Another local addition to the festival was the Montreal based band Karkwa, who played to a large crowd on one of the biggest stages at the festival, a setting that seemed tailor made for the band’s high energy, folk rock sound. Karkwa has risen in commercial prominence throughout recent years, particularly after they became the first Francophone band to win the Polaris Music Prize in 2010.
However, as one of very few Francophone bands to perform at this year’s festival, Karkwa seems to have exemplified the tremendous disparity that exists in the success rate between Anglophone and Francophone musicians, even in Quebec.
In a telephone interview with The Daily, Stéphane Bergeron, the band’s drummer, acknowledged the relative linguistic inequality at this year’s festival, while also expressing a certain level of understanding for it. “Mathematically, yes, there were a lot more Anglophone bands than Francophone bands,” he conceded, “because [Osheaga] tries to book world wide, and international bands.”
He emphasized that this disparity did not particularly bother him, and expressed a view that, from an artist’s standpoint, bands should be free to write in whatever language suits them. “I’d like to encourage people, if they speak French for the most part of the day, to create in French, but I don’t have a problem with people who sing in English even if they are Francophone,” he explained.
While artists like Bergeron may not have been bothered by Osheaga’s anglo-centrism, it seems that the festival missed an opportunity to distinguish itself from other large North American festivals by not taking advantage of the multi-lingual possibilities Montreal has to offer. “I feel that Osheaga could be in Toronto and it wouldn’t feel much different,” revealed Standell-Preston.
“You don’t get that taste of Montreal when you attend it.” Osheaga not only failed to exhibit Montreal’s musical distinctiveness, but also denied accessibility to many of the city’s music fans through its high ticket prices. Artists like Standell-Preston and Bergeron, however, recognized that this was an unavoidable part of the music festival structure.“All festivals have higher ticket prices as there are many bands that you can see,” observed Standell-Preston.
As she saw it, attendees were likely not drawn by any single band in particular but by the allure of the festival as a whole. It seems that festival organizers did, however, keep in mind the possibility of individual bands attracting distinct crowds by offering alternatives to the full festival pass, such as single day tickets.
A high price tag was not the only aspect of Osheaga that may have detracted from the festival’s musical focus. The proliferation of corporate sponsorship on the festival grounds was so heavy in many cases, that it served as a distraction, undermining both the music and the liveliness of the festival’s atmosphere.
The festivals sponsors were, like much of the musical line-up, predominantly international. Osheaga once again missed an opportunity to make itself distinct by avoiding ties with more local companies, in this respect.
Festivals like Osheaga occupy a somewhat tenuous role in the musical culture of a city like Montreal. Certainly, the festival brought together a broad spectrum of musical talent, giving Montrealers a chance to witness a slough of stellar performances over the course of just a few short days.
As Bergeron observed, “Montreal is a city where you have a lot of music lovers,” and a festival like Osheaga undoubtedly caters to them. Even so, the festival, due to a variety of factors, such as cost or language barriers, remained inaccessible to large demographic swaths of the city it exists to serve.
Extract from "A fair weather festival ?" Fabien Maltais-Bayda, Published on September 1, 2011 in The McGill Daily