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Backstage pass at Osheaga

by admin August 23, 2010

Cotton Mouth was one of 19 bands to grace the Scène des Arbres stage at Osheaga this year, and one of 68 acts in total at the two-day festival on the island. Front man Martin Horn recounts the surreal experience of sharing a backstage with artists like Emily Haines and Snoop Dogg.

Big outdoor festivals are the definition of “mixed bag”. To make them work, the organizers need to cater to diverse tastes within the larger umbrella of the festival’s intended audience. Sometimes the results are odd, and it gets even weirder when you’re playing the festival yourself.

First things first, this is no bar gig. Upon arrival, our gear and ourselves were ferried from the “Artist Area” to the “small” stage we were playing. As we set up for sound check I put my guitar down and turned my back for a second. When I looked back, someone had put it on a stand, next to my mic. These people were clearly paying attention.

Our set felt much like any outdoor set we’ve ever played, albeit witha bigger audience, and with much better sound. I have to say that while it was fun, it didn’t make that much of an impression on me.

The best was yet to come, as we were driven to the backstage food tent. There were several barbecues running all day, grilling salmon, pork, chicken, shrimp, and a variety of vegetarian options. We were free to eat as much as we wanted, and I would estimate we spent a good 30 per cent of our time doing just that.

Emily Haines of Metric did what seemed an unending series of television interviews at the next table over – monopolizing the only outdoor table in the shade, out of the intense, desiccating direct sun – while we ate. At any given moment we would see scenes like Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon standing in line waiting for food, wearing a sunhat and looking grumpy. It was a little out of the everyday.

After eating, we decided to walk back to the festival grounds. We took a shortcut across a footbridge, and suddenly found ourselves behind the main stages. A large crowd was gathered between the two stages and we quickly figured out that they were all waiting for Snoop Dogg to show up; his band was already on stage.

After five minutes, he pulled up in a custom black Escalade. His bodyguard, a huge man in a baby blue pinstripe suit with a Bluetooth headset, got out of the car and proceeded to check the area. I could see Snoop reclining in the back seat. When he got out, looking a little out of sorts, he looked up and saw all of us. He seemed to tighten up a little, stood up straight, and gave us all a double peace with his hands.

We know Snoop Dogg from television. He exists, at least in our minds, as a caricature. Seeing him in the flesh, pulling such a characteristically Snoop Dogg move in our general direction was irreconcilable with my understanding of reality.

My disorientation continued when we watched his performance from the side of the stage. What really struck me about his set was how much it was like a Las Vegas stage show. Unlike most of the hip-hop shows I’ve seen, Snoop doesn’t interact with his very well rehearsed backing band. He is unquestionably the star of his show; the pope of Snooptown. I was struck by how tired he looked when he turned to leave the stage.

Ten minutes after his set, I was watching Sonic Youth from the side of the other main stage. Where Snoop had taken up the whole stage, Sonic Youth stood close together, Steve Shelley’s drum riser halfway up the stage, not 10 feet from the edge.

They inhabited the space of the stage in a completely different way, bearing down hard on a very small piece of real estate, as opposed to stretching out over the larger mass of the whole stage. For all the years of playing festivals and concert halls, they still seem to be a band that plays together; no member more important than another.

We were overjoyed to have been given the opportunity to play Osheaga this year. More than anything, though, I was happy to have seen some of the inner workings of the festival. I really enjoyed the opportunity to literally break through the fourth wall and observe some of these people whom I’d only seen on television or in videos, and realize how short/tall/old/silly they actually are.

Catch Cotton Mouth live Aug. 24 at Divan Orange and Oct. 1 at Casa Del Popolo during Pop Montréal.