08/02/2013 05:36 EDT | Updated 10/05/2013 05:12 EDT

At Osheaga, the Lines Aren't the Only Problem

By Neha Chandrachud

As Osheaga opens its gates today, flocks of music fans from across Canada will gather in Montreal for the highly publicized music festival. Like every year, you'll probably hear the same story from your friends: the line-up sucked or "sorry I couldn't find you: no cell reception."

For some, Osheaga is a weekend of reuniting with friends and partying while for others, it serves as an opportunity to see many of their favourite artists perform at a festival with great aesthetics and high production quality. But concealed amongst the marijuana haze and ubiquitous array of Navajo print tank tops, there lies a much deeper and intriguing concern: the hip hedonism of the weekend disguised as a feeling of being connected to one another.

Like most festivals, there is a blatant selfishness that exists within the culture of Osheaga. It is a weekend of indulging the senses -- of auditory and visual decadence and most simply put, opportunistic fun. But even if the idea of spending a small fortune on a music festival seems inherently self-serving, it doesn't have to be.

There are dozens of music festivals in Europe -- festivals larger than our own Osheaga -- whose business model contain elements connecting people in ways that affect positive social change. In fact, it is so ingrained in the very culture of many of these festivals that it would be unthinkable to bring so many people together under the guise of unity without the existence of social empathy and greater purpose.

Glastonbury Festival of the Performing Arts which takes place in rural Sommerset, England is the best example of a festival that has an equal emphasis on both the arts and sustainability. In fact, it was founded on the notion that if we work to sustain the environment, it will in turn sustain us. Glastonbury supports three main organizations: WaterAid, OXFAM and Greenpeace as well as numerous other local environmental groups.

There are even on-site think tanks where staff and attendees can partake in important sustainability thought leadership and initiatives. The festival recently attained Industry Green Certification for its extremely sustainable set-up and environmental regulations for concert-goers. Another notable festival, Roskilde Festival which takes place in Denmark every year, channels 100 per cent of its ticket sales to its own charity society which then carefully allocates the funds to various community-based Scandinavian organizations.

Perhaps our European neighbors support a more ideological perspective on the relationship between festivals and philanthropy, but even iconic North American festival Coachella contributes annually to charitable initiatives. Social initiative is certainly not embedded in its culture compared to Glastonbury or Roskilde, but the festival does donate a percentage of ticket sales to local initiatives and community groups in its host city of Indio, California and throughout the rest of the Coachella Valley. It also contributes funds to an organization called the Sweet Relief Musician's Fund which assists musicians struggling financially due to illness or other barriers. Montreal is a city known for its open culture and politically engaged population -- so why then, is it impossible to find any information about even a small charitable initiative on Osheaga's 2013 website? The answer is simple: it simply doesn't exist.

When questioned about their social commitment, Osheaga's representatives responded that part of the profits for their after parties were going to Re*Generation, the Virgin Mobile Foundation: a cop-out of a response that's equally dissatisfying and disappointing. Osheaga's support of music and creativity should transcend the three days of the festival and be woven into the fabric of a community initiative. Right now, the festival stands in blatant disregard for the many principles it claims to promote -- unity, authenticity and the musical arts.

In any modern large-scale event, everyone will be expecting a predictable iPhone app or smart (yet intrusive) gadgets like Osheaga's new RFID bracelets. If our generation is as critical and socially conscious as we claim to be, we must recognize that a festival which is truly innovative, is one that values both entertainment and social responsibility.

Activism at Festivals