Q’s With Evenko’s Nick Farkas: Osheaga’s Niche Among The Multi-Genre Festivals

Taylor Hill / WireImage
– Osheaga
in Montreal, Quebec

Osheaga Festival is a world-class festival in a world-class city, as the multi-day, multi-genre Montreal fest has somewhat quietly drawn more than 100,000 fans per year since at least 2012 according to Pollstar’s tour history, while grossing more than $9 million every year since 2013. 

The lineup is in league with some of the biggest American multi-genre festivals just south of the border, and this year (Aug. 2-4) features major headliners like Childish Gambino, Tame Impala and The Lumineers, with a distinct look from other multi-genre fests thanks to artists like The Chemical Brothers, Logic, and J Balvin, as well as Canadian heroes like Mac DeMarco and City And Colour also near the top of the six-stage, newly-expanded-capacity event.  
Osheaga also has a reputation among the notoriously jaded members of the concert business for some of the best food offerings anywhere.
“I haven’t been to every festival, but I’ve been to festivals all over the world and it is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Paradigm’s Rob Zifarelli, who heads the agency’s Canada office and represents City and Colour. 
Pollstar caught up with Nick Farkas, one of the creators of Osheaga and Evenko’s VP of booking for concerts and events, about Osheaga and the greater concert landscape.
Pollstar: What makes Osheaga stand out among the other large multi-genre festivals?
Nick Farkas: Montreal is one of the greatest cities in the world in the summer. You can stay at a beautiful hotel, or youth hostel, jump on the subway and be onsite in 10 minutes without having to worry about drinking and driving. It’s an urban festival surrounded by water [the St. Lawrence River], one of the nicest festival sites in North America or the world.
Let’s talk about this year’s lineup, and how you go about curating it in general.
We’re fortunate in that we’re on the same weekend as Lolla, and it’s great to be compared to those other festivals but we’re so much smaller. It’s 45,000 people [per day], with us paying U.S. acts and collecting the door in Canadian dollars. The balance for us is how do we get these acts and make it work? 
The Chemical Brothers is a perfect example of what Osheaga has always been about, getting artists that aren’t playing everywhere else already. For us, it’s really trying to be music-first, quality top to bottom, respecting the lineup from the first spot on to the last. We’ve been lucky to have a lot artists grow with us over the years. We’re also unique in our Canadian-ness, and that will always set us apart. I always talk about the first year, where we had Ben Harper and Sonic Youth headlining. Between those two, at the time, is everything.
The big multi-genre festival seems to be a tough spot right now. Why is that?
Honestly, the multi-genre, multi-day festival, we’ve seen some fatigue in that model. There’s a million reasons and it’s also cyclical. Two years ago, Osheaga didn’t sell out for the first time in a while. What did we do wrong? You saw Bonnaroo was down, and now they’re selling out. I think festivals are cyclical. 
The niche and artist-curated thing is probably hurting everyone in a way. Fans say, “Oh I just want to see hip-hop. I just want an EDM festival.” 
There was also just so many [multi-genre festivals]. We all tried to be everything to everyone. In North America I think we saw there was a huge young fanbase and everyone went that direction and was such a great demographic. But, as long as you put compelling festivals out there and step up your game and make the experience better and better, people are going to come. Maybe there will be years when you don’t do as many, and then maybe you’ll be back on top of the world. 

Is the food at Osheaga really that good?
It’s part of why every year we get more and more agents and managers to check us out. When I meet people, it’s always “Oh, Osheaga, you’re the festival with the catering.” We have two of the best chefs in the city. Our chef that cooks for the bands, he’s an internationally known chef. Everything is next-level. 
We knew early that getting attention and getting people to want to come and play, we really had to set the bar high. It’s always been the fan-band experience.