Osheaga 2016: The Best of the Fest

Wow…what a weekend we just had at Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal. After returning to Ottawa today feeling mentally and physically exhausted, I can’t help but have a bit of post-festival blues. Osheaga 2016 checked some major names off my bucket list, blew my mind more than a few times, and has left me with tons of new music to go investigate. Before going into a few notable performances from the weekend, I just want to emphasize how well Osheaga is put together. With exceptional sound quality at every stage, very little sound bleeding over, and the fact that a sold out festival has a way of not feeling too crowded, the Osheaga team did a phenomenal job. Thanks for putting on such a great festival.

Now let’s get down to the top 5 independent artists of Osheaga 2016. Remember, these are all personal preference and there were many artists I unfortunately had to miss.

5. The Barr Brothers

Just like last year at Ottawa CityFolk, The Barr Brothers put together a set of variety, featuring powerful full-band folk numbers, soulful acoustic tunes, and blistering blues jams. I think being at one of the smaller stages would have really helped this set, as there were a lot of distracted audience members chatting away during the more delicate parts of the set, but that didn’t stop the band from delivering a quality performance.

4. Busty and the Bass

Considering the fact that this set was a funky, high-energy dance party from start to finish, it may come as a bit of surprised that this was a breather set for me. As we were getting later into day 2 the relaxed call of the Scène des Arbres was irresistible, so I sat to the side under the trees and took in the show from a slight distance. These guys were firing on all cylinders, and the crowd was loving every minute of it. A beautiful, positive, fun-loving spirit emanates from Busty and the Bass as they use the power of soul and a full horn section to get the audience on their feet and in the air.

3. Kurt Vile and the Violators

These guys were an interesting contrast from most of the shows on the main stages of Osheaga. Usually, the artists put on the main stage have a certain charisma that can grab the attention of those who might just be hanging around for a later show, but Kurt Vile had zero stage presence. A charismatic bandleader, however, would not have worked for this set. The aloofness of Kurt Vile and the Violators fit perfectly with the laid-back indifference of their psychedelic grunge. Deadpan vocals and distorted guitars gave the set a hazy quality as the band floated through their Saturday afternoon set, and it hit just the spot.

2. Half Moon Run

The highlight of my Friday, and one of the best sets of the fest, was Half Moon Run. These guys played tight indie rock/folk with the perfect combination of raw power and delicate precision. Having seen Half Moon Run I pretty much got what I expected musically. The music was dark and dramatic, with every band member getting in on the percussion to give the music a primal energy. What I did not expect, however, was just how well these guys functions as musical superstars on the big stage. During my previous, smaller show of theirs they struck me as a bit reserved, focusing on playing their music with expertise, but on Friday they worked the stage with the presence of seasoned veterans. That being said, the main stage detracted a bit when folks again started talking during quieter moments.

1. Radiohead

The final set of Osheaga. Their only show in Canada, and one of six in North America. This was the most anticipated event of the festival, and it left me, and everyone around me, completely speechless. I have always had the utmost respect for Radiohead as the creators of some of the most original albums in music history and for flawless production. What I did not fully understand was that the band would not only be able to recreate every polyrhythm and musical oddity in their songs, but they would expand on that and explore their music with that exact same precision. The layering of each band member had the audience doing mental gymnastics just to process the sound, while big screens provided the rest of the sensory overload. Thom Yorke’s voice carried a breathtaking emotional weight, delivering a passionate performance. It was in the calmest moments that I realized the power of this music. Not only was I hanging on every inflection, the entire crowd seemed deathly quiet. It’s tough to pick favourites in a 2-hour set that captivates you from beginning to end, but I particularly loved “Everything In Its Right Place”, “Idioteque”, “Nude”, “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”, and of course, “Paranoid Android”.

Meanwhile, in major label land…

First things first, if I learned one thing about Osheaga this is year, it’s that I should go to the Scène des Arbres as much as possible. That little stage is the absolute perfect environment for me, and I caught two of my top 3 sets of the festival there:

Hiatus Kaiyote – Those that were diligent and made it to Osheaga early enough on Saturday to catch this set were well-rewarded. This Australian band which amalgamates R&B, jazz, and who knows what else into a groovy, blissful combination had me grinning ear-to-ear. This set was so smooth but so complex, allowing the most discerning listener and the audience member who is just looking for a satisfying tune to get down to Hiatus Kaiyote. Talent oozed from every member of the band as they traveled seamlessly through chord and time changes that floored me, but everything still made so much sense (though I don’t know if that sentence made sense). It perfectly satisfied my need to dance and my need to hear something I absolutely cannot hear anywhere else, all in the perfect, cozy environment of the Scène des Arbres.

Aurora – I skipped half of Death Cab for Cutie largely because I wanted to check out the Scène des Arbres after sundown, with the added incentive of learning more about a band that intrigued me. To address point 1, that stage at night has an ethereal quality that is not present at any other stage, and isn’t present there during the day. The way the darkness shifts as the stage lights reflect off the surrounding trees is something to behold. And when you have the Norwegian powerhouse known as Aurora providing the soundtrack, there isn’t much that can top it. The sheer emotional strength of Aurora had me wide-eyed, staring at the stage in total attention. The set was dramatic, evocative, and extremely Scandinavian. Aurora has a voice that is totally engrossing in a live setting, and her charming stage persona just makes me want her to go far as an artist.

There was so much more at Osheaga 2016 than can possibly be written here. It was a festival for the ages. Now I just have to find the time to listen to all of these artists that are commanding my attention.

See you again next year, Osheaga!



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