Scaled-down version of Osheaga festival kicks off, and music lovers will take what they can get

After a long absence, the Osheaga music festival kicked off on Friday, but it’s a much more subtle affair this year due to pandemic restrictions.

The annual festival, which is normally held in August, was cancelled in 2020 and postponed this year. The three-day event, which ends on Sunday, is called Osheaga Get Together.

With a much smaller crowd and chillier-than-usual weather, the vibe at Parc Jean-Drapeau is sure to pale in comparison to pre-COVID editions.

But fans in attendance are just happy the event is back, even if it means dealing with public health restrictions.

For starters, there can’t be more than 15,000 people at the site. The space usually accommodates up to 65,000 festival-goers.

This year, people from different households must maintain a one-metre distance from each other, and when that’s not possible, masks are required.

And of course, vaccination passports are mandatory for entry.

People line up to scan their proof of vaccination status at Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal, where this weekend’s Osheaga event is taking place. (Sharon Yonan Renold/CBC)

“I feel it’s OK, I feel like it’s the right thing to do,” said Yihong Yu, a Montrealer who studies in Quebec City and is attending her first Osheaga event.

“I think it’s safer for everyone so I feel like it’s good and I prefer to go to a festival with a mask than not having any festival at all.”

For Pierre Rivoire, who’s also attending an Osheaga event for the first time, a chance to experience live performances with people around him, instead of being alone staring at a screen, is priceless.

“I love sensing that people around me are having fun, even with the masks,” he said. “It’s the fact that you are gathering with people and you are sensing the same vibes at the same time.”

Restrictions needed to keep COVID-19 under control: expert

According to epidemiologist Gaston De Serres, the restrictions are helping with keeping the spread of COVID-19 under control at a time where many of the province’s youth remain unvaccinated. 

“There are nearly 800,000 individuals over the age of 12 who are unvaccinated,” De Serres said.

“What has to be done is to maintain measures so that infection will eventually reach them, but it will be at a pace that could be tolerable or supported by the health-care system.”

Pierre Rivoire is attending an Osheaga event for the first time. He said he’s happy to be able to gather with others to experience live performances. (Sharon Yonan Renold/CBC)

On Thursday, the Quebec government announced a plan to roll back capacity restrictions for indoor and outdoor events.

Places such as cinemas, theatres and arenas like the Bell Centre will be allowed to operate at full capacity as of Friday.

Those changes only apply to venues with assigned seating, however, which is sure to frustrate organizers of events like Osheaga, where crowds stand up during shows.

In a statement, a representative for Evenko, the event promoter company behind Osheaga, told CBC News it was disappointed the government did not address capacity restrictions for venues with standing audiences.

“Shows at MTELUS,  Club Soda, the Imperial in Quebec City and hundreds of other venues across the province are still forced to do shows seated with restrictive capacities that make it incredibly challenging to keep the lights on,” said Nick Farkas, Evenko’s vice-president for booking, concerts and events.

“Smaller venues are the lifeblood of the concert industry. Without news soon we will be forced to continue to cancel and reschedule shows that are permitted across the United States.”

It’s been more than two years since there has been a crowd this large, and this cramped at the Osheaga music festival. The annual event was cancelled in 2020. This photo was taken in 2013. (Radio-Canada)

Homegrown talent on display

Prior to being cancelled, the 2020 edition of the Osheaga music festival was set to feature superstar American acts such as Foo Fighters, Kendrick Lamar and Lizzo. 

This year’s scaled-down event is focusing on artists from Quebec and the rest of Canada, such as the Montreal-based acts Charlotte Cardin and Half Moon Run and Toronto’s Jessie Reyez. 

“I really like the change because I’ve been following the Quebec artists,” said Gillian Truong, who last attended an Osheaga event in 2018.

“It’s fun to discover them and to present them to the Quebec people.”

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