Rockfest. The little festival that could. Started 13 years ago by founder Alex Martel who wanted to bring live music to his sleepy little town of Montebello, it started with 3 bands and was headlined by Gob. Today, Gob would be playing the small stage sometime in the mid-afternoon. Over the years, Rockfest has brought some of the biggest names in rock to Montebello, names like Korn, Motley Crue and Rammstein. Every year there’s been problems, every year they improve upon them but new ones present themselves, but the festival keeps going. It is a true punk festival, stick it to the big promoters and put on the best show you can.
Even before arriving in Montebello, this year’s edition had a different feel from the past couple of editions. The event was held the weekend before St-Jean Baptiste day, rather than on the holiday weekend. The local talent was also scaled back, the stage dedicated to local acts was removed entirely. There were decidedly fewer bands on the lineup, but each band was given longer sets, giving most bands a full hour. This was a welcome change, as you got to experience more of a full set rather than a sampler of each band.
Although the festival always kicks off on Thursday, it’s usually a smaller night, reserved for local acts to celebrate “La Fete Nationale.” This year, the festival kicked into full gear on Thursday. Bands like Comeback Kid, A Day to Remember and Five Finger Death Punch drew a full crowd. This was more than a warmup, the fest came out of the gates sprinting.
Friday was a stacked day. The day kicked off before noon with The Horny Bitches, which I believe is the first all-female band to grace the Rockfest stage. Despite the early start, it seems like someone in Montebello was serving coffee because the crowd was already rocking in full force.
No matter what the time, you can count on Flogging Molly to get a crowd moving, but follow that by a Dropkick Murphys set and it’s a straight out St-Patrick’s day party in mid-June! The Murphys went on and delivered despite bassist and co-vocalist Ken Casey having to head back to Boston for a medical emergency. Relying solely on Al Barr for vocals meant they stuck to the punkier songs and dug back to classics like “Citizen C.I.A.” and “Barroom Hero.”
Raised Fist was an unfortunate no-show due to immigration problems. The members that made it gave fans an apology message from backstage and announced themselves as the first members of the 2019 lineup.
If that left a lull in the crowd, Sum 41 was there to pick it back up. This band is tailor made for festival with high octane sing alongs and tonnes of onstage energy. This festival’s juxtaposition of punk and metal was never more apparent than going from Sum 41’s high energy to Cannibal Corpse’s trademark brutality, back to Rancid’s swinging punk.
One of this festival’s trademarks year after year is to bring in bands that have either never played Montreal or haven’t in a very long time. It had been since 2010 that Norway’s Dimmu Borgir had brought their black metal symphony to la belle province. The energy in the crowd was palpable awaiting their arrival onstage. They did not disappoint. It was a treat for most of your senses, an amazing visual show, the sound was incredible, sorry to your nose, but smell is never a highlight at this festival.
Godsmack delivered high octane radio rock. This was Stone Temple Pilots first visit to Montreal since replacing the late Scott Weiland with Jeff Gutt. Gutt just tries too hard to be Scott Weiland. He dresses like him, tries to move like him, tries to sound exactly like him. Weiland was unique, a vocalist with true rockstar swagger and this seemed more like a cover band than the real thing. Take a page out of the Alice In Chains handbook, the replacement should be able to perform his own material but at the same time be his own entity.
Before we get to the main event, there was an oddity on the side stage if Prophets Of Rage wasn’t your bag. Reset were reuniting with their original lineup, which yes, is half of Simple Plan. I was told it was fun, but come on… Prophets of Rage!
Since their last visit to Montreal, Prophets of Rage have gone from a revival of Rage Against the Machine to a full stand alone band. They split old Rage material with some Cypress Hill and Public Enemy sprinkled in, but they also played a lot of their new material, which stands up live to a lot of the old stuff. This set was one hell of a way to close off the day. True to their merch, they truly made Canada rage again!
Montebello in the morning on the final day of Rockfest looks like a scene from the Walking Dead. Zombies are emerging from tents everywhere, on front lawns or the side of the road, some roll out of cars. They’re slowly crawling towards coolers for either Gatorade or the hair of the dog that bit them. A quick survey of the land tells you there’s absolutely no way this scene will turn back into a party.
Cue the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Like zombies, the crowd is drawn to the loud sounds. And I’ll be damned if a ska set won’t bring these zombies back to life. The best dressed of the weekend in their tartan suits, the Bosstones a highlight of the day.
The Used came out to remind everyone that they once loved emo, perhaps even had jet black bangs. If they didn’t maybe All Time Low was more their speed and they were also pleased.
Municipal Waste were early leaders for band that was having the most fun on stage and the crowd loved it. Although they were later dethroned, they did bring home the award for best backdrop, a cartoon on Donald Trump blowing his brains out.
Another band that Montrealers hadn’t seen in a full decade was Jimmy Eat World. Even the metalheads in the crowd had no choice but to be singing along to these classic radio tunes.
Festival veterans Atreyu and Lamb of God brought it as they do on a regular basis.
Then there was Tenacious D. JB and KG were greeted as rock stars. The crowd sang long to every word for seemingly this whole set. The D proved even acoustic guitars can be pretty metal.
So who had more fun than Municipal Waste? No one… and I mean no one has more fun onstage than Steel Panther. Half comedy routine, half hair metal throwback, these guys lay it on as thick as their eyeliner, and everyone has a huge party in front of the stage.
So is this thing really still going? There is still a huge crowd rocking out and ready to party? Those zombies from this morning are still on their feet? Apparently so because Weezer came out to close the festival off to a full crowd. They played all their hits with the nerdy charm only they can pull off. It was a great end to a fantastic three days.
Once again though, as every year, the MVPs of the fest were the people of Montebello. For 3 days their little quiet riverside town gets trashed and still they greet everyone with a smile. They taxi people around and let them set up tents and bonfires in their yards. They sell hot dogs on their front porch for 2$ so you don’t have to pay crazy prices. Thank you Montebello!
Review & photos – Richard BrunetteShare this :