On the Fast Track with Alex Martel, Founder of Amnesia Rockfest

On June 20th and 21st, an onslaught of punks and metal heads will invade the small town of Montebello, Quebec for the 9th edition of Amnesia Rockfest, Canada’s biggest rock festival. So before this goes down as the “you had to be there” event of the year, make sure to purchase your 2-day pass before they sellout. Visit Amnesia Rockfest to join the party! Now sit back and read about cows, skateboarding, highways, money, Blink-182, dreams, awards, metal, logistics and much more as I sit down with the founder of Rockfest himself, Alex Martel.

It’s now the 9th edition of Rockfest. The obvious question is, how did this all start? How many people were in attendance? ((Last year, there were upwards of 160,000 attendees))

The first year we had 3 bands and 500 people, so it started out really small. I lived in Montebello my whole life and there was nothing going on here so… I just wanted to do something for this kind of music and I just did it for fun, started from scratch and fast forward almost 10 years later, and now we are the largest rock music festival in Canada, which is pretty insane, so I’m super proud of it of the fact it started from nothing.  

What was the headliner that first year?

It was Grimskunk. They’re actually my favourite Quebec band.

First year you had 500 in attendance, how many are we expecting this year?

This year we are expecting 200, 000.

What is your main drive/motivation to continue organizing the festival year after year?

I just get to do what I love every day, you know? I love what I do and I’m so just a music fan and when I was younger, I used to go to Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and the States to see concerts and festivals all the time. And you know, it’s just really cool to pretty much have it the other way around and having tens of thousands of punks and metalheads come into my small town and seeing all these bands play in my backyard. And lots of these bands that I listened to growing up, you know, I used skateboard where we have the festival grounds and you know, listening on my Walkman to Blink-182 and some of these other bands, so just having them play there is definitely a sentimental value to me.

What is the most important thing that you’ve learned throughout the last nine editions of the fest?

rockfest lineup

I think I just learned everything, in the sense that I really just started everything for fun and I had no knowledge of how this works or the music industry or any of that, you know, I didn’t have any contacts or money or anything, so it was really all from scratch. So yeah, I guess that’s the answer: I just learned everything.

In comparison to last year that was heavily criticized for its logistical problems, how is the partnership with the Festival d’éte de Quebec going to make sure those problems don’t happen again?

The difference is really big, just working with these people on daily basis, it’s like day and night. They’re just the best there is in the province of Quebec, so I’m really happy to be working with them. We also got the site coordinator of the Ottawa Bluesfest and some more people, so I’m really happy with these people and as far the actual changes, there is lots of them.

The first major one would be the fact that we are mailing out all the wristbands ahead of time and we are now using RFID technology. So that eliminates the whole process of having to go to the box office to exchange your ticket for a wristband or you know, being on the will call list. That’s a big change.  

The whole festival grounds, like everything, is pretty much a new configuration, so it’s bigger, there is more space, and we added entrances and exits. Aside from that, we’ve got, instead of having like small campgrounds spread out in Montebello and surrounding towns, we just found a huge, huge field that’s walking distance from the festival grounds, so that’s the main campground. And that also eliminates the need for shuttle. We’re still gonna have them, but it’s gonna be much easier. I could go on and on, there are a lot of big changes to improve everything basically.

So you have 5 stages this year and released the schedule today, how does the schedule come about, how do you get through that?

That’s such a big puzzle. I mean, when I book the bands, I already kinda have an idea how I want it to be, like what bands I want on what stages and I kinda have a general draft of what I want and I try to fill in the blanks and then it’s just dealing with trying to not put two similar bands playing at the same time, and dealing with the schedule of everyone, and egos of everyone, and you know, it’s always usually pretty long and complicated, but we always make it work. We actually just released it and I was reading most of the comments and the majority of people seemed really happy, I guess they see the time and effort we put in to it to make sure that there’s not too many conflicts.

Last year, certain festival attractions were added to the bill on top of just the bands like a Dropzone ride and a haunted house. Do you have any new special attractions set up for this year’s edition?

The initial plan was that I wanted to expand on these things and do more. But with all the logistical changes this year, we’re trying to expand the festival grounds and try new things. I kinda put that on the back burner a little bit just while we make all these changes and hopefully next year for the tenth edition, I’m really going to be able to do what I want for these things and really expand everything.

Despite gathering so many headliners every single year, what is the one band that you’d like to see perform at Rockfest in the future that hasn’t already? What is one memorable moment from years past?

For the future, there are tons. I mean, there are lots of bands we came close to confirming this year like Foo Fighters and Slipknot. There’s such a long list of bands I would like to do. As far as the past years, I think it’s usually the bands that I used to be a big fan of when growing up that I’m the most excited about. So, just seeing The Offspring, Marilyn Manson, Deftones, Korn and Rancid and all these bands that I used to listen to while growing up playing in my backyard almost. That’s pretty much my best memories from the past years.

Ever dream that Rockfest would become this successful?

Well, when I started out, I had these huge dreams, and this huge ambition, but at the same time, didn’t really think it was realistic, I didn’t really take it too seriously, but I guess it just kinda worked. It was really natural, it’s not like I started and out of nowhere, we’ve got this huge thing. It’s been almost 10 years so it was gradual and obviously, I’m super happy it worked. I don’t think I would have believed it though.

IMG_1599What band are you most looking forward to seeing during this year’s festival?

Probably Blink-182, just because I used to be into them when I was 13, and as I mentioned to you, I used to skateboard and listen to them and to other bands, so just seeing them in Montebello is gonna be pretty awesome! And you know, there are so many bands, like Primus, and I actually used to be a big Cradle of Filth fan, so looking forward to them. There are just so many, I’m really happy about all the bands I was able to reunite like Reset with the original lineup and Mononc’ Serge and Anonymous. Yeah, there are just so many.

This year’s festival features the likes of the Misfits and Black Flag, both Danzig and Henry Rollins are part of the festival (Playing on different nights). Any chances we’ll see them reunited?

Hopefully, but not playing the same day, so I doubt it. That’s pretty much how I got away with it– putting them on separate days.

So you recently were recognized as a contributor to Quebec tourism during The 28e Grands Prix du Tourisme Québécois. Tell me more about this and what it means for you and your team?

Well basically, in every region of the province of Quebec, there’s a more local award ceremony for tourism, and when you win on a regional level, you’re eligible to be nominated on the provincial level. I won many times at the regional one, but never won at the provincial one. So being nominated was already a great feeling and obviously winning it was awesome. There were a lot of important figures from the tourism industry and the festival industry that were there. Just being recognized by all these people and some of them that I look up to, it was really awesome, but honestly, at this point, we won so many awards over the years, it used to be like a super big deal to me, but now the festival kinda speaks for itself. It’s a huge success, and to me, the real award is just having tens of thousands of music fans in my small hometown and all these bands playing my festival. That’s the real award, you know. I don’t make a huge deal out of awards, but obviously, it’s always welcome and feels good.

How does the small town survive the onslaught of thousands of rockers in their streets?

They all make lots of money because everyone rents space on their front yards and back yards for tents and cars. Especially here, the city taxes are super high, so I guess it helps everyone here pay their taxes. As far as local business go, they pretty much make their year during Rockfest, and the other thing to keep in mind is that they just recently opened highway 50 just outside of Montebello so on the small road, the 148 that everyone needs to take, no one is going on that road anymore. All of the local businesses have really been suffering ‘cause of that. In other nearby small towns, there is a lot of business that just died, and in Montebello, they always tell us if it wasn’t for Rockfest, we would have closed, because no one is coming here during the rest of the year. It definitely has a big impact on the local economy.  

So, the joke is that there are more cows residing in Montebello than there are people. Is this really the case?

Honestly, I never counted them, but I just thought it would be funny to write that!

Is it safe to assume we will have Rockfest 10th edition next year?

Yeah, for sure, I mean, already working on it, and it’s obviously going to be pretty solid for the 10th anniversary. That’s all I will give away for now!

Written and Compiled by Eric Brisson

About Eric Brisson 54 Articles
Eric is a professional photographer, enamored by the thrill of catching special moments at live shows and sports games. Following those moments from New Brunswick to Montreal, he’s been in the city since 2001, enjoying the finer things in life like rooting for the Canadiens and trying out new restaurants (and the house beers they offer). When he’s not washing down the culturally-palatable Montreal with a good dark ale, you can find him rocking out to the latest metal and alternative bands or sitting around at home stewing over Breaking Bad (which is sorely misses). Most recently, Eric had his personal dream come true by finishing a tour of every Major League Baseball park. Eric Brisson Photography

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