This past weekend Rockfest in Montebello, QC, turned 12 years old and I was there to take it all in.
After three hours of sitting in the car the car slowly making our way through small neighbouring villages and ultimately right down Main St. in Montebello Thursday night, we set up our tent just as the torrential downpour began. This being my second Rockfest, we knew to expect the crazy long delays getting in, but let me tell you—knowing it would happen only barely makes it better.
Once we were all set up, everything was on the up and up from there. The festival was an absolute blast other than the crapshoot to get in and the poor sound during Meshuggah. I’m not sure why it only affected them, it was a shame given the highly technical nature of their music and this being their 30th anniversary as a band.
Below are my highlights from two days of rock, metal, punk, beer, mud, sun and hundreds of thousands of people.
10 Highlights of Rockfest 2017
Random cheer “waves” in the camping area.
Anyone who has ever camped at a big music festival like this knows exactly what I’m talking about. For everyone else, it is the phenomenon where one person or a small group of people yell out a random sound or the name of the festival and other pockets of people join in as it moves across the campgrounds just like a wave at a sporting event.
Fanny pack fashion.
They are back, they are useful, they are better for your posture and tan lines than a purse and people have gotten very creative with them. I saw some of all sizes, multiple zippers or simple, gold, silver—heck, there was one even shaped like a pineapple. I don’t know what drove people to bring them back, but I am all for them.
I’m a sucker for a good cover, always have been. But I love them even more when they are done live, and then that is all amplified when done on the big stage of a major festival like Rockfest. Some covers can be the entire song like Pennywise doing Minor Threat or Goldfinger with their cover of Nena’s “99 Red Balloons.” Other times it can be a perfectly placed snippet of a classic during their own song like Wu Tang Clan throwing in some lines from “Come Together” by The Beatles, The Specials with “We are family,” or Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age throwing in a little Amy Winehouse “Rehab” during a song. These are not only great tributes, but also a lot of fun for the audience.
Hatred for Donald Trump.
The hatred for the current President of the United States was a constant theme over the two days. I first really noticed it when Pennywise mentioned it and then played their politically charge track “My Country.” But they were certainly not alone, Goldfinger started a fuck Donald Trump chant during their set, and Bad Religion’s “New Dark Ages” has never been more relevant… well, since President Bush at least. The Special dedicated their song “Message to Rudy,” (which most probably don’t associate with politics but it is a very political track) to Trump and complimented Prime Minister Trudeau. Other bands like Anti Flag, Dreadnaughts, Face to Face, and Down by Law also had their piece to say.
Less Than Jake.
One of the challenges of these festivals, is with five stages rolling, you sometimes have tough choices to make, but also some bands that usually play hour long sets get cut to 30 minutes. This is what happened to my beloved Less Than Jake, a ska band I have been into since grade school. They made the absolute most of their shortened time and it felt like they crafted a set list just for me, hitting on most of my favourites including “All My Best Friends are Metalheads,” “The Science of Selling Yourself Short,” “Johnny Quest (Thinks We’re Sellouts)” and more I most likely forgot to write down while I danced up a storm. They capped off their set inviting the brass section from The Real Big Fish on stage to join them. This was one of many skank-tastic moments of the festival with great ska.
Yeah we all know “Du Hast” the German industrial metal band’s big hit that brought them fame in North America, but this band has been wowing fans since their inception in Berlin since 1994. The music is good, actually much better than I expected given I don’t really listen to them and don’t speak German, but the show is what truly blows you away. There are fireworks and pyrotechnics throughout the entire thing. I read somewhere that their tour features more than 20 trucks just to pull off this spectacle. And I mean when you see a guitarist wearing what looks like a WWII gas mask that shoots 10-foot flames from the mouth area, you start to understand. It was almost more like going to see a foreign musical horror film than a live show, and I mean that as a compliment. Fireworks, flame throwers, fire-shooting masks, fire from the stage, crazy light show, explosions, elaborate costumes and devilishly good metal, Rammstein showed us why they are one of a kind. I wonder how many people had nightmares while camping that night.
(please note this is not our video, but we felt it was important to share the spectacle with everyone)
The Specials are one of the innovators of the English 2-Tone and ska movement of the 1970s, forming in 1977. I have loved this band since childhood thanks in part to my parents introducing them and ska and reggae to me at a very young age. The problem was, they broke up in the 80s, got back in the 90s, but I didn’t see them until a couple of years ago. Finally seeing The Special at Bluesfest was something else, but it was unfortunately overshadowed by poor sound and the lead-singer getting pissed off and throwing stuff at the soundman and storming off near the end. This time was very different. This time not only was the sound great, the sun shining and the band in a great mood, but I got to share the moment with my little brother. We danced up a storm skanking all over the place with smiles painted from ear to ear. Their set list was great, and as mentioned they dedicated “A Message To You Rudy” to Donald Trump, but also featured favourites like “Monkey Man” and “Too Much Too Young.”
PUP are simply one of Canada’s best bands right now, if not one of North America’s best exports. Their live shows are full of energy from start to finish and this set was no exception. The cloud of dust filled the air at the side stage as the band got started and never really settled, even when the band slowed things down a little. One hilarious thing was that someone brought a long an inflatable poo emoji which could be seen floating around for most of the set. They ripped through tracks off both their album not stopping for long in between songs to ensure no time was wasted. This may have been the first time I see them play where lead singer and guitarist Stefan Babcock didn’t crowd surf, but he did stand on the barrier surrounded by fans… it might have been a festival rule? Just see this band. I have been saying it now for years, stop taking my word and go learn for yourself how awesome PUP are.
Photo by Els Durnford
So I know I keep using the term “one of my favourites,” but hell, the festival did a good job gathering bands I love and Alexisonfire is certainly one of them. I never thought I would see this band again, I was pretty sure they would reunite, but I figured I would always miss out somehow and that I was destined to never see the band again. Why does that matter so much? Well, Alexisonfire completely changed how I perceived music and opened the door to much heavier sounds and styles—they were a gateway band of sorts for me. I’m also a bigger guy but love to dance, so being able to find space a little further back to throw down and not hurt anyone or myself while respecting others’ space was a nice bonus. Seeing them again was very special, and it could be the last time or I could see them five more times, who knows but it was epic.
Photo by Els Durnford
At the Drive-In.
Another one of those bands from my younger years, recently reunited and I went to go see them in Toronto and they were great there. They played Rockfest with that same energy and stage presence. One of the moments that stole the show, beyond their amazing music of course, was when lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala went on an anti-Bill Cosby and Hollywood rant. He simply stopped after one song and said “Fuck Bill Cosby. Fuck the Hollywood rape sympathizers. Fuck all of them while you sit around and watch their sitcoms and movies.” It was completely out of the blue, and don’t get me wrong, I 100% agree with him. I was just surprised when most of the hatred had funneled towards Trump over the past days. The set was tight, full of great songs we all wanted to hear, and was a great way to cap off another fun year at Rockfest.