Osheaga 2023 Ends On High Note

The third and final day of Osheaga was as packed with people as it was with memorable performances on all three days
Kendrick Lamar photo by Chris Snow

The third and final day of Osheaga was as packed with people as it was with memorable performances. A quick media chat with founder Nick Farkas revealed that attendance was sold out on Saturday and Sunday – 54,000 people per day – and 47,000 on Friday. Some journalists asked about Osheaga predictions given Montreal’s big plans for the whole of Parc Jean Drapeau, where the festival site is located. “The plan for the future presents challenges,” said Farkas, but Osheaga “wants to work together with the city.” After all, Mayor Valerie Plante came on Saturday to take it all in. So how confident is Farkas in the future of Osheaga? “100%.”

Here’s hoping that something can be done to adjust the slightly awkward elements of the site. At full capacity, it is very difficult and uncomfortable to get around, and frustrated people do not a good audience make. It’s most likely growing pains, given the reduced access to the forested areas of Jean Drapeau, and there must certainly be a creative work around – more shaded areas? Perhaps slightly less capacity?

This being said, it was still epic. Kicking off the Northern Transmissions final day experience was Beabadoobee. Coming from an experience as opening act for Ms. Taylor Swift’s enormous Eras tour, her soft voice and accompanying guitar jangle was lovely to hear loudly, and she performed crowd pleasers like “Apple Cider” and “the perfect pair”.

A rush over to the other side of the site was essential for Philadelphia rapper Armani White, hot off his surprise appearance Saturday singing TikTok monster hit “Billie Eilish” with Billie Eilish. But much like Beabadoobee with her own TikTok hit “Coffee for Your Head”, White also demonstrated that he has much more to offer with an energetic show at the Valley stage. He flirted with a woman in the crowd as a precursor to “Rob Your Ex”, got a mosh pit going, and ended the show surfing over the crowd on an air mattress while performing his iconic hit.

Moving across the park and the pond, was London Drill MC Central Cee. He had a DJ warm up the crowd, which, for a set of less than an hour, seemed a bit unnecessary. Yes, the man they call Cench has the chops, and he brought his UK sound to the audience he called “real ones”. Challenging the Osheaga prohibition on the practice, Cench called for women to sit on shoulders and sing along to “Obsessed With You”, his track that samples sweet-voiced Pink Pantheress’s “Just For Me”. The set contained “Let Go”, “Commitment Issues”, “Sprinter”, and of course, a “Doja” singalong, the whole crowd yelling “How can I be homophobic? My bitch is gay”, a line which may or may not make sense.

After a few minutes of waiting, Kim Petras, dressed in blue and black with pouffy white sleeves and a frilly corset top, burst on stage to “Alone”, which has the bonus of having one of the most recognizable rhythms of the last quarter century. Alongside dancers in Marie Antoinette-era bustiers, knickers, gold embroidery and t-shirts reading “let them eat cake”, Petras ran through the entirety of the SlutPop e.p. with explicit aplomb, yet ended with a sugary song featuring an uncharacteristic lack of fellatio references: “Heart to Break”.

The growing masses made it impossible to rush over to see Japanese Breakfast, who from all reports was wonderful, so that meant Fred Again. The aristocratic beat maker from London is known for earnest, uplifting electronic compositions that mix in bits of conversations and sampled snippets. He energized the crowd with jump-up-and-down worthy tracks, with messages like “it gets better with time” and “I adore you” (a song dedicated to his sister and sampling fellow Brit Obongjayar’s “I Wish It Was Me”). The climax, of course, was his pandemic-era hit, containing the Blessed Madonna’s words lamenting the lack of collective experience: “Marea (we’ve lost dancing)”.

The headliner everyone had been waiting for throughout the festival was the incomparable Kendrick Lamar. A luminary like Lamar gracing Osheaga’s stage for a third time, demonstrating deserved living legend status throughout his performance. Large-scale fabric prints of works by Los Angeles painter Henry Taylor acted as backdrops for Lamar’s stellar renditions of songs from throughout his deep catalogue, the audience joining him word for word – which, for obvious reasons, was disappointing. Lamar has made it clear in the past that the n-word is not one white folk need to say. Every song was a set piece with pauses in between that allowed for the crowd to take a breath and, one would hope, think.

Overall, however, an exhilarating performance to end an exhilarating weekend, not without room for improvement, but more than enough to fuel anticipation for next year’s edition.

Words by Erin MacLeod


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