Montebello, a town on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, is a quiet, idyllic, pensioner community for approximately 363 days of the year, before the population swells some 10,000% when punks, rockers, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, and (a few) dickheads roll into town to drink, mosh, windmill, drink, and irresponsibly launch fireworks.
Amnesia Rockfest, now in its eighth year, was started by local resident Alex Martel at the age of 17. It has hosted some fairly respectable lineups over the years, growing exponentially with the 2013 edition its biggest yet. Unfortunately, that growth caused a number of problems this year; wristband collection lineups, transportation havoc, and a swamp of piss were all symptoms of the underestimated needs of a crowd 100,000 strong.
As a local, with that many descending on your small town, you'd be forgiven for wanting to get the hell out of dodge-that, or stand on your front porch with a rifle set to defend your property rights. But no, it really seemed like this event had true community support, albeit driven by free enterprise. Re-purposed minivans made continuous runs from the fringe campgrounds to the festival entrance every morning, a much-needed boost given the unreliable shuttle buses.
After a six hour drive and a hasty tent construction, my girlfriend and I were met with six ticket kiosks at the festival gates where festivalgoers could collect emailed tickets. That's six staff members servicing the thousands that showed up Friday morning. As one might expect, by the time we made it to the front of the line, we had missed a bunch of bands including Less Than Jake, the Flatliners, Millencolin, Agnostic Front and H2O (I'd later learn that the latter had problems at the border, and had to cancel). Once at the ticketing window, I was shocked to see that their will call system was simply someone wildly flipping through a stack of hundreds of spreadsheet pages. With a crowd that size, they really needed multiple entrances and barcode ticket scanners.
Tardy entrances aside, the Dropkick Murphys raised a glass to the slowly growing crowd, tearing into perennial opener "For Boston" before sticking to a setlist of mostly newer songs. Standouts included a strong sing-along of "Rose Tattoo," the first of quite a few AC/DC covers over the weekend with "T.N.T.," and a risky dedication to the Boston Bruins that was met with a sea of middle fingers and boos.
Opening with a one-two punch of "Radio" and "Roots Radicals," Rancid really had the Montebello masses under their control from the get-go. Leaning heavily on ...And Out Come the Wolves-era material, they crafted a setlist tailor made for a festival crowd. It must also be noted that Tim Armstrong is looking much healthier and stronger these days, though sadly without the beard that he has been sporting in recent YouTube videos.
Opting to see Fucked Up over Social Distortion was a tough choice, and fortunately one that was not regretted by any of the few hundred that clustered around the side stage. As usual, frontman Damian Abraham spent the set leaning over the barricade high-fiving, screaming, and sweating with the audience. The band, content to weave their tight wall of sound behind Abraham, tore through a set of old and new songs, culminating in the seasonally appropriate "I Hate Summer."
As darkness fell, hard-hitting Ramones-core followers Screeching Weasel counted off a persistent rhythm that never let up until well after their allotted set time had elapsed. Informing the crowd that he prides himself on breaking rules, Ben Weasel announced a Ramones cover (was that ever a rule?), and introduced a raucous "Cool Kids," boasting about his exclusion from the punk community. Ironic or not, the four-on-the-floor-faithful lapped it up, fists pumping in the air.
Closing day one were long-running anthemic rockers the Offspring, who crafted a set list that stuck mainly to their singles and pleased the buzzing festival crowd. Opening with "All I Want," they then wasted no time getting to the Smash-era material following with "Bad Habit" and "Come Out and Play." Fitting in a handful of songs from their satisfying most recent album Days Go By, they finished with riff-tastic "The Kids Aren't Alright." Judging from the sea of smiling faces, the Orange County band seemed the perfect headliners for day one. For an unfortunate majority of campers with their tents pitched in the neighbouring town of Papineau, these smiles soon faded. When confronted with the logistical reality of crossing eight kilometres of highway, and with no promised shuttle buses in sight, many fans waited hours or hitch-hiked and parted with fistfuls of cash to get to bed that night.
As the sun rose on day two, and with the box office nightmare no longer an obstacle, fans flooded through the gates to be greeted by an unprepared stage. 12 o'clock, no Lagwagon, 1 o'clock, no Mighty Mighty Bosstones... Finally, a festival rep walked on stage and addressed the annoyed crowd saying that Marilyn Manson's crew had arrived late, and were struggling to get their theatrics in gear. The Bosstones were shuffled to a side stage, and to their credit, won over a testy crowd by referencing the situation as a "cluster-fuck-in-a-shit-storm-shitfuck." Singles "Rascal King" and "Someday I Suppose" shined brightly despite early sound mixing issues.
Transplants were up next and seemed to have trouble getting the crowd going until "DJ DJ" was played. Surprisingly debuting a handful of new songs from the as yet-to-be-released In a Warzone, it was once again the singles of previous albums that drew the biggest reactions from the crowd. The cute-as-a-button Landon Barker, Travis Baker's 8 year-old son, appeared on stage throughout the band's set. With a junior-sized guitar hung low, he led the sing-along to "Tall Cans in the Air," even punctuating the "fuck yous" with little middle fingers raised high.
Pennywise bro-ed down with their fans, ignoring all songs off of their solid Zoli Téglįs fronted record All or Nothing to play to their strengths now that Jim Lindberg has returned to the fold. A celebration of 25 years of Pennywise followed a powerful "Wouldn't It Be Nice," beginning a set highlighting just why this band have maintained such a strong following for so long. A surprising cover of Nirvana's "Territorial Pissings" mixed things up before "Fuck Authority" and "Society" brought things to a close.
Big 4 bangers Anthrax were up next, and had troubled drummer Charlie Benante within their ranks. His presence had been sorely missing on their last Canadian tour, and it was great to hear the band sounding as tight as ever. "Caught in a Mosh" and "Indians" inspired some sizeable circle pits and sore necks, while "Antisocial," "Got the Time" and "T.N.T." showed off their penchant for great covers.
In a moment of schedule head scratching, Matt Smasher of ska band the Planet Smashers was rostered on to play between the two titans of metal, Anthrax and Lamb of God. What's more, he was billed as a solo artist and came out with nothing but an acoustic guitar. A muted version of "Repo Man" was followed by a mock technical failure when the rest of the band (minus a couple members) stepped out and aired fantastic Two-Tone covers of "Dawning of a New Era" and "Three Minute Hero."
On the far side of the grounds, the crowd anticipating the appearance of Flag was hushed and eager for that first chord. "Police Story," "My War," "Nervous Breakdown," "Rise Above"-all classics, all played with the sort of fervour normally reserved for bands with much more to prove. Musically, they were incredibly tight. Stephen Egerton nailed Greg Ginn's tricky guitar lines, while the Dez Cadena/Keith Morris shared vocal attack exceeded all expectations. It was clear all involved were having a great time; joking, smiling and cracking jokes between songs. Chuck Dukowski in particular was beaming the whole night. Over all too fast, the band still managed to roll out at least 20 songs. Flag's minimalist stage setup was a stark contrast to the theatrical production of Marilyn Manson, whose strobes, makeup and stage props could be seen far off on the main stage.
Cadena made an endorsement for Alice Cooper during the Flag set, saying that he was one of his earliest influences. That's not surprising given the longevity of the shock rocker's career. At 65, he was the festival's oldest performer (perhaps attendee?), but he's still in remarkable shape and surrounds himself with talented, youthful musicians (perhaps drinking their life essence?). High camp, high volume, and an awful lot of fun, the classic guillotine performance during "I Love the Dead" and the giant Frankenstein Monster that lumbered on stage during the finale of "Feed My Frankenstein" were obvious highlights. The FM radio staples "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "School's Out" and the ballad "Poison" unsurprisingly drew the most enthusiastic crowd response.
Rise Against were set to close the festival, but in all honesty, I just wanted to make sure I'd get back to my campsite eight kilometres away.
I fear a lot of attendees driving home Sunday morning would not be making a return trip next year. I've read some pretty harsh criticisms over the last couple days. That suspicious smell and growing lake adjacent to the side stage port-o-potties was pretty gnarly by day two, and I haven't forgotten the frustration waiting to get a wristband. At the end of the day, though, Amnesia had a great lineup of bands playing under a near cloudless sky in the middle of summer. Fix the box office cluster-fuck-in-a-shit-storm-shitfuck, run more shuttles, and set up more toilets. Bonne chance for next year.