By Dustin Blumhagen on May 2013 at Phone
Quebec is the province to be in for summer music festivals. May Long weekend sees Pouzza Fest take over Montreal, Quebec City plays host to Festival D’Ete for 11 days in July and sandwiched between them in the much smaller town on Montebello, Amnesia Rockfest is getting ready to cause some havoc on June 14th and 15th this year.
Pulling bands from the likes of Rise Against, The Offspring, Social Distortion, Millencolin, Rancid and Flatliners alongside Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper, Anthrax and the legends such as Flag, Bad Brains and Screeching Weasel – the festival, which features over 150 bands today, is a haven for punk and rock enthusiasts. Attracting crowds from every single continent, people find a way to make it into Montebello and camp there for the weekend; making for a non-hipster Coachella festival out in the outbacks for Quebec.
Dustin Blumhagen gave Rockfest founder Alex Martel a call to discuss the history behind the festival and what people can expect from one of Canada’s biggest festivals.
How did RockFest begin?
Basically I was 17 years old. I was a huge music fan and already promoting some small shows through my college trying to raise money for the college radio station. I wanted to do something for my hometown of Montebello. They had these big parties at the marina when I was a kid for the national holiday. Basically, I just wanted to do a more rock version of these things and I thought the venue was great and it would be a cool place to do an event like that. It started small, 3 bands, 500 people showed up, which was already a big thing for such a small village. It kept growing and growing and now it is pretty much the biggest festival in Eastern Canada.
You mentioned that Montebello is your hometown. It’s a place where people wouldn’t normally think of as having a large music festival. Obviously the location would create some unique logistics issues. But it is located between Montreal and Ottawa. Do you think that causes any issues or do you think the location helps overall?
I think it does. At the beginning it was kind of hard to get people out. It still is. Once someone comes to RockFest, they are hooked and they are coming back the next year and bringing their friends with them. It’s been a lot of word of mouth. People love the atmosphere and they love the party. It’s the beginning of the summer. I think that people actually like the fact that it is more of a European style, where they are driving in to the middle of nowhere and camping for the weekend.
I’ve never attended the festival before, but from what I have read I definitely had the impression that it was styled after European festivals. Was that a conscious decision or just something that came about organically due to the location?
It just kind of grew that way. As I said, I was just a music fan. There wasn’t a big study to see if it would be a viable business decision to hold it here. It was just my hometown so I decided to hold it here and it kept growing and growing. Obviously there is only so many hotels and motels in the area, so once it’s sold out we had to do some camping areas and expand them every year. It was a natural process.
For people who have never attended, what sort of crowd should they expect?
It’s really big, but it’s a friendly crowd. I get people saying all the time that RockFest is the most friendly crowd and it’s really just one really huge party. It’s part of the good aspect that people like.
The lineup reminds me of what I listened to as a teenager, a wide variety of bands from different genres appearing together, something like Warped Tour was when it first started. You have metal and classic rock (Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, Deftones, Anthrax), hardcore (Sick of It All, CroMags, Bad Brains, Madball, [Black] Flag), punk (Rancid, Social Distortion, Pennywise) mixed in with new bands (Emmure, Miss May I, Menzingers). On top of this there are a number of bands from Quebec that many fans may not be familiar with.
We pretty much get everyone. Since the start I wanted to be very diverse. Punk rock has always worked really well at RockFest, but we have always done metal and all of the younger bands that teenagers are into these days. The crowd is very diverse. There are as many punk rock kids as metalheads, old biker dudes, and young emo kids. There is everything and everyone gets along great. Somehow it works here. Agents always tell us, if we would do that in the US or elsewhere it might just clash, but here everyone becomes one big family. What I wanted to do this year is add two new stages. We used to have 3 stages, now we are going to have 5. I always felt that I wasn’t able to dig as deep. There were x amount of slots and I had to pick and choose. I could never do a bill that went as in-depth, if you know what I mean. Basically with the new stages I wanted to get more cult bands, especially older bands or bands that don’t tour here often or been here in decades. Mostly on these stages is where we have punk and hardcore bands, like Flag, Bad Brains, Screeching Weasel, Biohazard, Discharge and also some of the younger buzz bands like Lawrence Arms, Flatliners and these types of bands. I spent lots of time doing research and trying to come up with what I see as the ultimate lineup. I think it turned up great.
It definitely blew me away. I’ve looked at the lineup over the past few years, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually wanted to go. It’s just a matter of trekking across all of those provinces. Do you feel like you get a lot of people coming from across Canada, across North America?
Especially this year. We have sold some tickets in other countries in the past. Last year was the first year that we actually sold tickets on every continent of the planet, which was really cool. This year we did that after only 2 days of being on sale. We sold tons of tickets in Alberta, tons of tickets in South America and the US. I think the lineup was shared around the world, especially thanks to all of the bands that shared it on their pages. I was reading comments and people were like “why is this in Canada, why can’t we get this?” I think it’s been recognized worldwide.
I know a lot of people who would trek over to Europe to attend Groezrock in the past, so it is great to have something of that caliber right here in Canada. There are over 150 shows advertised. Who makes up these shows?
Aside from the main lineup that has been announced, we have small shows leading up to the festival, we always add a couple bands closer to the festival. We have indoor shows in bars in the area, mostly local talent. We have secret shows and after parties. We put pretty much all of the focus on the two main outdoor dates, but some people want to spend the week here and see the area, so we put some shows on. But most people are here for the two days, which is what we are pushing the most.
Looking at the lineup, there are a lot of unknown bands, who seem to be from Quebec. Was it a conscious decision to fill the more independent slots of the lineup with local bands?
The first few years of the festival they were basically all bands from the province. There are a bunch of bands that are really big here that actually outdraw international bands. I’m thinking of bands like Grimskunk or Groovy Aardvark. Most of these bands aren’t really well known outside of Quebec, but here they can fill large venues. Even though we have more and more international bands, to me it is important that we keep doing these big Quebec bands and mixing them with international bands. It’s kind of a unique mix that no one else really does here. That is something that we want to keep doing.
There was a link on the website about the Rocker contest.
Basically that is a contest that is going to be live soon. Local bands can sign up and have their friends and fans vote for them on the website. One week before the event there is going to be a panel of judges listening to the top 10 bands and picking a winner that is going to be able to play RockFest.
I notice a change in the main sponsor of the event from D-Tox to Amnesia.
Basically, D-Tox and Amnesia used to be the same company. They wanted to push D-Tox more, but Amnesia was always involved. They decided to focus on the other brand now, so that is why the name change. They are really supportive. They sell our tickets in all of their stores in the province. They are based in Montreal. They have stores in malls all across the province. It’s kind of a mix between a skate shop and more of a rock store. They have more of the skateboarding stuff in with band stores.
That makes sense then partnering up with RockFest. Any final thoughts?
We want to see everyone at RockFest on June 14 and 15. If you can come, I think it will be the time of your life.