Live in Montreal (May 19-21, 2017)Montreal, Quebec, Canada
By Bobby Gorman
Monday, May 22nd.
I was tired, sore and happy to be home after a long flight across the country from Montreal to Vancouver. It had been three nights of partying, hanging with friends, and listening to more bands than I could count (that’s a lie, I saw 39 bands); and I finally crawled into bed. Opening my phone for one last email check, I saw the news of the Manchester bombing at the Ariana Grande concert that killed 22 concert goers and injured countless others.
The news hit me harder than I expected. Harder than the Paris attack at Eagles of Death Metal a year and a half ago, harder than the Dark Knight Rises movie theatre shooting in 2012. It was a mixture of sadness and shock as the past three days spent in downtown Montreal at Pouzza Fest 7 reminded me exactly what makes the music community so important and pure. To see that place of joy, euphoria and excitement destroyed in such an horrific act was soul crushing.
I, like many others, wrote mindless platitudes that night. Mine was: Live music is powerful. No matter the style, genre or venue. Like In Paris, music will find a way to break through the hate.
The fact of the matter was that my weekend in Montreal for Pouzza was important. After a year of somewhat lackluster concerts, Pouzza came out of left field and rekindled my love for live music, for the punk rock community and even the city of Montreal.
It was a perfect three days and it all just made sense. As festivals, especially punk rock ones, are starting to become the norm – it can be hard to decide which ones to visit. Do you go the holy grail of The Fest in Gainesville, camp in Montebello for Rockfest or Indiana for Plan-It X Fest? Do you mingle among the lights and sounds of Las Vegas for Punk Rock Bowling or head out east for its counterpart in New Jersey? Maybe you put it all on the Jawbreaker reunion and hit up Chicago for Riot Fest or head overseas for Punk Rock Holiday in Slovenia or Belgium’s Groezrock.
There’s so many options, but the beautiful city of Montreal is unparalleled – making the 7th edition of Pouzza Fest the winning choice. And let’s be honest, Montreal plays a huge part in the festival. With the sun barrelling down, you walk across the cobblestone streets between Foufones Electronics and Katacombs, drudging up hills surrounded on either side by a mixture of new development and buildings passing three hundred years in age.
Unlike The Fest where every single person you pass is there for the Festival, most Montrealers walking the street have no idea what’s happening. So they stood in awe as Jason Guy Smiley and Rich Chris played to a patio full of dirty punks, dressed all in black and drinking out of pineapples on Saturday morning at Katacombs. The streets were shut down, not for the festival, but for a marionette parade. There were activities everywhere, Pouzza just being one of them.
Hugo Mudie and the rest of the organizers of the festival seemed to understand that – and welcomed everyone into our little punk rock community through the Main Stage beer gardens. The outdoor park located at the corner of Maisonneuve & Clark played host to the weekend’s main attractions: Mustard Plug playing Evildoers Beware, Lagwagon, Pup, Slackers pulling out Redlight front to back, Iron Chic and The Flatliners among others. Rather than forcing everyone to drop fifty bucks a ticket – anyone could come and enjoy the main stage for free.
And yes, everyone.
Saturday morning saw the venue play host to Pouzza Bambino, a three hour event created specifically for kids – with bouncy castles and acoustic guitars. Throughout the day you’d see parents dancing with the kids, bringing them straight into the pit and introducing them to the beauty of live music through the likes of Great Apes or Morgan.
This helped foster the sense of community that Pouzza Fest lives off of. Everywhere you went there were high fives and reconnections happenings, new friends and relationships being built with each sing along and a sense of excitement followed each encounter.
Throughout the weekend you’d see guest appearances during sets, Rvivr sang background vocals for Iron Chic, The Old Wives took over percussion duties for Worst Days Down for a song, Jon Creedon joined The Ghostwrite for the acoustic Sunday morning set and local Montrealers Morgan helped Cirrhose et Cendrier for their final track of the night.
More than just music, there was a baseball tournament and backyard barbecue – all of which worked to get people mingling and talking to one another. Be it between sets at Foufones, or sitting on a fountain at 5 in the morning, the crowd was excited to meet new friends and listen to their favourite music.
This helped cement of a sense of positivity unlike most events. Even Al Nolan of The Almight Trigger Happy commented on the fact, saying how all the bands were just so nice, so friendly, so smiley. It made it impossible to be an angry asshole, you couldn’t help but be nice in return.
That sense of “niceness” may not be the rough and tumble world of punk rock that many grew up with, but it’s more of the current state of the punk rock scene. You’re here to celebrate music and camaraderie, not run away from skinheads and cops.
In a way, punk rock won. It’s now normal to be surrounded in a sea of tattoos and black shirts. You grab a beer, your cheers, and you sit down for a chat. It’s a safe place, a friendly place, a happy place for punk fans.
You may be thinking I’ve been talking for so long and barely mentioned any of the actual music – what was the music like? Well, the music was awesome.
Ryan Young of Off With Their Heads played his downtrodden melodies acoustically, introducing each song with a sarcastic comedy punch line. Paul McKenzie of The Real McKenzies lifted up his kilt and showed the entire audience his cock during the final set of the weekend. Tim Barry got visibly emotional singing Dog Bumped. Direct Hit!‘s Nick Woods flipped me off during the final song of Saturday night, mere hours after joyfully giving me a high five in line for the porta potty at Pup (who absolutely slayed it by the way).
Bong Mountain became the most talked about set amongst my friends, The Right Here was the greatest new discovery and Barons made three unwitting crowd members chug bottles of ranch dressing to win prizes.
Pop-punk was alive and well with The Great Cynics, Broadway Calls and the ten-year reunion of Daggermouth while Red City Radio and The Penske File put on the type of show you’ve come to expect from these punk rock festival veterans.
At the end of the three days my ears were ringing, my joints were sore, and I was a little hungover; yet I was happy. Pouzza Fest reminded me of exactly what it is that makes punk rock so special. More than that, it reminded me of what made music so special. It was three days of joyful bliss with friends from all over the globe and I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.
So yes, when I saw the news that a terrorist struck at the Ariana Grande concert after music made me feel so alive for three days straight, I was sad. Sad that someone could destroy something so sacred. Sad that someone would attack people going out to enjoy the simplicity of live music. Sad that they went for the young and fragile; and sad that some people may be too afraid to go to a concert now.
Yet I knew deep down that they would not win. Music will preserve. We will battle on so that we can sing along; because in a world that is sometimes so messed up – you need things like Pouzza Fest to remind you of what’s truly important in the world.