The twelfth edition of Montebello Rockfest had everything you’d expect—long lines to get in, circle pits, sunburns, and a lot of really loud music. Even more, the weather played games with attendees throughout. They were pelted with rain bullets, and also roasted by sweltering heat like one giant sweaty cookout. But the main attraction of the festival—the music, of course—was nothing short of spectacular. The lineup was all killer and no filler, delivering incredible, ear-busting performances from the likes of Alexisonfire, Wu-Tang Clan, Rammstein, Queens of the Stone Age, and induced some serious nostalgia trips with legends such as Iggy Pop, The Specials, and Bad Religion.
We had our Showbox delegation endure the blood, sweat, and tears (of joy) involved with attending Rockfest, and our photographers Els Durnford and Landon Entwistle went all-out, have a look at their shots below.
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.
About the Beer: For this Saint Patty’s Day, I’m forgoing the traditional Irish music playlist and opting for a dedication to the lovely redheads in our lives. We traditionally see green as the official colour of Saint Patty’s. I vote we make red the second official colour. Even the Lucky Charms mascot has red hair.
Many associate red hair with Ireland but, in reality, it’s very dispersed around the world. Growing up with red hair, I’ve been asked many questions about my origin or where I got my head of hair. In my case, it’s the Irish and Scottish blood seeping through. Ten per cent of Ireland’s population had red hair. I know! I thought it was way more too. But it is a recessive gene after all and 46% of the population there carries it. Please feel free to read more about redheads on Wikipedia.
Nita brewed a nearly perfect ginger spiced ale. The ginger is present but not overpowering. The colour is a nice amber that matches my beard. So you know it’s good! ☺
I’ve already finished the beer and I just started writing.
Lone Wolf McAle is a tribute to another ginger we all love… Chuck Norris! Lone Wolf McQuade was made in 1983 where Chuck squares off against David Carradine. What more could you ask for? If you want to watch the movie, go get yourself a few Lone Wolf McAle’s at the brewery. They are open Wednesday, Thursday & Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The playlist will include at least one redhead in the band presented.
Everyone saw the weather radar map but Tokyo Police Club, who said: “Ottawa, we made it through the storm… Welcome to the other side.” Premature words, which wouldn’t have been uttered if they’d just looked at the cumulonimbus to the west. But instead they started playing and led the early birds to Tuesday’s RBC Bluesfest through songs from their new album Forcefield. Across from the Claridge Homes Stage, Styx fans were waiting blithely at the Bell Stage for the show to start in an hour. Some of them had probably been waiting since gates opened, and a little rain wasn’t going to deter any of them.
Made in Heights are Alexi “Sabzi” Saba & Kelsey Bulkin from the west coast of America. They played the Black Sheep Stage on July 8, 2014 at RBC Bluesfest. Photo: Joseph Mathieu
Over at the Black Sheep Stage, Made in Heights started their summer month tour that began in Ottawa and ends in Montreal, criss-crossing the US throughout. They’ve been described as “mythical filth” or “beauty slap,” which don’t quite capture their mix, and for that they call themselves genre-less. The duo danced their choreograph out to pre-recorded singing by Bulkin and DJing from Sabzi, on top of ambient live singing. Their setup unfortunately made it almost impossible to know how her voice actually sounded, because of a heaping synthetic layer. It was bold EDM and then ambient lounge music. Any kind of turntablism with mad bass in the light summer rain is good for you.
Until it starts to pour like a monsoon, and that’s when mostly everyone took refuge in the Museum.
Pith and the Parenchymas played for a small crowd in the Barney Danson Theatre at RBC Bluesfest on July 8, 2014. Photo: Joseph Mathieu
Luckily, local lads Chris Love, Damjan Markovic & Josh Scammell were playing their experimental freak folk for a small attendance in the Barney Danson Theatre. Pith and the Parenchymas are not a sound you’ll hear anywhere else at this fest, probably not in Ottawa either, maybe not the country… Big words, I know, but here we have experimental sound coming from hooks and riffs that always seem to verge on catchy and then devolve into insanity. I think that’s part of the mix, a strong dosage of madness, and it’s apparent on their new album: Song of the Neverending Ugly Lizard. Love used all instruments at his disposal with ferocity and dispensed of them with equal zeal. Don’t need this slider anymore, so whip it behind the curtains of the stage! And this mouth organ has now been completely exhausted so I will lob it to my feet from on high! The distortion, the bare feet, and the CANADA shirt edited to read KANATA were loud messages all, but none more than their dedication to getting that sound just the way they wanted it. I envy the catharsis of their tunes.
Lawrence Gowan of Styx at the RBC Bluesfest on July 8, 2014. Photo: Mark Horton, RBC Bluesfest Press Images
Upon leaving the Museum I ran into the star of the social media fanfare that day, the double rainbow after the storm! Matched with “Bohemian Rhapsody” led by Styx pianist Lawrence Gowan on his spinning keyboard, the crowd was energized and happy. Just before the melody drop, the song ended abruptly because they decided they needed something for the mood. “We’re all so wet, we should have a sailing song!” And with that “Come Sail Away” from The Grand Illusion began. They certainly are well-versed in the rock agenda — get wet, get set and rock out.
Brody Dalle, once leader of The Distillers, was on at the same time as the locals so much to the horror of Eric Scharf I missed the better half of Josh Homme. However I saw the Queens of the Stone Age rock the Claridge Homes Stage with bright lights and a string of songs spanning a six-album catalogue. The crowd had waited throughout the rain after a small delay in main stage scheduling. “This one goes out to all the ladies out there,” oozed frontman Homme, and blasted into “Little Sister.” “No One Knows” and “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar But I Feel Like a Millionaire” both started the show on a powerful pace, much to the glee of a tightly-packed crowd that went all the way to the front gate. Fathers grabbed their daughters and ran from the mosh pit that stayed strong until QOTSA took the time to play some their slower tracks, never without a messianic spotlight on Homme.
Foreigner melting minds on the Bell Stage at RBC Bluesfest on July 8, 2014. Photo: Joseph Mathieu
For finales, Jake Bugg, just out of his teens and into our hearts, was competing with the blast of nostalgia from the Bell Stage while the dark EDM thump of Gareth Emery worked its way out of the bunker. So much to see but so little chance anyone would miss the arena rockers Foreigner.
You want messianic? Watch Kelly Hansen play with his mic stand under dazzling white spotlights like a spectre of the 70s. “We love playing in Canada!” he screamed. “Because, pardon my French, when it rains you don’t give a fuck!” No stranger to fan intimacy either, he waltzed down the lane and hugged and high-fived anything that was sticking out. Their rendition of “Cold as Ice” was completely supported by the crowd, who ranged from curious teens to well-aged connoisseurs.
Before long, Mick Jones made an appearance. The founding father and forever lead guitarist of the rock stars hasn’t felt 100% of late and keeps a lower profile than Hansen or any other band member. This gentleman was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame last summer, for his contribution to the world of rock, and he can still kick it. Clad in white, he stole the Messiah of the Night title.
However, an honourable holy mention goes to Don Felder, for his electrifying solo on a double-necked guitar that we all know and love at the end of “Hotel California.” The classics were killing last night!
It’s that time of year again when all of Ottawa comes flocking to Lebreton Flats, yearning for a taste of their favourite international superstars, veteran heroes, indie phenoms, local powerhouses, and some even find a new favourite act that not many people have heard of. We’ve compiled a list of our top picks for this year’s festival which should help guide you along and really ensure that you get a glimpse of the talent at this year’s festival (full lineup here). Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive – there are dozens of incredible musicians getting set to take the stage over the next few weeks. Let’s just call this Ottawa Showbox’s “We’ll Be There and So Should You” list…
A legend in her own right, she needs no introduction. A veteran of the CBGB scene in NYC that produced marvels such as The Ramones, Talking Heads, Beastie Boys, The Police, and many more, Debbie Harry and the gang are still breaking down barriers through music.
A hip hop megagroup made up of producer Dan the Automator, rapper Del the Funky Homosapien, and turntablist Kid Koala. Let’s just say they were one of a few groups out there that saved rap music. Joe is fucking stoked!
Earning his spot in music history as the lead singer and songwriter of Wilco, Jeff Tweedy has just embarked on a tour with his son Spencer (a drummer!) to play a number of never before heard tracks off his new record Sukierae. Pretty cool dad.
This 20-year-old kid from Nottingham has been dubbed a “East Midlands Bob Dylan.” While this remains to be seen, there’s no doubt that he’s a prodigy in the music world and one of most exciting new artists out there.
One of the titans of blues rock and roll, John Mayall has been making music since 1956 and has recorded with some greats such as Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor, and many more. At 80, he is still rocking hard and a must-see act this year.
This band, fronted by a male/female duo, not only writes incredible songs, but also take a voracious approach to their live performance. The sexy, and sometimes sadistic, live show only adds to the incredible energy that they exude through their music. I have to say that Peter Dreimanis’s voice, not unlike that of Tom Waits, is one of the most badass things since motorcycles were invented.
This bizarre and incredibly talented fellow has taken the indie music world by storm by simply being himself. His stage persona seems to be his actual persona in real life – quirky, crass, and not taking things too seriously. His new album Salad Days is essential to your summer soundtrack.
This band has consistently proven itself as an innovator of music. Never settling for the industry trends, QOTSA are always cranking out album after album of robust, energetic, and downright kickass music.
Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, is a multi-instrumentalist and incredibly talented musician. Her technical abilities and songwriting capabilities are admired across the music industry, so much so that David Byrne of Talking Heads approached her to write a collaborative album called Love This Giant which was released in 2012. With several albums of her own under her belt, watch in awe as she hypnotizes while on stage.
Sly & Robbie are rhythm section and production duo from Jamaica who have been active since the mid 1970s. Not only have they been involved in the production or recording of over 200,000 tracks since then, but they are also one of the originators of reggae and dub music which had a profound affect on sonic experimentation and ultimately helped to popularize reggae around the world.
Although this band gained notoriety for their international hit “Blister in the Sun,” Violent Femmes’s has an entire catalogue of angst-ridden folk/punk tunes that would spark a fire in anyone who listens. Staying true to their adolescent sensibilities, their angsty (and profanity-infused) music tells stories in a simple way but with a powerful message that die-hard fans know well.
We here at Ottawa Showbox cannot think of a better way to take part in Support Local Month than walking into your friendly neighbourhood independent record store and buying some fresh new wax at a discounted price. I don’t care how much of a music freak you are – record store owners are bigger music freaks and they make a living out of it. So why not support them in the process?