Roots Radicals: Amnesia Rockfest Chases A DIY Reality

Though poutine, ugly sweater parties and “Hockey Night In Canada” make up for it, there’s a disconcerting lack of alternative festivals in the Great White North. Sure, our neighbours to the South may state we complain way too much, but that’s not necessarily the case when some of your own local folk start feeling like Nords stuck behind “The Wall”. When it comes to outdoor shindigs, Canada has a hard time competing with lineups situated in Chicago, Manchester, Miami and even Raleigh, a city solely known for Clay Aiken, Dexter Morgan and the Hurricanes. That is, of course, if you’re totally content with another helping of EDM and indie bands with gorgeous beards and radio hits.

Thanks to a dreamer, AMNESIA ROCKFEST is hoping to flip a switch. Its DIY philosophy has been developed by a music admirer who rightfully, and ambitiously so, is determined to bring a barrage of metal, punk and alternative to an isolated community. In fact, Montebello has a population of 978 citizens (as of 2011). That’s less than 1,000. Truth be told, that’s not even enough to produce a sold-out show at the Phoenix or the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. But to the groups behind Rockfest, statistics are numbers that can either intimidate you or inspire you to develop an incredible lineup full of reformations, emerging talent and veterans that made Punk-O-Rama Vol. 5 a must-own.

With it being two months away, we connected with 25-year-old founder Alex Martel to get a closer look at the development of Amnesia Rockfest and how much of an impact it will have against major markets. As he notes, they surpassed 2012’s sales in just three weeks, proving DIY can produce an incredible reality if it clashes with punk rock.

A press release states Rockfest was “founded eight years ago by a 17-year-old kid from Montebello who wanted to transform his small village into a rock paradise”. Before your aspirations came to fruition, did you ever have a dream lineup in mind?

I don’t think I had one at the beginning. I guess I always found myself looking at the following year and not the larger picture. I started doing the festival for fun and it just kind of evolved naturally. At the same time, I’ve always had a few huge ideas for it but it’s sort of just become what it is now.
Has your approach to organizing the festival always been DIY?

Basically, I was just a teenager and a music fan when it first started. I used to go to concerts and help out local bands, and then over time, I started promoting small shows at the college for their local radio station. After that, I decided I wanted to do something in my hometown of Montebello, Quebec because there was nothing going on there in terms of music. That’s when I started the idea of a festival from scratch. I had no knowledge of booking, no contacts or no money for finances – I just went for it and learned everything along the way.

Was it inspiring or intimidating to see the festival grow in 2011/2012, and feature artists like Lamb Of God, Descendents, NOFX, Underoath and Bad Religion?

It was just really exciting. I’ve been working on the festival on a daily basis for the past eight years so I haven’t had the time to sit and look at it from a different perspective. When I do, the accomplishments are almost exciting and overwhelming at the same time. I’m definitely proud of the fact that it started super small and has become the biggest rock festival in the province. I’m not ashamed of the first few years even though the events were smaller and kind of sketchy. It just goes to show that a 17-year-old kid who lives in the middle of nowhere can build something huge with just a bit of passion.

As it’s not publicly noted, who headlined the first edition of Rockfest?

For the first few years, it was mainly just local bands from Quebec. The first year only featured three bands, and even then we had 500 people in attendance. It was a big deal back then because it was the only show in the area that was remotely metal, punk or alternative.
Now, 2013 sets a different bar. Just with Marilyn Manson, The Offspring, Rancid, Social Distortion, Deftones, Anthrax, and even Alice Cooper.

Yeah, I think we have a pretty insane lineup this year. I’m really proud of it. It’s almost the first year where I’m 100 per cent proud of the entire lineup, and it’s been nice to get critical acclaim from publications across the world. Like I remember seeing all of the bands post about the festival on their websites and Facebook pages and it was great to read through the thousands of comments from fans. Little things like that can make you feel really proud.
Was it difficult to compare the prospective headlining artists you wanted to how kids, critics and older audiences perceive them today?

Rockfest has always been diverse, and with any festival, there will be bands for the younger kids and bands for the older crowd. In the case of this year, Alice Cooper will be bringing in a lot of classic rock fans, and a lot of the older punk groups will be bringing in people that used to go to Warped Tour ten years ago. In a sense, this is the one chance for both of those audiences to become a teenager again.

Even with the major names, the festival’s always had a desire to push younger talent. For instance, 2012 featured The Devil Wears Prada, Expire and Obey The Brave, and now this year spotlights the likes of The Menzingers, Polar Bear Club and Stray From The Path.

It’s definitely a really cool mix. This year, we’re adding two new stages to focus on some of the younger buzz bands and a few acts that rarely come to Quebec. For instance, Bad Brains haven’t played here in close to 20 years and Screeching Weasel hasn’t done the same in almost 30 years. There’s also the reunion of Black Flag as FLAG, and when you look at all of the other bands on the bill, it’s surprising to see them all together.
Along with pushing various forms of alternative to attendees of all ages, do you see Montebello introducing the entire province of Quebec as a new national touring market?

I don’t think so. It is only a festival and nothing else takes place here for the rest of the year. The province is full of smaller towns and most music fans travel to Toronto and Montreal for shows. Rockfest itself relies on attendees that come in from other cities because the population of Montebello itself is just around 900.
How has prep work this year been different from previous editions of the festival?

It’s not really different this year but I guess it is bigger. Every year, we gain more experience and welcome more staff members so we’re just constantly growing as a team – learning new things and adjusting to growth.
Well I’m sure you have more set time conflicts to wade through now, especially with news of night showcases, secret shows and a concluding after party.

Scheduling is always a difficult task but we’re trying to build it in a way so people can see all of the bands they want to see. Currently we’re looking at tweaking a few things in the schedule to minimize the breaks between the bands and have groups that are on the main stage performing full sets. It’s not final yet but I think people are going to be pretty happy and pretty surprised by how we’ve arranged the schedule this year.

[Find out more about Amnesia Rockfest – including dates and ticket info – by checking out their website]

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