The air is getting thick in Montreal as me, my friends and almost 200,000 others get ready for a weekend of scolding heat, booze, drugs, and, most of all, more than 100 bands ready to have just as fucked of a good time as their fans. It’s a dream show that hometown organizer Alex Martel assured would be more punk than in previous years.
Walking through the tent-strewn streets, I could imagine him walking through the beautiful, empty countryside town, brain flooding with colors and music, imagining the ground shake. And for us, it was perfection; a sweaty, bloody, smoky, loud, boozy perfection.
The anticipation consumes us as the cars flood into Montebello. My friend is already lost outside the town high as fuck. I have already contemplated pouring an entire water bottle onto my head but chose not to, in order to save myself some trips to the infamous Montebello Depanneur lineup. But none of this matters, because it’s Rockfest and the point is to forgive and forget. To let all non-music matters slide while moshing and having a good time. And maybe you get some water pistols involved…
Thursday night is upon us, the hot murky sky shifts into blackness, and as I look around, more and more tents have been set up on the camp ground. Wandering through the town of Montebello, I can see less and less of the ‘homey’ town, as people continue to flood in. Tents are multiplying in any area you could imagine, from lawns to fields. I walk through an array of people, music blasting from street corners, and there I find carnivalesque tents selling an array of colorful merch, bongs, St-Jean accessories, and food.
Before a sweaty blink of my eyes, it’s the next day, bright and early, and hot as hell. It could be the break of dawn or the middle of the day. With the sun beating down on us, our tents turned into grimy hot boxes of air, sweat and the sounds of people knocking back beers. My phone reminds me that no, it is only 8:07 a.m. I crawl out of the tent, my eyes crusty and blurry. I decide “I guess 3 hours of sleep is good enough.” With a chuckle my crew and I start the first day of madness with beer and breakfast.
As Canadians, we evidently wanted to start off our first day by making fun of Insane Clown Posse while trying our best to stay away from the shower of Faygo being launched into the crowd.
However, there is a lineup that swerves a few blocks down the street, something anyone who has been to Rockfest before was not expecting. I stop by two bros in the line and ask if it is the line to get in. One of them, staring blankly, says “We really hope so.” After an hour and a half wait in the blistering sun, we bump into some friends and come to regret not bringing a water bottle-or at least some extra booze-along the way.
I realize that the hoards of 20+ people skipping the line here and again may not be helping, but like much else in the flood of people at Rockfest, it was simply impossible to control. Some bands and fans alike have complained about this disorganization, and some would say it only added to the beautiful chaos of the weekend, but wait we did, often.
Finally, we are in the festival. This is obvious due to the little blobs of heads and the refreshing cacophony of guitars and drums all around. Not too heartbroken about missing ICP –although slightly disappointed about missing out on Max & Igor Cavalerra performing all of their album from Sepultura Roots Bloody Roots– I proceed to see Against Me!. I am not a huge fan of their music, but in the wake of the South Carolina controversy over gender neutral bathrooms and the currency of this topic in general, the lead singer and guitarist Laura Jane Grace’s coming out publicly to their fans as transgender aroused an interesting story. The music gave me a vibe of folk punk meets an alternative almost melodic version of punk rock. Against me! was the last thing I would’ve expected to see while looking around at the crowd, where huge 300-pound metal & punk folk went about jamming, dancing, and moshing. Later, looking up their music I took note of one of the top comments for their new album Transgender Dysphoric Blues (“Punk is not dead, it is just transitioning.”) Taking note of this hopeful observation to start off my day, I continued wandering off through the site, as one does, drunk.
Most of Rockfest for me was wandering, I did not want to be preoccupied by anything. If I lost people, I found them at just the right moments, in a crowd, sitting in the grass or walking by. Whatever we left behind in Montreal didn’t matter. Advice: put away your phone and worries and just look around and enjoy the experience.
Friday is a smooth, mostly nostalgic trip for me. Knowing that I will run into my friends at the end of the night with Flag and Dead Kennedys, I wander trying to catch a glimpse of everything, take in the sights, the colors the sounds and the beer…
…starting off with Cannibal Corpse, whom I had witnessed my first year at Montebello’s (in)famous Rockfest 2013. As usual, they put on a racy, heavy set as the crowd attempts to headbang as fast as George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher. His vocals are penetrating, deep and powerful, hammering the inside my skull with their groovy concoction of riffs and beats.
Next, I am in the crowd for another band from the lineup three years ago, the creepy gothic, symphonic metal band Cradle of Filth. Honestly, I would consider Cradle to have been one of my favorite performances of the weekend. There was everything: Dani Filth’s satanic tentacle headdress, makeup, black metal riff mastering, and Canada’s own lovely symphonic singer Lindsay Schoolcraft.
The overall performance flowed with the feel of the music and left me entranced in a grotesque, fantastical reverie. Even the beer-man conveniently stopped for a second to check them out right behind us and surprised us all with a refreshing 6$ Budweiser beer.
Later in the evening, a younger me was elated to see Billy Talent. Judge me if you will, but they played a high-energy show. They really took advantage of the festival atmosphere as they rocked out on stage. It may have helped that there were thousands of people in the crowd singing along to their lyrics. I suppose they’re the type of band that every emotional teen who is just opening their eyes to the heavy side of music will listen to, and thus remember the lyrics years later. As they replay songs from their 1st album that they have been jamming to live for almost 15 years, I still feel the flutter of emotions that I felt 4 years ago, smoking cigarettes and living the epitome of teenage angst to the buzz of their sound. The crowd clearly feels as I do, reliving their high school moments (with a bit of humor) to classics like Try Honesty and River Below. Despite them lacking the energy of previous shows –and this, most likely due to the overbearing heat– they did not fail to impress me or the crowd as a whole with these old songs. To clarify, “less energy” equals Ben Kowalewicz going crazy and running around on stage, minus the backflips. The last little trip I took was with Korn, once again replaying that teenage angst with some old tunes from their first, self-titled album. As much as all of this strikes a soft spot in my heart, the night only progressed from then on.
It kicks off with the old-school energy of D.O.A, Dead Kennedys, and finally, Flag. The Dead Kennedys, who are playing before and on the stage adjacent to Flag, sound more like a cover band than anything. Even for a Dead Kennedys fan, I can enjoy the tunes and dance along, but halfway through the set, it almost feels like I am somehow cheating. The singer is imitating (original lead vocalist) Jello Biafra’s movements and mannerisms to the point where it just feels fake. He may be feeling it, but the crowd certainly isn’t. All of the disconnection, however, is washed away once Dead Kennedys are done and we head over to see Flag.
The lineup consists of Bill Stevenson on drums, Chuck Dukowski on bass, Keith Morris on vocals, Dez Cadena on guitar/backup vocals, and Stephen Egerton on lead guitar. The later is from the Descendants, who, for anyone still reading, kicked fucking ass last year. They come out kicking and screaming with early hits such as Nervous Breakdown and Gimme, Gimme. They already have the crowd rowdy after one riff. For any Rollin’s era die-hards, you could even say that Henry Rollins’ aggressive energy was replaced with insane spirit and musicianship that took me by surprise.
It wasn’t a shock that a band filled with original members of Black Flag, one of the most influential of punk bands, were solid as fuck. But what really struck me, and what kept us talking about Flag the rest of the weekend was the fact that 50-60 year old men had more energy than any band we had seen earlier; even those who were young in their prime. The crowd ranged from teenagers and young adults, to people who were probably screaming along with Keith Morris back in the day…
My War was the most memorable moment of the set. Some would even say that Keith Morris out-shined recent Henry Rollins’ performances. As far as their songs go, it’s the one I had been anticipating the most. Not alone, the guy behind me was freaking out, screaming: “MY WAR!!!!!! MY WARRRRRR!!! I PAID TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS JUST FOR THIS AND ITS FUCKING WORTH IT!”
I feel you man.
We end the night with that and walk back in awe, taking it all in. Bodies aching, and hearts still pumping. Everyone’s collective thought is holy shit that was fucking incredible. Thinking it would be smart to crash early (3 a.m.) that night in order to conserve energy for what I know will be madness the following day, we all set up to crash.
If we thought that it could not get any hotter that next day, we were so painfully wrong. Once again, I am awoken at 8 a.m. by the scorching sun, except this time I straight-up can’t breathe and lung through the tent trying to find a shirt to put on before diving out for air. I kid you not, this is no exaggeration!
Under this sun, camping was an endless party in the middle of a wide open field. The distant trees surrounding us seem like a mirage, although walks through the forest are serene and offer a refreshing contrast to the constant flow of party people at all hours (and a nice way to avoid port-a-potties). Time is becoming less and less of a concept to people –literally, some people have no idea– and for Rockfest, that’s as much as you can hope for.
If I had any Montreal worries left in me the second day, they are all gone now. I don’t care that all my money had been spent on beer last night and I don’t care that I probably wouldn’t be able to shower for another 24 hours.
This time, although there was much less of a line to get in—I think they realized that one entrance was NOT enough and let everyone use the VIP entrance as well—there were even more people than the day before.
We start the day off with Black Dahlia Murder, who kill it–literally butcher and carve a smile into their fans faces–with their set at 1:30 P.M. As one of the pioneers of melodic death metal with their EP What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse, I am super pumped up to see them. At one point they command the crowd to start a circle pit, and for the next few songs the band is utterly shrouded by rising dust. And that’s pretty much how the rest of the day went, in a blur of heavy music, sweat, and dust. (So much dust that I lost my voice for a week after.)
Next thing I remember, I am behind the crowd of Sepultura who fill the entire site with blasting and groovy riffs. This crowd is giving me the dying need to re-energize. I need water, food and maybe a bit of booze. So I wander back to my camp spot, almost lose my phone under a tent while trying to use our tarp to make shade, then proceed to drink a bit, explore the tents and meet people before returning to see Days N Daze. They’re a folk-punk—or as they call it “Thrashgrass”— band from Texas.
Their set warms my heart and sets me up with a positive mentality for the night. With an array of instruments from guitar, to trumpet, to accordion they fill the air with good vibes. Their songs are both unique and familiar at the same time, with lyrics ranging from politics to just enjoying time. This show was a part of their tour with Leftover Crack, and I could see how the bands matched very well together with their crazy live sets. It felt like seeing a street punk band at Fattal or a band playing outside Mount Royal metro in the summer.
It just made me feel damn good: I have a place in my heart for those crusty punk screech vocals as well as for lady punks so maybe I am a little biased, but it felt damn good.
For all you heavy metal fans, here we go. As a fan of the southern doom metal scene, I went to see Corrosion of Conformity and was rather impressed by their performance. I cannot stop staring at their beautiful guitars the whole time while enjoying the heavy, hypnotizing music. Throw a bit of Anthrax into the mix, which was honestly unimpressive, but still a fun show. Even my friends who hail them as the gods of thrash were not too pleased with the performance.
And along comes Sodom, a German thrash metal band from the 80s that honestly blows my fucking mind with their intensity and song writing. Once more, the oldies are giving life to the festival, I think to myself. I debate for about fifteen minutes whether this is a hopeful sign, or a very unhopeful one… Damn German band making everything intense and shit.
Oh yes, you might have wanted to hear about how embarrassing Ice Cube turned out. I think that many people traveled just for that show, and if they had a good time, then that’s great. I couldn’t even enter the crowd because it was so big (he was scheduled on one of the smaller stages) that it backed up past the path that people use to go see other shows. Even after speaking to those who had been closer and got to see the show, it was apparently quite mediocre and low-energy.
I didn’t even go to the embarrassing Limp Bizkit (it’s exactly how you would imagine it to be). Limp Bizkit…more like limp-syncing. No, seriously, I’m nearly certain Fred Durst lip-synced the entire show.
What really brings together the whole weekend of acts are the final shows with the Adicts and Leftover Crack. I have to say, it was the perfect way to end the festival. I think a lot of people felt that way because, waiting in the crowd of the old-school 80s British party punk band (Adicts), I can feel the anticipation in the air…or maybe the drugs were just kicking in. Once again, it is the old-timers that have got me. Right in the fucking heart, too. And it isn’t just me but a sea of bobbing heads around me smiling, jumping, dancing and screaming that were singing the lyrics. Everyone is having a blast, you can feel it in the air. I run into the pit alone only to find all my friends moshing together–what did I say? What a moment.
The energy that Monkey, lead singer of the Adicts, had on stage along with his theatrical attire beat that of any frontman I had seen over the whole weekend…by far. And it wasn’t only his attire that was theatrical, but the entire band’s performance. Each one of them had so much energy. I think what was great was that you could tell that they were having just as good, if not more of a good time, than their fans in the crowd.
Seeing all these 18- and 20-year-olds moshing to the music they wrote in the early 80s probably made them quite happy. I just imagined being in their place, and it gave me this wondrous hope for punk and youth and for the strength of music.
At one point, I remember seeing everyone moshing one second and then, the next, giant beach balls are falling from the sky, and literally everyone stops. Heads slowly looking up, these things are coming down from the sky like giant moons moving slowly. Everyone around looks up for a good 20 seconds, just awe-inspired. We are there to have a great time with the band, as they are having a great time with us. This energy really carries on throughout the night, and honestly I will always remember that performance.
Finally, the weekend ends off with crust-punk-anarcho-ska masters Leftöver Crack, and as much as Stza can’t seem to reach his crazy high pitched crusty screeches in songs such as Rock the 40 Oz. they pull off a pretty good show. They have so much raw energy on stage and you can tell that they still are feeling every word they sing, and that the crowd was singing back to them. At one point Whitney Flynn from Days N Daze gets up on stage to join them with her crazy vocals. I think people are very appreciative to see them in Canada, as border security has held them back before. We were joking on the way to Montebello about it: as people could be seen parachuting in the distance, my friend exclaimed “YO! It must be Leftover Crack!!”
One thing is for certain, we all want to see them again. “Sooner than you think…” Stza announces ambiguously towards the end of the show. Turns out, for those that missed Rockfest they still had the chance to witness Leftöver Crack and the Adicts at our home venues of Katacombes and Foufounes Electriques the next day! Guess the party doesn’t really end at Rockfest.
“Cokie the clown”, Fat Mike from NOFX’s comedy act came on afterward but at this point I wanted my trip to be over. End gloriously with the Adicts and Leftover Crack still fresh in my ears. Apparently, he was hilarious and he did help organize the entire festival this year, but I was content with leaving at that moment.
Walking back to my friend’s camp site to enjoy the last night of Rockfest, we contemplate all the booze and drugs that have yet to be finished and everyone wandering the streets before Sunday reminds us of the ghastly reality of normal life. This is one of the most prized moments of the festival, fire-works going off, everyone wandering, partying, saying one last goodbye to the weekend.
Oh, what a weekend.
Rockfest is a weekend of really not giving a shit. Because if you give a shit, it’s going to suck. That being said, I came back with an open mind, a new perspective. Seeing the old-school bands rocking out as hard as they did back in the day, just being so happy, that made my time. Rockfest is now a ritual for me, and for my friends. Bringing people together with music can’t really go wrong.
Ok, yes, it totally can but I am in an idealistic mood now.
Despite the lack of organization, which I must say has improved significantly over the years, I have never experienced something like Rockfest. And the lineup, one year after the other, does not fail to impress. As much as bands like Twisted Sister may not have enjoyed their experience, they certainly helped define mine as I heard from our campspot “I wanna ROCK!” and the crowd respond back: “ROCK!!!”
So rock on everyone and see y’all next year!
Words by : Devan K M