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Summer showcase: Osheaga Music & Arts Festival

· by Tab S.

As the final weeks of summer fall upon us, Polaris-winning and nominated artists continue to traverse the country hitting the summer-festival circuit. One of the newer additions to the Canadian festival community is Montreal's Osheaga Festival, which has firmly made its mark since bowing onto the scene in 2006, thanks to its consistently high-profile lineups that combine big-name headliners with local talent and rising independent acts.

Held in Parc Jean-Drapeau on ÃŽle Sainte-Hélène, a small island area right in the middle of the city, Osheaga aims to offer a multi-stage, European-style festival geared towards music lovers of all stripes. Over the years, the festival has played host to everyone from Eminem to Feist, causing La Presse to laud the fest for “concocting a program that is at once eclectic and cohesive.â€

That balancing act is pulled off by Montreal promoters evenko, the company that founded Osheaga. evenko's four-person booking team (festival director Nick Farkas and talent buyers Joelle Bertrand, Evelyne Côté, and Daniel Glick) works together to find just the right mix of performers to excite festivalgoers every year.

Programmer Evelyne Côté took some time out in the hours before this year's edition of Osheaga kicked off to chat about the festival's Polaris connections.

Tabassum Siddiqui: Tell us a bit about your role as programmers of Osheaga – what does it entail?

Evelyne Côté: The programming team for Osheaga promotes shows year-long as evenko, so we need to stay on top of whatever is going on musically, all the time. This helps us to make informed artistic decisions as to what we want to feature during the festival. We are constantly pitching ideas! We also want to maintain Montreal's character in the festival, by putting the city's best bands – big and small – forward every year. So a lot of listening to music, seeing shows, and of course negotiating schedules.

TS: Do you take awards or nominations for prizes such as Polaris into consideration when looking at acts you might want to book for the festival?

EC: We love what Polaris does for local artists. It's so uplifting! Look at what it did for Karkwa – it allowed them to cross borders outside of Quebec, gain fans out West and East. We have a lot of our audience coming from all over Canada and the northern States – and just like the Polaris, we want to feature great music for the sake of it, without necessarily putting mainstream appeal of the bands as a priority.

TS: As someone who is immersed in the music scene as a festival programmer, what are your thoughts on the Polaris Prize?

EC: It is a truly great organization, both for the music industry and the artists themselves. It makes music fans proud of what local bands produce and makes the general public more open-minded about different types of music, outside of the Top 40. And the atmosphere at the gala is incredible.

TS: There are several Polaris-winning/nominated acts at Osheaga this time around – which of those acts do you think people should keep an eye out for this year?

EC: So hard to tell! Braids have had a great breakthrough year – we can't wait to see their psych-y pop in an outdoor setting. Kudos to Galaxie, too, who will close Osheaga on the Tree stage on Sunday with their bluesy electro-tinged testosterone rock.

Also a favourite is Hey Rosetta!, who have such a great attitude about their work – always super enjoyable to see. And of course Timber Timbre – pretty much everyone we know has fallen for them in the last couple years.

TS: Do you think awards organizations like Polaris should get more involved in the festival community, or should there be more of an arm’s-length relationship?

EC: Well, this year Polaris founder Steve Jordan is moderating MMOI (MEG Montreal Osheaga International), our second annual industry gathering, and we are really stoked about that.

Any kind of gathering such as the Polaris gala or MMOI are crucial in the ever-changing music business, so it's very important to keep these relationships alive. And if this is an invitation, yes, we would love to have Polaris at Osheaga!

The sixth annual Osheaga Festival takes place in Montreal at Parc Jean-Drapeau, July 29 to 31.

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