While Old Man Winter continues to retain an icy, vice-like grip on our collective genitals here in La Belle Province, the calendar assures us that Spring is thankfully around the corner. And while the sweet relief of single-digit temperatures is certainly wonderful, music lovers have their gaze firmly locked to the horizon, because when Spring gives way to Summer it’s officially festival season! And while Quebec has a plethora of excellent fests catering to a wide variety of tastes, none rival the sheer size and diversity of Amensia Rockfest. Each June, hordes of music fans descend on the tiny town of Montebello, QC to take in an increasingly insane line up of metal, punk, hardcore, hard rock, and hip hop acts. The festival’s organizer, Alex Martel, has grown Rockfest from a crowd of hundreds to hundreds of thousands in a period of nine years, due mostly to the ever-increasing quality of each iteration’s line-up. While the festival has suffered some growing pains, most notably the logistical issues in 2013, the organizers have worked hard to continually improve the experience for all involved. I had the chance to speak with Rockfest spokesperson Mathieu Marcotte about the evolution of Rockfest and what festival goers can expect at this year’s event:
Hi Mathieu, thanks for taking the time to chat. Can you tell us what you do for Amnesia Rockfest?
My responsibilities are dealing with everything that is media, as well as traveling around the site and making sure everyone is having a good time! I also create the official video of the festival; I go around and talk to fans and interview bands and be an ambassador for the festival; trying to get a portrait of what a few days at the festival is like.
How long have you been invovled with Rockfest? How long have you known Rockfest founder Alex Martel?
I’ve known Alex pretty much forever! We didn’t go to the same high school and I wouldn’t say we were friends at that time, but we knew each other. It’s a small town, so everybody knows everybody. When Alex put this festival together the first year, it was really, really small. It was just a small show in Montebello with Grimskunk headlining and 500 people showed up. It was a great success! 500 people at a rock show in our town was completely satisfying for everyone. Alex did that all by himself so I was really impressed. I was there for the first edition and then he started adding more and more bands every year. I got involved officially with the festival during the 4th edition. Alex knew that I worked in media, so he asked me to be a spokesperson and help him out with meeting people, but honestly he didn’t really need any help on that front. Alex had literally zero contacts in the industry, but he just picked up the phone and made contacts and would go up to bands and straight up ask them to be a part of Rockfest. It seems like nobody does that, but he did it and it worked! So it’s really great to see how he took this little thing he put together as a 17-year-old and made it one of the biggest festivals in the world and the biggest rock festival in Canada. It’s really great to have something like this in our how town.
The growth of the crowd is really crazy; 500 people to over 100,000 is impressive.
You know, once you start getting over 100,000 people it gets hard to actually evaluate how many people exactly show up and are on site, but based on entry data from last year it was well over 200,000 people total, and that’s counting people who got on site and stayed on site the whole weekend. One of the cool things about Rockfest is that it’s one of the only fests where you can enter the grounds, leave, and come back. Most festivals, you check in, and your there for the whole thing. But yeah, it’s ALOT of people!
It seems like every year Rockfest tries to outdo itself; bigger bands, more cool stuff on site and thus the crowds keep growing. this year, you guys are added a series of indoor shows, right?
We’ve actually always had a few pre-festival indoor shows, so we’ll be doing that again this year. This year we are just putting on more of them. For example, we’re doing something special on the Thursday night, called the Fuck Sponsors night with Propaghandi. The band doesn’t want to be associated with any sponsors; the band has their principles and that’s why you don’t see them playing many festival gigs, so they struck a special “no sponsors” deal with Alex. I think it’s a really cool addition to this edition of the festival, as they are one of the hardest bands to book. This is also a great way to get people to come before the Friday morning, which is the big first day of the festival. Friday morning traffic getting onsite is crazy, obviously, because there are so many people. We’re trying to work things out with the authorities to try and get that flowing better than it was last year, but yeah people are getting into town as early as Tuesday so we just want to keep them busy!
Getting special bands like that is obviously going to draw bigger and bigger crowds. Rockfest had some well-publicized logistical issues due to crowd size in 2013. Are you afraid of having similar issues as the festival continues to grow?
We took care of those problems last year. In 2013, we expected..well, you never expect failure, you always set yourself up for success, but it was almost overwhelming what the response was in 2013. We expected more people, but not that many extra people! We had issues with the site design as well, in terms of how the crowd was able to move around, which we improved in 2014. Ultimately, there’s a limit to how many people you can fit on site and in town. Our major logistical issue in 2014 was people actually getting into Montebello. Getting into town was complicated; we tried to set things up beforehand but it was complicated. It’s always complicated; you’re dealing with the police, local authorities, transport, etc.. It’s a logistical problem that we have to deal with with those people to try and get something in place, but last year when they decided to actually shut the town to cars and make it a pedestrian town, it worked out really well once you were on site, but it was really hard to actually get there! Of course, we don’t want people to miss shows, so our advice is to get to Montebello early if possible. This year, for everything that’s going on on-site,. we’re really confident. No festival is flawless, but we’re trying to make it as good as possible.
Are you guys going to work with (event logistics company) 3E again this year?
I am not quite sure if all partnership agreements for this years festival have been signed, so I can’t confirm exactly who we will be working with for logistics, but it was a great experience working with the team that was in place last year and we’re building another great team this year so we expect to have another excellent year in terms of logistics.
A signature of Rockfest is the diversity of the line ups; legacy rock acts, 90’s punk rock, hardcore bands, metal, etc…. As the festival gets bigger, what goes into deciding what bands to approach? Is it more “Let’s ask all the bands we’d love to see?” or is there more calculation with regards to draw?
There is definitely a strategy. Obviously, we want to create a line up that’s going to appeal to a wide variety of people. We’ve also seen what acts work best from previous years. We tried something new last year with Cypress Hill . It was the first time Rockfest had an act mainly associated with hip hop and it was one of the best shows of the festival and a lot of people mentioned it as their highlight. With that in mind, we thought we’d try to go a little bit further this year with Snoop Dog and see how it works out! so far, were getting some mixed reactions, obviously, with some people saying “What the hell is Snoop dog doing at a rock festival?” but I think it’s going to be a welcome break from all the anger and if you don’t want to see Snoop Dog there’s going to be something else going on at the same time. Snoop’s really the one weird, out of place act that we have this year, but as far as mixing scenes go, we’ve always tried to blend metal, punk, hardcore, old-school rock and roll, and we think it’s really great that all of these scenes get together and we’ve had no major fights or tension.
Of course, the first thing we think when we go to book bands is “What do we want to see?” but also “what do people what to see?”. We’ve always had a suggestion board on site for people to give us their suggestions for bands. Alex is always on Facebook asking people what they want to see, like an on-going survey. Alex also tries to take in as many other festivals as he can to see what’s going on. We also know we have to have balance. We can’t book EVERY 90’s punk band. With metal, we want bands that are going to draw, but are also going to be interesting. Alex doesn’t get to see too many bands during the festival, but he still gets to see a few, so he wants to make sure he gets bands that he’d love to see. It’s kind of bittersweet for him; he’s putting on a kickass festival, and he has to miss most of it. But yeah, that’s kind of the puzzle you need to put together to make the festival work. Last year we had Blink 182 and Motley Crew as headliners. This year, the headliners are kind of different; Linkin Park and System of A Down and they’ll draw a different crowd than last year. But at the same time, someone who came last year to see Five Finger Death Punch might come for System of a Down this year, so it’s not all about trying to book the biggest band possible, instead trying to book a lot of bands. This year, you can argue if this year the headliners are better or worse than the other years, that’s personal taste, but I don’t think you can argue that this is the deepest line up that we’ve ever had. We have some big names on the 11th and 12th line of the poster! Again, really impressed with the job Alex did with the booking.
Aside from the really well-established bands, there also seems to be a focus on smaller, local acts, especially local Francophone acts. How important is local talent for Rockfest?
Of course, local bands are a huge part of the festival. When we started, it was mostly bands from Montebello and the area, and now we’ve got a bunch of underground local legends on the bill; for example we got Banlieue Rouge back together for this year somehow!
There is a conscious effort in having local bands mixed up with international bands. Usually we have one stage that’s dedicated to having Quebec acts, and last year this stage was right beside one of the main stages, so we had Megadeth playing right before Reset!
Yeah, (Megadeth frontman) Dave Mustaine seemed to get pretty pissed off about that!
Yeah! The thing was that Megadeth were booked for 45 minutes, but then Dave decided that they were going to play for 15 mins more.
Dave Mustaine seems to do whatever Dave Mustaine wants to do.
Yeah nobody was going to go up in Dave Mustaine’s face and say something! You just shut up, so he just kept on playing! But the crew on the Reset stage didn’t want to lose their spot so they started up. It was a wild 5-10 minutes, but everything finally got figured out. But yeah, someone who’s there to see one of the main bands, like Megadeth, might say “hey, who’s this other band? I don’t know them, let’s go discover them.”
Once the last band is finished their encore and the crowds start breaking camp, how do you guys evaluate the success of the festival outside of ticket sales and how much money everyone made? How do you gauge what worked and what didn’t work?
Well obviously numbers are important and we need to look at the income. We need to look at that and determine if the festival was financially viable, but there’s also just the general feeling that we have and the feedback we get from the fans and the journalists that are there. There’s definitely a vibe going on during those few days and you can definitely feel it. You could feel that in 2014 the vibe, in general, was better than 2013. After that, there’s something to be said for, and against, online comments. Sometimes when people comment online they hide behind a computer so they can say whatever they want, so you can’t take everything too seriously, but at the same time if a lot of people are talking about the same aspect then you know that that’s something that needs to be taken into consideration. For me, just walking around the festival and talking to fans is how I get a sense of if things are good or if it could be better.
In terms of the financials, I’m not in charge, so I’m not too concerned with how many people show up, I just want the people that do show up to have a great time. Of course, the festival has to make money, but I want to make it clear that we don’t really make a lot of money. Some festivals are making a lot more money than we are, but Alex really reinvests as much money as possible into next year’s line up. For people that think Alex is making a million dollars a year, think again, he’s really, really not making that much money for the work he puts in.
I know you’re probably pretty busy during the festival and don’t get to catch many shows. If you do get some time this year, which bands are on your bucket list?
While I don’t get to see that many bands, I definitely get to see more bands than Alex, so I’ve got that going for me! This year for me, it’s kind of a split between Rancid – I’ve seen Rancid a lot of times and they always put on a great show, but they’re going to be playing “..and Out Come The Wolves“ in it’s entirety and that’s one of maybe 3 or 4 albums that got me into punk in the first place – and then it would be Refused. I saw Refused a few years ago and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. So I hope I can catch those two bands; I’m going to try and arrange the schedule so that I can be there!
The 10th edition of Amnesia Rockfest is happening from June 18th till the 21st in Montebello, Quebec.
Written and Compiled by Jesse Gainer