As you’ve surely noticed by now, here at Monocle we have a soft spot for soft power – the positive cultural and economic strengths of a nation or city – and Montréal’s Osheaga festival is a good example. I won’t go as far as claiming that a summer music festival can sustain a city but it can definitely help it get rediscovered on the cultural map. It also pours a dollar or two into the local economy: C$30m (€20.5m) in Osheaga’s case.
In less than a decade the festival has managed to become one of the most sought-out music events in North America. The ninth edition just wrapped up this weekend bringing a total of 135,000 visitors (including mayor Denis Coderre) to the picturesque Parc Jean-Drapeau to see sets from Lorde, The Replacements, Chromeo, Chvrches and my personal favourites, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
But putting on a successful festival in this day and age is not simply about a booking a great set of bands. The modern festival-goer requires all the creature comforts of home, and it’s a reflection of a city’s quality of life in how well these are catered for. Montréal rose to the occasion – phone charger stations and wi-fi areas were available, as were ATM machines and an impressive 4,500 staff on site to ensure that everything went smoothly. City Hall even chipped in, setting up a special three-day Metro pass for concert-goers at a reduced price and organisers spent C$150,000 (€102,000) on sound control in order to make nearby residents happy (and to address last year’s noise complaints).
Worth it? Absolutely. With nearly 75 percent of visitors coming from out of town, Montréal has somehow unassumingly managed to succeed where a lot of bigger and more established festivals have failed. There were none of the familiar get-me-out-of-here feelings that creep up during a weekend at Lollapalooza or Coachella. I found my 30-something self easily spending a day on site without feeling stranded, running out of cash or desperately looking for a toilet.
There are dozens of good music festivals across North America and in the crowded marketplace it’s getting increasingly hard to pick one where you should spend your cash. But the big guns can surely learn a lesson or two from Osheaga on how to make massive music gatherings of thousands of people feel like a jolly, small concert-hall affair. And as for next year’s 10th anniversary, founder Nick Farkas assures me that there will be plenty more to be looking forward to.
Nelly Gocheva is Toronto bureau chief for Monocle.