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.
Nightshades getting the night rolling at Gabba Hey! in Ottawa.
Kicking off the night was Ottawa three-piece garage rockers Nightshades. The band formed this year and has a very familiar face on bass, Sarah Grant of RawRawRiot who I have seen several times. Their set was fun and up-tempo featuring great originals such as “Beauty of Dreaming” and “Middle of the Night.” Anyone who reads Showbox knows I am such a sucker for female vocals in garage rock and punk rock, and well Nightshades has two female vocalists who really complement each other. Their tracks were great but it’s almost impossible to cover Minor Threat in your set and not have that become the highlight. The irony of the matter was they chose to cover the preachy straight-edge anthem “In My Eyes” while drinking Old Milwaukee. Look forward to seeing them again as they have me intrigued.
ROBOTS!EVERYWHERE!! and some of his “best friends” singing along.
Up next was the one man punk rock party Phil, aka ROBOTS!EVERYWHERE!! His set started with people giving him space at the front, but that did not last long. The very nature of ROBOTS!EVERYWHERE!! shows is the crowd participation and the funny stories/explanations before every song. He played many of the favourites such as “Best Friends,” “I Miss The Old You!! (a.k.a. We’re Going to Mexico (a.k.a. 400 bucks!)),” “Red Hair, Blonde Hair” and “Ottawa Explosion.” In a twist, Phil reached back to last year when he wrote little songs about bands and people involved with Finish What You Started Fest. On this night, he played the one he wrote about organizer Ska Jeff, watch video from last year here. Phil also played a new tune, a hardcore song about helping “a big metal head with long hair find his hair elastic in a mosh pit in Quebec,” called “I Lost Something in the Pit.” This is by far the heaviest song Phil has ever written, and possibly a new direction…? During the last song of the set “Zombies” a cake was presented to Franky (Ottawa Pop Punk) and he got to blow out the candles for his birthday.
Closing out the night and the festival was Frustrations from Detroit, Michigan. This was the first time I ever watched punk rock while eating cake and may I say it was quite delightful. These guys were a high energy noisy-punk band who must commend as they did not appeared phased by the fact many people had left. They sounded really tight and really loud. Their drummer took over lead vocals for a track which is always pretty cool to watch. The song that really stuck with me from their performance was “Surgeon” off of their latest album Negative Reflections.
This was another great year for the DIY festival put on by Finish What You Started and an excellent way to celebrate five years. Congratulations Jeff and thanks for all you do for Ottawa.
“Everyone was so posi[tive] tonight,” was how the guy beside me on the stairs outside Luneta summarized the show. “It was weird,” was his analysis.
For about half of what a pint costs in the city of Ottawa (seriously Ottawa, what’s the deal?) five bands, including headlines Prevenge, played on the second night of Finish What You Started Fest. Beginning with an afternoon backyard BBQ/Acoustic show under the sun at Robot House the fest changed venues to Luneta where Prevenge, Dead Weights, Dirty Kills, Robots!Everywhere!! and Benevenstanciano got the party going for local punks, random passersby and anyone who wanted to stare into Luneta’s huge front window from the adjacent McDonald’s parking lot.
The first thing you noticed before entering Café Luneta was a chalkboard sign beside the front steps that read, “no hanging out beyond this point.” Since there was no band playing when I arrived the area was crowded with people, on both sides of the supposed demarcation line. There were even a few people reading the sign and debating exactly what constituted hanging out. The crowd would gather out here after every band to cool off, smoke, chat without music in the background, or in my case takes swigs of whiskey from a flask (see comment about beer prices above). Inside, the restaurant was fairly crowded (the tables cleared out of the way of course) for the entirety of the show. The first act, Ottawa’s own, and surely a top 5 entry in the future Buzzfeed list of The Best 17 Bands Named After Obscure Simpsons References, Benevenstanciano. The crowd seemed a bit timid, or more likely tired from the earlier acoustic show, but the pop-punkers got heads nodding and people moving after a few songs. Also one of their guitarists plays one of those guitars where you put the strings in the opposite way and doesn’t have a head. I thought that was neat.
Next up was Ottawa legend? Institution? Robots!Everywhere!! If you haven’t seen Robots!Everywhere!! yet then you need to get new friends, because decent friends would know about, and tell you about this one man musical high-five. (Full disclosure: I used to be in a band with Phil, the genius behind this project.) Phil took to the stage wearing a black bandana around his head, which made him look like a 1980s Bruce Springsteen if Bruce Springsteen had actually been unemployed throughout the 80s, lived in his parents’ basement and did nothing but eat Doritos and play Calico Vision.
Boldly, Robots!’s set include six songs which were written in the past week for, and about, some of the acts playing at FWYSF. Naturally he had some difficulty recalling the correct words, chords and keys for these songs, fortunately sloppiness is part of Robots!Everywhere!!’s charm. The next three songs he took by request. After dismissing calls for Third Eye Blind and Fastball cover he got the crowd signing along with some of his hits and ended with a medley of sorts which included the theme song he wrote for Ottawa Explosion. Playing the theme for a different festival at a festival show may have been the most punk rock move of anyone on the bill.
Next up was a slightly crusty pop-punk (or what they would call slop-punk) band from Hamilton, by way of Halifax, called Dirty Kills. They played super-melodic, catchy songs with killer bass lines that the crowd was digging, but they also spent a lot of time apologizing for harmonizing off key, which even if it was true, didn’t seem to be a problem with the crowd. The singer also mentioned being a little tired from getting drunk at the afternoon BBQ show, that, I think the crowd could relate to more. They were a really loveable band, their banter was abnormally polite (maybe it’s an east coast thing) and the three members even shared a single glass of water in between their songs as if they didn’t realize they could ask for three separate ones, I found this particularly charming. Anyone who picked up the tape that they were selling to help fund their tour of America, will surely be singing along the next time they roll through town.
Dead Weights announced that their set was brought to us by a lucrative sponsorship deal with Prevenge Inc. They later confessed to being one of twenty bands worldwide that simply play songs written by Prevenge and licensed by these subsidiaries. All jokes aside, there is clearly a similarity between both bands but Dead Weights aren’t simply Ottawa’s Prevenge. Powered by their backing vocals (the lead singer of Benevenstanciano doubles as Dead Weight’s guitarist) and more than a few members of the crowd, Dead Weights growled out fist-pumping singalong choruses that, from what could decipher, were about cops, having no money, and the military. They maybe have been the only band on the bill to have overtly political songs, but it’s hard to tell, you can never really understand the lyrics at shows unless you know them in advance.
Though Dead Weights got people into it a little more I could still hear people commenting on how tired they were from the afternoon (you gotta take a nap before the show people!) but all of that changed when the CEO of Prevenge Inc. took to the stage to commence the annual “shareholders meeting.” Prevenge have played past FWYSF shows and are billed as Montreal-faves for good reason. They are one of those bands where if you don’t know the words to the songs, you’ll pretend that you do and then go home and listen to all of the songs you can find so that you won’t have to fake it next time (wait, that’s just me? Very well…).
They started with a slow one, which didn’t really jazz up the crowd. But by the time they played crowd pleaser “Buried Alive“ off of 2011’s 7” split with Dig it Up the crowd had busted through its sun-induced malaise and everyone joined in on the chorus as the band’s two singers traded lines and the crowd shouted the response “bury us alive.” After this song the pit became pretty rowdy, arms were raised, fists were pumped, people were crowd surfed willingly or not and beer sprayed around the room. In light of the lack of a stage at Luneta the crowd managed to do a good job of regulating its own pit to make sure nobody crashed into the band. Nobody seemed to mind the flying beer except for perhaps security.
Even the band couldn’t escape the flying beer. At one point I saw the lead singer of Benevenstanciano fling beer directly into the bass players face as he approached the mic to sing. It was one of the funniest things I’d seen and all in good fun the singer assured me after the show. Also, shout out to the bass player for wearing a J Church shirt! When the band closed their set with “doublecheeseburgercokenoice“ there were groups of fans crowded arm in arm around each mic belting out “we party with the lights down low!” during the chorus.
The band capped off its encore with a cover of Minor Threat’s self-titled song. Here the bass player passed along his bass and joined the crowd to push his way through and stick the mic in the face of anyone who wanted to sing. After the set the good times continued on the beer-soaked floor as half of the crowd engaged in a massive group hug that swayed around as people continued to yell “we party with the lights down low.” Day two of Finish What You Started Fest came to a sweaty beer-soaked close and the positive vibes were painted on the faces of everyone in attendance which, if you are used to going to a show, listening to the music, ignoring everyone you don’t know and then going home, would certainly come off as “weird.”
The shows take place in the basement of the little townhome. The space can not be much more than 20 square feet and the highest portion of the ceiling is about 6′ 2”. It is small, crammed, dirty, humid, loud and exactly what you want for a hardcore show.,
Amidst the patrons, who were mostly sipping on Old English and PBR all night, John Creeden took the floor to open the night. Jon is a punk rocker with an acoustic guitar and a booming voice. He was tasked with kicking off the night and playing songs between every set. He opened in the basement and played in the kitchen while bands set up. Jon played a bunch of awesome originals, many of which had Brutal Youth’s singer and drummer singing a long, as well as many long time fans. On top of that, it was so adorable to watch his girlfriend mouth along every single lyric. When he covered Dead Weight’s song “The Captain,” some kitchen crowd surfing happened.
Walk the Plank was next up. The band from Washington, DC had never played in Canada before. The guitarist was one heck of a tall guy, as his neck was at the ceiling and he had to play slouched over the whole time. The band had great energy and you could tell they were super stocked to be there. My favourite song from their set was “Hush Hush.”
No band traveled further to play 558 Scum’s last night than France’s Pink Flamingos. The three piece delivered straight forward, no fluff punk rock form across the pond. This show was a big deal for them as it was the first time they ever played outside of Europe, and it was there only North American show outside of Quebec. They closed with two wicked tracks, ”Behead the King” and ”Daddy Issues,” of their new EP The Clown Wars. Great band and great guys who were very humbled by the experience. Vachement bon!
Brutal Youth, who are from Newfoundland but now call Toronto home, were up next. They played fast, hard and in your face. Felt like they were channeling old-school 80’s hardcore bands as they tore through their set with insane energy. Fans crowded the mic, in the packed basement to sing with them. They played ”Hunting Wabbits,” off their new record, as well as lthe awesome ”Newfoundland time.” Lead singer, Patrick Neary, often smashed himself in the face and in the head with his mic. Sometimes taking it to the next level by jumping and smashing his face on the lower ceiling. The crowd loved it all, moshing and crowd surfing in the very tight space. They played the wicked unifying song “Xpss&Winex,” which is about how straightedge and non straightedge people should all get along. It is one of my favourite hardcore songs going right now.
Time was running on and the night was going great until After the Fall were about to take the stage. At 10:20 pm two police cruisers showed up, so the band did not start. Luckily the cops only gave a warning and then took off. Having their set cut a little short, the 12 year veterans from Albany, NY launched right into it. They played some great ragers like, ”Senseless,” ”Cathedral” and ”Eradication.” Most of the members from the other bands could be seen rocking along in. I love seeing the others bands front and center. Stuff really got crazy when After the Fall invited , Neary, to sing Minor Threat’s epic ”Small Man Big Mouth.” They then closed with ”Power Trip,” which was dedicated to the cops and ”Its a Choice.”
The crowd started to clear out thinking it was the last song to ever be played at 558 Scum, but those who stuck around past the 11 pm curfew were rewarded. Out of the blue came Royal Red Brigade, from Regina. They stopped by on their way to Montreal and rocked through a mini five song set. Loved the track ”A-Love Radio.” They were an awesome surprise addition, and thankfully when I left around 11:20-11:30 the cops had not been back yet.
All in all it was an epic send off for the house that has helped launch some careers and hosted some excellent shows. This was another portion of My Brain Hurts Volume 1, and as always Finish What You Started just knows how to find the right bands to throw a party. RIP 558 Scum!