Ever since the Warped Tour started to skip over our fair city a few years ago, there’s been a punk-sized hole in our Montreal summers. Pouzza Fest has carried the torch admirably, but there’s really nothing quite like a day of punkin’ in the park on a nice summers day. Clearly, a group of punk promoters here felt the same way; after booking punk rock shows for over 25 years, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
Enter ’77 Montreal. 13 bands across 2 stages in a small section of Parc Jean Drapeau, blessed with a rare day of dry weather in this bummer of a summer. No bands overlap either – the bane of many a festival. This year’s inaugural event, likely due to the schedules of the headliners, takes place on a Friday, so crowds are a little sparse to begin with, which makes sense. After all, many of the “punks“ towards whom this line-up is aimed are now grown-ups with full-time jobs who can’t get a day off frivolously… or perhaps it’s just me!
After the bizarre request to surrender the top of my plastic bottle (note to organizers, despite the various admonitions around the site, this makes staying hydrated quite difficult, irrespective of the presence of water filling stations, if I can’t actually store it in my pocket for when I need it), I finally enter the venue midway through Jake Burns (of Stiff Little Fingers fame) set, which is the perfect soundtrack to a relaxed afternoon in the park if ever you heard one. It sounds especially chilled in comparison to what follows next: New York hardcore legends Madball.
The chilled vibe is obliterated within about 2 seconds of the first song, as the crowd explodes into life in the mid-afternoon sunshine. Frontman Freddy Cricien is an engaging one: he patrols the front fence right off the bat, and, as if the crowd isn’t already involved enough, waves his finger like a lasso, the universal symbol to start a circle pit, to which the hardcore-heads duly oblige. He’s funny too, introducing Madball as “a brand new band working on their first album,” and declaring “we love coming to Canada…but not the border.” An explosive 45 minutes.
New Jersey’s finest The Bouncing Souls are immediately up next, and draw another huge, excitable crowd. Frontman Greg Attonito skanks his way onto the stage and launches right into the epic Manthem, and they keep up the frenetic pace on Late Bloomer. Greg roams the front fence too, shaking hands and high-fiving as many as possible, and then darts up the aisle that splits the crowd down the middle right to the sound desk on Lean On Sheena, accompanied by a huge sing-along from the rabid crowd.
Gone sounds epic too, and after wishing everyone “have a great night, have a great everything!!!”, they wrap up a brilliant set with the classic True Believer. The pit picks up once more, and due to a bizarre design on the smaller ‘Scene Ouest’ stage (in which the middle of the floor area is raised a few inches up compared to the left and right sides), those at the edge of the raised area are thrown off the edge during the crowd surge (including myself). Thankfully, no damage is done, save for one punk’s young daughter who leaves the area in tears, but such a floor design is certainly asking for trouble in the form of sprained ankles and tumbles. Another note to the organizers there then…
Old school So-Cal punks The Vandals follow, and despite being physically older dudes, clearly haven’t gone all ‘grown-up.’ Opening with Its A Fact (complete with comedy guitar solo) and Take It Back, frontman Dave Quackenbush then dedicates People That Are Going To Hell to himself. Seriously, these guys were joking about on stage way before Blink 182 made it mainstream.
After Cafe 405 and Pizza Tran, Dave demands to see himself on the huge screens on the opposite stage during Live Fast Diarrhea, all to no avail. Still, he sparks a huge sing-along to the chorus, and you know that The Vandals are the only band who could get a whole crowd to yell “Diarrhea” and make it sound anthemic. Oi To The World and the brilliant The New You follow before Dave and bassist Joe Escalante once again address the crowd: “you know The Vandals, we like to address political shit; we know your President, he’s fuckin’ good-looking, he could be a Kardashian!!”
On I’ve Got An Ape Drape (their ode to mullets), Dave replaces ‘Queensryche’ with ‘Bouncing Souls’ to declare “I’ve been growing that one braid back there for years / I’ve had it since the first time I saw Bouncing Souls!!!”, much to the amusement of anyone who actually caught the joke. And Now We Dance, Anarchy Burger, My Girlfriend’s Dead are blazed through next, before the set concludes with I Have A Date, and the biggest goofball of all of them, guitarist Warren Fitzgerald, heads into the crowd, onto the sound tent, dancing crazily for the video screens. Anyone who didn’t know The Vandals before today will certainly not forget them in a hurry; 50 minutes of ridiculous genius fun.
Many bands to this point have expressed their excitement at seeing punk legends X at this festival, who in the words of Dave Quackenbush, are “the only band here that really live the spirit of 1977” (after which this very festival is named). Indeed, even Mac DeMarco has turned up for them, watching their set from the side of the stage and singing along to We’re Desperate (at least I think its him…). However, it seems that most of the crowd uses their set as an excuse to grab some food, as the crowd is notably thinner at the front during their set. Not that any of the band seem to notice, or if they do, they don’t seem to care. Oozing cool, frontwoman Exene Cervenka has her hands in the pockets of her X hoodie, and you know how cool you have to be to get away with wearing your own merchandise. Aside from a cover of a 1920s country song (since “the 1920s were way more punk than the 1970s,” according to Exene), the set is unmistakably old-school punk, and sounds as timeless as it did back in the day.
After lining up for 40 minutes for a supper of 2 waffles (and that was the shortest of the line-ups for the 3 food trucks available to service the entire festival; one had sold out already. Note to organizers: more food trucks are needed for an event of this size!), it’s time for the first of the co-headliners in the form of Massachusetts legends Dropkick Murphys. It’s hard to know if it was them or Flogging Molly who first merged the Celtic influence with punk, but it’s a sound they’ve never strayed from across their 9 studio albums, and why would they? It’s clearly beloved by the thousands now assembled for their set. Indeed, it’s traditional celtic music and tin whistles that signal their arrival on stage, and after a melancholy intro, the pit explodes into life with the first bars of The Boys Are Back, and is swiftly followed by Blood and bagpipes.
Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya starts out very traditionally with a mandolin, before again erupting into life, and the energy of the crowd is palpable. Some down-time arrives with a stirring cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone, which is followed by the anthemic Rose Tattoo, which sounds even more fantastic in conjunction with the sun setting over the trees around the venue. The pit erupts back into life with The State Of Massachusetts and I’m Shipping Up to Boston. At this point, various members of the crowd gatecrash the stage and dance and sing with the band, and remain there for Until the Next Time, and in fact are joined by even more of the crowd; the stage is pretty packed by the end. A cannon-blast of confetti into the crowd wraps up the epic set.
For the first time all day, there’s a lull in proceedings, with no bands playing, as Rancid‘s crew set things up on the same stage Dropkick Murphys just vacated. The tiredness of a busy week at work and an afternoon on my feet in the sun begins to set in, and I wonder if I have one more band left in me. Of course, when that band is Rancid, there’s absolutely no way I’m leaving early, and as soon as Tim Armstrong staggers onto the stage and sings the opening notes of Radio, the tiredness evaporates and euphoria takes over, as they blast through classic after classic, as Roots Radicals, Journey to the End of the East Bay, and the bass-shredding Maxwell Murder follow soon after. Its amazing stuff.
During The 11th Hour, Tim tells us how they and Dropkick Murphys participated in a draft as to which band would headline each night, and he chose Montreal! The crowd roars approval at his choice; tonight, there really couldn’t be anyone else headlining. Guitarist Lars Frederiksen rips through Ghost Of A Chance, despite some obvious annoyance at some clowns who intermittently throw junk onto the stage, and when he proclaims “we’re gonna take you back to 1995 to a little record called And Out Come The Wolves,” the ska vibes of Old Friend kick in and get everyone dancing once more.
New song Where I’m Going follows that ska vibe perfectly, despite being over 20 years younger. For It’s Quite Alright, Lars asks for circle pits either side of the central aisle, which the crowd are happy to provide, and they keep this up for Buddy. Fall Back Down is met with a huge clap-along, and ends in a huge sing-along for the last chorus The timeless Time Bomb brings back the ska vibe once more, before Ruby Soho closes out the main set with the biggest sing-along of the set so far. A truly magnificent hour of music, from a truly magnificent band.
Both Rancid and Dropkick Murphys emerge for a combined encore of covers, consisting of Cretin Hop (Ramones), I Fought The Law (The Clash) , Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash) and TNT (AC/DC) , to bring the festival to a carnival sort of conclusion, before leaving the stage and leaving the tired but elated crowd to fight their way onto the Metro and back home.
Journey to the End of the East Bay
The 11th Hour
East Bay Night
Ghost of a Chance
Where I’m Going
Black & Blue
It’s Quite Alright
Fall Back Down
Cretin Hop (Ramones cover)
I Fought The Law (The Clash cover)
Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash cover)
TNT (AC/DC cover)
Will this Festival be a regular thing, or a one-off? One would hope the former, since the video screens read “see you next year” on the way out. Here’s hoping so – despite a few minor glitches and gripes, the first edition of ’77 Montreal was a resounding success, and here’s hoping for many more years punkin’ in the park!
This little guy emerged from out of the shadows of the Monster Energy tent to have a quick nibble and was gone as quickly as he had appeared. Its not a common occurrence, to find a rodent that digs the Dropkick Murphys.
Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Kieron Yates