Leaving Parc Jean-Drapeau late Friday night (July 29), it was clear that something big had just happened — something people will be talking about for a long time kind of big.
Eminem has just left the main stage and thousands of spectators are flocking to the exits in some kind of surreal bliss, tasting fresh air once more as they wade through a sea of bodies to the sound of an infinite number of plastic beer cups crunching under their feet.
Rewind to 4 pm: It’s only just rained briefly, yet hoards of teenaged-to-old-aged kids filling the park appear drenched regardless – perhaps it’s just the humidity. Day One of the city’s (arguably) most popular music event of the year is about to start, and people are making their way to the stages for a close-up view.
At Scène Verte, fresh-faced electro-popper Lights puts on one of the first sets of the day, energetic and smiley as ever, causing an uproar as she pulls out her signature “keytar” for Drive My Soul, the relatively new artist’s breakout tune from 2008.
Despite an impressive menu of artists and genres on Friday’s schedule, it’s obvious early on that most of the day’s energy is focused solely around the last act of the night – the headliner. Every second festivalgoer is sporting a picture of Eminem on a black-and-red t-shirt, and Recovery hats of the same colours, in seemingly endless abundance, can be seen bobbing around all over the park.
By the time Broken Social Scene finishes their set on Scène de la Montagne around 7:05 pm, the pandemonium has already set in. Anticipation
overflowing, thousands upon thousands of hyper die-hards crowd the main stage (38,000 officially), creating a great mass of bodies that stretches from the back bleachers and grass space to stage barriers hundreds of metres away. The crowd is an experience in itself, a sardine-like chaos, coated in a whole lot of sweat, pushing and generally complaining with the occasional chant for Eminem, regardless of the fact that he isn’t due at this point for another two hours.
By this time, Shady fans en masse are impatiently awaiting the show of the decade, leaving the remaining main stagers, Bran Van 3000 and
Janelle Monáe, thoroughly under-appreciated. Monáe is on top of her game, delivering each song with energy, passion, and bucketfuls of soul. Enduring chants for her successor between songs, the soul-pop rising heavyweight gracefully (and courageously) pushes forward. Monáe gives her 100 percent until the very last song of her set, getting the crowd involved as much as possible, before making way for what feels like what everyone has been waiting all day for.
Gunshot sound effects firing, sparks raining, flames projected on a huge backdrop, when it finally comes time, the main event has the crowd absolutely wild, and rightly so. Eminem delivers hit after hit, from the more recent Lighters, transforming the smoke-filled air into a glowing mist, to old classics like The Real Slim Shady, which has the crowd screaming lyrics back word-for-word, note-for-note. At times throughout the set, The Real Shady stops to stare out at the thousands and, with his face lit up and projected larger-than-life on two mega screens, an overwhelming feeling can be read clearly, from the intensity of his gaze to his mouth, hanging slightly open in some kind of breathless awe. Everyone, even the man-of-the-hour himself, is taken by the sheer scale of it all – thousands uncomfortably packed, who couldn’t be happier anywhere else.
Eminem retakes the stage for a finale performance of Lose Yourself, easily the best-received song of the night, under a shower of brilliant sparks onstage and perfectly-synched chants from the audience. Finally, as the lights go down and the crowd disperses, there is a feeling of history being made. Everyone is still buzzing with fresh energy and genuine excitement. “I could die tomorrow,” one man behind me announces to his friend. “I saw Eminem” he reasons. “What did you do?”
Osheaga continues until Sunday, July 31. For more information, visit www.osheaga.com. Photo by Pat Beaudy