The family had taken up half the restaurant as they all sat amongst themselves by the windows at the front of the establishment. It was a mixture of adults and kids, enjoying food and great conversation, I’m sure. While I kept eyeing them, a couple feet away, I couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying. It was certainly rude of me to stare, let alone eavesdrop on a conversation.
I was at a table with two other friends at a restaurant, Lawrence, in the Mile End district in Montreal. One of my friends, Meghan, was almost embarrassed at how enamoured I was with the massive family and the amount of space they had taken up. It was like watching a traveling circus take a break in-between shows. She was able to handle herself with a bit more gravitas in these moments. Back then, at the ripe old age of 18, I had to hold in the urge to step to a celebrity and ask for an autograph. You know, like an actual fan.
My attention was soon taken by one of the members, a tall gentleman with a vintage Pittsburgh Pirates cap, at the table. Meghan had already discouraged me from approaching the family and asking them all for autographs, but I knew I had to make them notice me, somehow. Eventually, the gentleman got up from the table and made his way to the restroom. As he walked over, I yelled, “Hey,” and the man turned his head. “Nice hat,” I said. He smiled, said “thanks,” and walked towards the restroom.
Again, Meghan wasn’t impressed. But I didn’t care. I had the courage to compliment the gentleman, known in these parts as Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, on his sense of style. Butler eventually returned to his table, surrounded his band mates and their kids, and enjoyed the rest of their outing. It was the start of one of the most surreal, bizarre, and thrilling days of my teenage years.
About 30 minutes after the encounter, Meghan, another friend, Marissa, and I made our way into a Montreal metro station. We were on our way to Osheaga, an annual outdoor musical festival that takes over Parc Jean-Drapeau, located on an island across the city. Osheaga held its first show on the island in 2006, featuring a number of indie darlings and acts like Damian Marley, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Metric, k-os, and Lady Sovereign. The festival has since grown in numbers and has accommodated many more prestigious acts ranging from Outkast, Coldplay, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead, Lorde, Lana Del Rey, among others. The island featured a number of stages with concerts happening all over.
In 2012, the headliners were Snoop Dogg — around the time he had renamed himself Snoop Lion — The Black Keys, and French electronic music duo Justice. The Weeknd had already released his first three mixtapes but wasn’t nearly the household name he was destined to be — you’d get the response: “Saturday? Sunday?” if you asked most people about The Weeknd. A$AP Rocky had released his debut tape, Live.Love.A$AP months earlier. Finally, Montreal producer Kaytranada went by the name Kaytradamus.
It was the first time I was ever going to attend a concert that wasn’t at my church, had some ties to gospel music, and more importantly, without any of my family members. I bought a ticket to the opening day of the festival on Facebook days earlier, thanks to a friend who wanted to auction it off to the highest bidder. I had money to spend, thanks to my accountant grandfather who let me shred papers in his office for a couple weekends that summer, and I successfully bid for the ticket uncontested: $50.
After withstanding packed metro cart after metro cart, filled to the brim with antsy partygoers, we stepped out of the Parc Jean-Drapeau metro station and onto the island. Once we got past security, we were allowed into the literal teenage wasteland. People in short shorts, tank tops, caps, and sunglasses ran amok from stage to stage. Sure, there were older adults, but they blended in the crowd and didn’t make themselves seen, or heard, to the same degree as the more youthful participants.
We started walking around the island filled with gravel paths leading the way to green spaces with disc jockeys blasting songs, bands crooning to whoever would listen, and people handing out Coca-Cola cans on almost every inch of the park. We eventually made our way to an open field where a band started to play on the Green Stage. I don’t remember if it was Of Monsters & Men or the Bombay Bicycle Club.
Eventually, we ran into more friends including one named Justin. We all made small talk in an open field as a group of concert goers next to us started passing a frisbee around. One of the frisbee wielding dudebros soon chucked the pink plastic disc into the air. I noticed it hover over Justin’s head and pointed at it prior to its descent. It soon flew downward, accelerating like a meteor heading towards the Earth. Before I could even brace for impact, the frisbee hit the homie in between his eyes. He was human, so he held his face in pain, but we would only see the true extent of the damage later.
Later in the afternoon, I split off to watch shows with Justin and two other friends. The plan was to get front-row viewing for The Weeknd by the Mountain Stage; sitting at the foot of a mountain where a giant “OSHEAGA” sign was lurched atop it. We took in the band Amadou & Miriam, a blind husband and wife duo from Mali, whose sounds had the crowd dancing.
Right next to the Mountain Stage, UK band Franz Ferdinand took over on the River Stage. To this day, I only remember them playing one song — the one song every EA Sports NHL video game fan knows. It wasn’t even the final song of their set.
It wouldn’t be long until The Weeknd made his way to the Mountain Stage.
He rocked his set, crooning and belting out cuts from all three of his debut mixtapes, House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence. He even gave us a solo version of Drake’s “Crew Love.” For a minute, I wondered if The Weeknd would surprise us all and bring out the OVO ringleader. He didn’t, and, in hindsight, I’m glad. “Crew Love” stands out as one of the best songs off of Drake’s Take Care album, and it’s a supremely better joint with him off it.
At one point during The Weeknd’s set, I tried to get Justin’s attention. He turned his head towards me and it was then that I truly noticed the bruise left by the falling frisbee. It was bright pink and and stood out like a sore thumb on his forehead. To quote the late, great Rick James, the frisbee’s mark was imprinted on Justin’s head for at least a week. It didn’t matter to him because he, just like the rest of our group, was in awe at The Weeknd’s MJ-esque vocals.
I looked back at the crowd behind me. Hundreds of fans had piled up and they were losing their minds. Some fans passed out and security had to drag fans out of the mess, carrying them out.
I remember one moment in his set, as The Weeknd belted the hook from “The Birds Pt. 1” off Thursday.
So don’t you fall in love
Don’t make me make you fall in love
Don’t make me make you fall in love with a nigga like me
Nobody needs to fall in love
I swear I’m just a bird
Girl, I’m just another bird
Don’t make me make you fall in love with a nigga like me
One white girl had no problem singing the hook in my face as I began to grasp that hundreds of white people were yelling “nigga” along with The Weeknd.
Following a set from the band MGMT, on the far east side of the island, I raced back to the River Stage to check out French electronic duo Justice. It may have been one of the most glorious sets I’ve ever witnessed. I was quite far from the stage, so it was hard to make out the duo of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay. All I could make out was their emblematic cross that stood in front of their turntables.
Justice’s anthemic, stadium rock, french house sounds had my heart racing the entire time — from “Genesis,” and “Civilization,” to “Waters of Nazareth” and the popular “D.A.N.C.E.,” which even paid homage to a Jay-Z track that sampled the song, “On To The Next One.” I still play their live album from that year’s tour, Access All Arenas, to this day.
Our crew, which had grown in numbers, started to make our way out of the park by the time Justice began their final song. With thousands of people on the island, it was in our best interest to try to beat the rush and get off the island before being stuck in traffic. My other friends had cars or other ways off the island, so I had to make my way through a crowd to get to the metro. To the station’s right was a stone platform with small plants and dirt, a white tarp that hung over it, and an opening that led to the front of the metro station doors. Some fans started hopping the platform in hopes of cutting the crowd before walking under the tarp, jumping off the platform, and landing right in front of the metro doors. I followed suit as those who were adventurous enough were rewarded once they reached the tarp.
Naturally, the line-cutters drew the ire of the crowd, who all started booing us, the platform-jumpers. One crowdmember made his way onto the platform and yelled at us, ordering us to return to the massive line. He drew a rousing cheer from his supporters down below before he jumped off the platform and rejoined them. Nevertheless, I, along with a small group of platform jumpers — no more than eight or nine of us, stood our ground and waited patiently as one person tiptoed along the stone path, reached the tarp, and disappeared under the white sheet. As I eventually made my way to the white sheet, I was greeted by more booing fans before I jumped to the ground and ducked into the metro.
I got into the cramped metro cart, and sought for a rail to hold onto. The entire day’s events started playing over in my mind. It was a day that I knew I’d never, ever forget from start to finish. From brushes with celebrities at a restaurant to a “rebellious” end — yeah right — the opening day of Osheaga 2012 still goes down as one of the most exciting days of my life.