After years of skipping out on what had been widely reported as a fantastic festival, on July 31st, 2016 I drove to Montreal for the Osheaga Festival. Though it had been pulling in big-name acts since its inception a decade before the Osheaga Festival had always just missed the mark for me, and to be honest if it was up to me I wouldn’t have gone this time around either.
But it wasn’t up to me; it was m’lady’s birthday and on m’lady’s birthday we do what m’lady wants to do. (Of course the situation is completely reciprocal; December 29th is all mine every year.)
And m’lady wanted to go to Montreal to see Radiohead.
Now, I’ve never been a big fan of Radiohead. Okay scratch that: I’ve never been a fan of the band at all. I’ve taught a couple of their songs over the years (Fake Plastic Trees jumps to mind) and a friend gave me a copy of OK Computer for my birthday one year (December 29th, in case you were wondering). I’ve listened to that CD a total of maybe three times.
Is it fair to say I don’t ‘get it’? I think so. Too many people I know with fine musical tastes worship this band, and I’ve certainly not listened to enough of the band’s material to claim to have given them a fair chance. But I didn’t care for the Allman Brothers until I saw them live…perhaps a live Radiohead concert would change my mind about them as well?
Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
Osheaga takes place in Parc Jean-Drapeau on the Île Sainte-Hélène, or John Drappo Park on St. Helen Island for the mono-linguists out there. In either language it’s a great spot for a music festival, with tree-lined paths leading to stages set in forest clearings and plenty of grassy knolls upon which to park one’s carcass. It’s actually somewhat reminiscent of the Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Moreover, Osheaga has a vibe…a feel…a character. Some festivals are nothing more than stages, beer tents and fences and they feel that way. But other festivals approach things with a consistent sense of style. Good, informative and quirky signage, sizeable and interesting art installations, hip kiosks, free essentials, happy, well-trained staff and so much more can really augment the experience of overpaying for bad beer and standing in a field watching a band play what may very well be a truncated set.
I soaked up the Osheaga vibe while enjoying sets by Nathaniel Rateliff and his Southern groove soul on one of the sidestages and the very smooth, very well-dressed Leon Bridges on the much larger mainstage. I also put in a lot of time sitting on a few of those grassy knolls just soaking up the scene and putting away some of those overpriced beers.
When Radiohead’s set time neared the vibe was mostly left behind as the entire population of the festival squeezed onto the flat, square acreage of gravel that faced the mainstage and waited for the band to start.
And soon proceeded two hours of whiny tripe that was utterly worshipped by everyone around me. I know, I know…Radiohead is amazing, ethereal…transcendent even and unquestionably one of the greatest, most innovative bands of the modern era. Or so I’ve been told. To me it just sounds like a bunch of long, melismatic nasally notes set on top of endless two-chord repetitions.
And now you are all looking at me like I look at people who don’t ‘get’ The Tragically Hip. Well, you’re right – I’m sure of that – but I yam what I yam, and I yam not a fan of Radiohead.
One thing from this night will stay with me forever: when the show ended the crowd turned and started the standard slow cattle-crawl towards the exit. We were all crowded in shoulder-to-shoulder and stepping on countless plastic beers cups when my friend Dave turned to me and said, “I like to pretend that we’re stepping on the crushed skulls of our vanquished foes.”
It’s an image that can’t be unthunk, and now I think it every time I leave a crowded festival, which is quite often. It’s so horrible.
That’s actually the thing with Dave. He tries so hard to be horrible but everybody just loves the guy. I call it the “Radiohead strategy”.