, try and remember what it was like playing at such an important distinguished event, and can only come up with a hazy, jumbled mess of sadness and regret.

Don’t forget to hydrate

Heat stroke is serious business, folks. Make sure you drink lots of water. As a side bonus, this will help prevent you from becoming a shambling, drooling mess that embarasses him or herself and his or her colleagues in front of some of the biggest names in the music industry. It’s also good for the skin.

Remember where you parked

Festival parking is always a nightmare, and it’s no different for the bands backstage. Take a picture of the area you left your vehicle so you can easily get back there. You’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favours if you inadvertently lead your long-suffering roadie and increasingly disappointed bandmates on a hopeless quest to find your beat up van, only to abandon the search midway through after you start nervously muttering about the gigantic evil spiders that you notice emerging from the bushes and run off screaming into the night.

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