By Nicole Pollo on May 15th, 2014 at Phone
Twenty five days from now, thousands of punk and rock fans will take over the tiny town of Montebello, Quebec for the ninth annual Amnesia Rockfest.
Taking place on June 20th and 21st, the festival will host the likes of Blink 182 and Motley Crue alongside Weezer, Billy Talent, A Day To Remember, NOFX, The Gaslight Anthem, Streetlight Manifesto, Danzig with Doyle, Goldfinger, Face to Face, Black Flag, Fear, Joan Jett, Dead Kennedys, Raised Fist, Gob, The Vandals, New Found Glory and many, many more.
We spoke with founder Alex Martel about the festival, it’s growth and the surreal nature of seeing his town of 900 people overrun by music fans every year.
I read that you basically started Rockfest when you were 17-years-old, and every year since, both the line-up and number of attendees increased. When you first started coordinating the fest, did you ever imagine that it would reach such a high level of success/popularity that it has today?
I was dreaming about it. I wanted it to be like that, but at the same time, I didn’t take it much too seriously – I thought it was an unrealistic dream [at the time]. It evolved naturally though; it’s not like I started it with huge business plans. I was just a kid in the middle of nowhere and I always had to drive to Montreal, Quebec or the U.S. for festivals. I’m proud of the fact that this started from scratch.
I think many of us just enjoy the show, but never stop to think about all of the behind-the-scenes work and preparation. What all goes into setting up such a large music festival like this one?
It’s pretty much year-round. As soon as one edition is over, I already start work on the next. I even work ahead of time on the next one. A good example is last year: I confirmed NOFX for Rockfest 2014 before the 2013 line-up was released. It’s a never-ending cycle. Most booking is done during the previous fall and then I finalize it in January and February. Then getting closer to the event, I focus more on the logistics. For me, this is pretty much seven days a week from the moment I wake up until the moment I pass out. I’m a workaholic but I enjoy what I do. I wake up every day and get to do what I love. It’s a lot of work but I’m not complaining.
Every year Rockfest seems to present a diverse line-up. This year in particular, there are both older and newer bands and a range of genres from punk rock, alternative, grunge and metal. If you’re coming to Rockfest for punk, there’s not just one or two bands on the line-up but multiple punk favorites; the same goes for other genres. What’s the thought process behind selecting the line-up?
First of all, this is something I spend a lot of time on, just listening to a lot of what festival-goers ask. I try to balance out different genres so everyone’s happy. Every band on the bill is important. If some people are casual music fans and don’t go to many concerts, they are probably coming just for Blink-182 or Mötley Crüe but don’t really know a single other band. Other people have a lot of knowledge about music and care more about cult bands or bands that don’t play very often and we get them like Dead Kennedys or Misfits, or reunited bands like Bigwig or 88 Fingers [Louie]. It’s cool that there’s something for everyone; whether you’re a punk rock fan, metal head, hardcore kid – there are many bands of each genre. The diversity of this festival and just seeing all of these different types of people united together make it cool.
It is cool to see that rock and roll legend Mötley Crüe is headlining. Do you always include a classic band to the line-up?
It’s weird because it kind of just happened and wasn’t really planned. Last year I wasn’t planning on Alice Copper either. I wanted to get Marilyn Manson but they were planning a tour with Alice Copper and wanted to do both so it kind of just worked. I wasn’t sure about this because we never really did classic rock bands so I didn’t know if it would work. But it really did work. Older [aged] people who didn’t really know about the festival do now. I wasn’t planning on Mötley Crüe but the dates aligned with their farewell tour, with a last stop in Quebec.
I also saw that this year a “new international stage focusing on metal” will be part of Rockfest. How do you think this new addition will impact the music festival?
The past couple of years I tried to have a diverse line-up. I always had metal but metal heads complained that metal was underrepresented overall. This year I had the option to add a stage. Last year there were too many stages that focused on rare punk bands. [This year there will be a rare punk stage], a stage focusing on hardcore and a stage focusing on metal. Venom will be on the metal stage and people are super stoked.
When looking for lodging for Rockfest – such as different hotels to stay at – I saw an option on the website for “camping.” It seems like a fun and unique feature. Will you tell us a little about that?
As much as the line-up is something that many people focus on, I think this is one of the great aspects of the festival. The location is Montebello, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with a population of 900. This small town is taken over by thousands of punks, metal heads, rockers. There’s the official campgrounds and local residents have space for tents in their front lawns and backyards [for people to stay]. It’s a cool, unique vibe. The festival grounds are right by the river. People come to enjoy the atmosphere and location as much as the line-up.
Where do Rockfest attendees travel from? It is mostly different parts of Canada?
This is the third year that tickets were sold on every single continent. People mainly come from Quebec, Ontario, The Maritimes, northeastern states…lots of tickets are sold all over Canada, the U.S., Mexico and South America. It adds to the party atmosphere to have a really diverse crowd. You can hear lots of languages when you walk down the streets. It’s a huge world-wide party union for punk rock lovers and metal heads.
For anyone who has never attended Rockfest, could you provide them a little background on what to expect?
It’s the craziest weekend of your life. It’s a non-stop, three-day party basically. Most people arrive on Thursday to set up their tents and start early on Friday. We don’t have curfew so music keeps going on until 2-3 a.m. and starts back the following morning.
What is your personal favorite aspect of Rockfest?
I’m from Montebello and lived here my whole life so seeing such a huge crowd in a small town, and I created that. It’s my fault that all these people are here. (He laughs.) It’s overwhelming because I never thought that when I was a kid. It’s funny because when I was a kid I traveled all over the place to see concerts and now it’s the opposite…all these bands are coming to me. I live here year-round and it’s super quiet. Walking around town during Rockfest seems like we’re in a parallel dimension; it’s really weird. Seeing these huge bands perform almost in my backyard is really cool. I used to listen to lots of these bands growing up. I used to listen to Blink-182 skateboarding on the festival grounds and now they’re playing there.
Do you plan to continue Rockfest year after year in the same style, or change it up from the year before?
This form works. It keeps evolving and it’ll get better and better hopefully. I’ll keep it going in the direction that it goes now and I’m not planning for any major changes. Next year is the tenth anniversary so that should be big.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
There are still a couple tickets left on the website. We are 90 percent sold out. We sold out before so I advise anyone that wants to come to get the tickets as soon as possible. Also, thanks for the support!