By Bobby Gorman on April 23, 2016 at Phone
Eleven years ago, Alex Martel wanted more bands to come through his small town of 900 people in Northern Quebec. What started with a handful of bands and five hundred attendees, has grown into one of the biggest rock festivals in the world.
From June 23rd to 26th this year, Montebello, Quebec will once again be hosting the annual Amnesia Rockfest with the likes of Blink 182, The Used, Limp Bizkit, Sum 41, Billy Talent, Rise Against, Korn, Ice Cube, A Day To Remember,Twisted Sister, Lamb Of God and NOFX among countless others.
We recently caught up with the ambitious founder, Alex Martel, to see how far the festival has come over the years.
Rockfest starts 59 days from now, are you feeling the crunch or after eleven years – is it kind of smooth sailing at this point?
It’s kind of smooth, but at the same time – there’s always new things and we always want to improve a lot of stuff. There’s also some new things, but it’s always getting smoother. So it definitely feels a bit easier – which is great.
I know one thing that must help smooth it out is that you teamed up with Just for Laughs Group and La Tribu to help with the coordination of the festival, how has having them on board helped with the logistics and planning of it all?
Well, they’re not really involved in the logistics. They’re like actual partners. So they’re helping with a bunch of stuff that’s more the overall management of the event, the sponsorships and that sort of thing. As far as logistics go, we still have the same logistics team as the past couple years. We used the same team as the Ottawa Blues Fest for the on-site logistics. We use another company called Orchestra who do a bunch of beer festivals in Quebec. We use them for the off-site logistics. Still the same teams, but the other partners are helping us with different stuff other than logistics.
Is still the 3E group from the Quebec City Summer Festival Group helping you out then?
They were actually there in 2014. It was just for one year. basically they helped us restructure all the logistics and the production and that sort of thing. We’re still using the structure that they helped us put in place. We still work with most of the team that they had hired. That was a great experience and that definitely helped us that year.
For this year, it is the fifth year in the row that you’ve sold tickets to people from every continent. Does the size and the reach of Rockfest continue to surprise you considering you started it just to get a few big bands to play in your town?
It doesn’t surprise me, but it always is a great feeling seeing that. It’s still kind of crazy to me that there’s people all over the world that’s coming to my small town in the middle of nowhere. Of course, seeing all these huge bands that I used to listen to when I was a teenager now playing almost literally in my backyard – it’s still a great feeling to see that happen every year for sure.
What was the first time you remember seeing someone from a different continent buying a ticket for Rockfest?
I don’t remember the exact moment. I think it was maybe like 2011, around that time. But I do remember one of the first years that I really remember meeting people from other continents was in 2013. There were a bunch of people from Mexico who came to see me during the setup and they wanted pictures and they wanted to offer me gifts that they brought from Mexico and other countries. There was someone else from Chile. So that was really special.
Since then we’ve seen tons of people from all over the place that come up to me at the festival. So that’s really awesome. I think it was maybe like around 2011 that we started seeing more people like that.
That’s gotta be a good sensation to have people coming from so far away and wanting to give you a thank you present.
Yeah, it’s really awesome. There was this one guy that does wine in Chile and he actually brought a bottle of wine. I don’t drink personally, but my assistants were pretty happy. The gesture was really awesome.
You’ve mentioned that you’re excited to see all these big bands playing basically in your backyard. As always, there’s quite a lot of big bands playing the bill this year – who are you most excited to see?
There’s so many. I think overall I’m really excited about the punk rock lineup because I feel there’s so many of the big bands combined together. Like Blink 182, Rise Against, Sum 41, Billy Talent which is really huge in Canada plus NOFX, Millencolin, Lagwagon, FLAG, I could go on and on and on. I think the overall punk rock lineup is what I’m looking forward to the most this year.
Yeah, there’s definitely a great collection of bands. What band did you go into saying “this is my number one priority. This is the band I need to get on the bill this year?”
There was many of them. I’m trying to think of an example. I think Sum 41 was one of those bands because they’re from Canada and they had never played Rockfest before. Everyone knows that Deryck had some health issues, so it just never worked out. But now thankfully, he’s back on his feet and the band was really happy to be playing Rockfest. They were one of the most requested punk bands by our festival goers. So that was definitely one of the priorities. I’m really happy that it worked out.
Especially with Dave Brown Sound back with them. It’s nice to see them touring together and working on a new album.
Yeah and it’s actually going to be their first Canadian show with him back so that’s going to be pretty awesome.
Out of all the bands you had, who was the hardest you had to lock in and secure this year?
Bring Me The Horizon was pretty difficult because they’re actually on tour in Europe during our dates, so we had to figure out a way for them to literally fly on a plane from the UK all the way to Rockfest and then fly them back to their next festival that they’re playing in Denmark. So that was pretty complicated, logistically and everything. But we pulled it off.
I guess the other one was Limp Bizkit because they don’t really do shows anymore in North America. They don’t even have a manager or an agent in North America anymore so I had to deal with the agent in Europe who I didn’t know. So it took a really long time, and I confirmed them less than 24 hours before the announcement. I think it’s going to be a really fun show so I’m glad it worked out.
Who’s harder to confirm? Is it the bands that don’t really play much or is the bands that haven’t played in Quebec in 20 years like Jane’s Addiction or the reunion shows like Sainte Catherines or farewell shows like Twisted Sister? Who’s the toughest to secure?
It’s really case by case in the sense that sometimes a reunion will take years to make happen but other times, the band actually wants to do it so it gets done very quickly. It always comes down to availability. I don’t think it’s really like one kind of band that’s harder than the other.
One band I was surprised to see on the bill was The Used because they tried to do a Canadian tour in 2012 but were denied entry at the border because of Bert’s criminal record. At the time they said they wouldn’t be able to come back to Canada for ten years. That was only four years ago, were they able to sort it all out? Is he going to be able to get in?
It actually got cleared up and they actually were able to play Rockfest two years ago in 2014. That was actually their first Canadian show since that incident. It’s all good now so we’re looking forward to having them back and play a full album – which is going to be awesome.
They are playing In Love and Death in its entirety. There are a few bands on the bill doing that. Lagwagon’s playing Hoss, NOFX playing Punk in Drublic. Saint Catherine’s doing Dancing for Decaydance. You’ve done that before with Rancid doing Out Comes The Wolves last year and Offspring doing Americana. Do you ask bands to do these special album shows or do they come up with idea and present them to you?
Usually it’s me. For instance, when I asked Offspring to do Americana – that was one of the first CDs I purchased with my own money when I was a teenager. And I know it’s the case of a lot of people and they had already done Smash the previous year, so I just really wanted them to do something different and it was the first time ever. Same thing with Deftones. Around The Fur is one of my favourite albums of all time and I really just wanted them to do it and they agreed.
Other times, like the Sainte Catherines – they already wanted to do a couple reunion shows playing that album in full so that just kind of worked out because that’s what they wanted from the beginning. I’d say most of the times, it’s me pushing the bands to do it but sometimes they come up with the idea.
What makes an album show special to do? Why do you like pushing for those?
I just think it makes it more unique. As fans, we listen to the albums from the first song to the last song, so it’s in our memories and seeing it live is special. It brings back those memories. I think it’s also just something that’s fun and different because most people have seen those bands several times, so seeing a totally different show with a different set list. I think it just makes it more unique.
Which album would you really want to see performed live the most and why? From like any band out there?
Well my favourite band is Nine Inch Nails and I’d love to see the Downward Spiral in full. I know he’s done it a couple times before in the past, but yeah, that would be amazing. Actually, just having Nine Inch Nails at Rockfest one day would be amazing. Even if they don’t play a full album, I’d be totally stoked. So hopefully one day.
It was just announced that some members of Goldfinger under the name the Neverminds will be playing Nirvana’s Nevermind in full on the Friday night. That surprised me considering I don’t see Goldfinger listed as playing the festival – so how did that come about?
It was their drummer Darren who approached me about it. They actually did something similar last year where they played Dookie by Green Day in its entirety. So I guess they just really enjoyed the experience last year and wanted to do it again this year but this time with Nevermind. So I said yes because I think its again one of those unique things that don’t really happen outside of Rockfest.
Do you think you’ll get Goldfinger to play eventually?
Yeah, they played Rockfest last year so they’ll probably be back as Goldfinger next year or a few years from now for sure.
You’ll also doing a GG Allin tribute. What are you planning for that?
That was another kind of crazy idea. There’s tribute bands playing everywhere all the time and it’s always for the same bands, so I think it’s kind of cool to have tribute bands for stuff that’s really rare and that you don’t normally see anywhere. Like last year we had Big D & The Kids Table do a special tribute to Operation Ivy and Tim Armstrong actually went up on stage with them to play one song. So I just try to come up with these crazy ideas and for GG Allin, I guess what to expect is what people would see at a GG Allin show. It’s probably going to be a little extreme, we’ll see what happens.
You’re also bringing back the No Use for A Name tribute again – do you think that’s going to be an annual thing at Rockfest considering his last show was with you guys?
We definitely try to keep his memory alive at Rockfest because when that happened, it really effected everyone. Everyone at the festival and on the team but also all the fans because it was his last show basically. We still have the Tony Sly Stage and we actually have Fat Mike doing the Cokie the Clown set. He’s going to be closing the Tony Sly stage on the last day of the festival and that was a special request. Basically, the point is we do our best to try and keep his memory by having some cool stuff like that, it’s appreciated by the fans for sure.
I don’t think I’ve heard about Fat Mike doing his Cokie the Clown set since his infamous performance at South By South West. You said it was his request to do it, why do you think he requested to do it at this festival again?
Well, Mike is a friend now. He’s played Rockfest many times and he loves the festival and we like him. Basically, he just wanted to close that stage because it’s the Tony Sly Stage and I guess it’s just going to be really special and emotional for him. It’s just going to be the second show ever of Cokie the Clown and we’ll see if he decides to urinate on the public.
The last show was legendary with the tequila/urine switch out, so it’s interesting to think what he’ll come up with this year.
Yeah, hopefully he’ll come up with something that’s as shocking.
Last year you had Fat Mike and Tim Armstrong kind of help curate the show. Did you have anyone like that this year?
Yeah, it was Tim and Mike once again.
So they’re always the partners at this point?
Yeah. Like I do all the booking but every now and then I’ll ask them what they think of this band or that band or if I’m trying to convince a band to confirm and it doesn’t seem to work and I know that they’re friends then I’ll ask them to put in a good word. Sometimes they throw ideas at me; so it’s just a really cool, fun idea for us to do. I think for the festival goers, the fact that we mention it just gives more depth to our lineups.
With so many festivals out there, what do you do to convince people to pick Rockfest for their summer festival?
I think, aside from the lineup, just the fact that it takes place in Montebello. There’s just this awesome, crazy vibe. This small town in the middle of nowhere, you have to do a road trip with your friends. I think just the overall vibe is just such a party atmosphere where anything goes. I think that experience is as appealing for the fans as the actual lineup. I guess it’s the combination of both.
Now do you still have time to do the festival circuit as a fan or do you just spend all the time prepping for your own?
I try to go to as many festivals as I can throughout the year. I’m usually at Pouzza Festival every year. I went to see some festivals pretty much all over the world. Recently I went to Japan, to Mexico. So yeah, I try to go to as many as I can.
Any that stick out in your mind that you want to keep going back to?
There’s lots that I’d love to go to that I’ve never been able to so far. Most of the European festivals that happen in June – I’d love to go see them one day, but they always fall during the busiest time for me for Rockfest. So I guess those would be the ones that I’d love to see one day.
I guess that’s about it – do you have any final thoughts you’d like to add?
We want to see all your readers at Rockfest once again in Montebello. All the information is on our website – amnesiarockfest.com
Awesome, thank you very much.