Rockfest was a dirty, stinking mess

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I had been waiting an entire year for Amnesia Rockfest 2013. The 2012 event had rocked every part of my world, from the killer line-up of headlining bands to the cheaper-than-normal beer and food prices to the camping atmosphere with hundreds of other stinky, drunk punks from all over the world.

Looking forward to the 8th edition of the fest as my one and only vacation per year, I expected it to be even more diabolical when I heard that ticket sales had doubled those of 2012: it has been reported that almost 80 000 tickets were sold this year. Montebello itself is home to less than 1000 residents, so the small town would literally be invaded for the weekend.

On the Petite-Nation Rockfest Facebook page, fest organizers cautioned how intense it would be to accommodate so many music lovers. Driving down early on Thursday afternoon seemed like the safest bet. When we arrived at the campsite, there were only two other tents set up and beer was already flowing. I’m only semi-ashamed to say that it took us 45 minutes to put up our tent.

Walking to pick up our wristbands took next to no time and we avoided the up to six-hour lines that plagued Friday morning for other fest-goers. Within a couple of hours, the campsite was almost half full and by Thursday night, campers in Zone 3 were calling it Tent City because of the overcrowded, back-to-back tent set up.

tentsThe party began that night and continued into Friday morning. For hours on repeat, acoustic guitars meagerly played Wonderwall by Oasis and out of tune versions of Blink 182 songs.

By noon,when we headed over to the festival grounds, it was easy to conclude that Rockfest chief organizer Alex Martel had outdone himself once again. The streets were packed on both sides with mohawks, skinny jeans, and studded jackets as local residents watched the commotion from their porches and balconies.

After an hour waiting at the gates, we were in. It was time. Let the Rockfest begin!

The Mad Caddies opened the weekend-long music fest with their unique and fun-loving Californian ska. This year, festival organizers had set up five stages for 150 bands. The marina grounds themselves seemed to be double the size of last year, including the addition of the Gordello of Doom Haunted House and a Drop Zone-style amusement ride. We could tell that it was going to be a messy weekend after a week of rain prior to the event rendered the normally dry festival grounds into one, big mud puddle.

Headlining bands like Rise Against, Offspring, Marilyn Manson, and the legendary Alice Cooper guaranteed a musical palate to please the ears. Let’s not forget the punk rock talent of Social Distortion, Pennywise, and Rancid – the band that I was most stoked to see since they hadn’t played in Montreal since 2009. But despite the unforgettable musicians, the festival was plagued with problems from the get-go.

As an avid festival-lover myself, I tend to over-prepare for situations that could arise and at minimum bring a roll of toilet paper with me. Good thing. By Friday morning, campers woke up to completely overflowing porta-potties and empty toilet paper dispensers that were not refilled until Saturday morning at 8 a.m. Some campsites waited well into the afternoon for the clean-up.

The portable toilets on the festival grounds themselves were just as unsanitary. In the evening, fest-goers were being expected to jump over what was dubbed ‘Piss River’ by some and ‘The Pee Sea’ by others as the urine overflowed and mixed with the already muddy grounds.

pee seaAnd that’s speaking for those who actually made it to the festival. Camp Zone 4 was located a 45-minute drive outside of Montebello and its campers relied on the shuttle buses to bring them back and forth. Some shuttles were late and others never showed up at all, stranding campers in Papineauville and forcing them to miss many of the bands that they’d paid for. I even saw some visitors sleeping in the doorway of a bank because the shuttle never showed up to bring them back to their tents.

While the bigger acts like Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper seemed to blast their sound across the marina, the sound guys for bands like Millencolin seemed to be having issues. It sounded like the music was literally being swept away by the wind. Bands were being bumped around, changing the schedule, and festival organizers did a poor job at informing fest-goers about what was actually going on. Lagwagon got pushed to a smaller stage while Manson and Flag ended up playing during the same time slot.

Rise Against closed the festival on Saturday and although I was already back at Camp Zone 3 drinking up a storm, their music and lyrics were heard straight across the tiny town of Montebello. Fireworks infiltrated the almost black sky until the next morning, preventing anyone who was trying to sleep from doing so. Campfires were being started one after the other, causing the fire squad to visit the camp zone on more than a few occasions.

Sunday morning brought a completely different air to Montebello. Fest-goers seemed to walk around aimlessly, covered in mud and who knows what else, searching for food, water, and most probably another beer. We packed up the tent early, proud that it only took ten minutes to do so, and drove off down the highway back towards Montreal. Every year, it feels like I leave a little part of myself in Montebello.

See ya in 2014, Rockfest!

*Photos by Robyn Smith. 

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