Interview: Amnesia Rockfest Goes from Dream to Reality


You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it: fantasized about putting together the ultimate rock Alex-Martel festival lineup. The only difference between Amnesia Rockfest Founder Alex Martel and the rest of us is that he has turned such a fantasy into reality – multiple times over.

Stationed in the small Quebec town of Montebello, Amnesia Rockfest has gradually become one of the most appealing summer festivals for those who love to bang their heads. Featuring a combination of legendary rock, metal and punk bands alongside those rising within such scenes, this is an event that seemingly gets bigger by the year.

The tenth edition of Amnesia Rockfest (June 18-21) is viewed by Martel as “the best lineup we’ve had thus far,” as desirable headliners like System of a Down and Linkin Park get ready to invade his stage.

But there’s more going on than that: Slayer, Pixies, Rob Zombie and Tenacious D (for their first Quebec show ever!) have also been confirmed as performers. Meanwhile, albums that have impacted Martel will be played in their entirety by The Offspring (Americana), Deftones (Around the Fur) and Rancid (…And Out Come the Wolves.) To throw a twist into the weekend, Snoop Dogg will also join the festivities.

“It’s been really funny seeing the reaction. People are saying, ‘What the fuck, Snoop Dogg is on Rockfest?’ explains Martel with a laugh during an interview with “But, last year we had Cypress Hill and we didn’t know what to expect – it turned out to be one of the biggest moments of Rockfest. The crowd went totally nuts.”

When Rockfest modestly came to life 10 years ago, Martel was but a 17-year-old music fan looking to bring some action to his community. He did so on June 25, 2005 with the initial incarnation of the festival. Grimskunk headlined and tickets were just $10.

Looking back on that day, Martel recalls what he believes was a “mini-tornado” that ripped through Montebello. Sound and lighting gear were flooded by water and those involved with the show had to rush around and repair their setup to ensure that the first Rockfest wouldn’t be the last one. Apart from opening the gates an hour late, everything else went off without a hitch. To this day, hmartel-tim-armstrongowever, Martel hasn’t seen a storm like that since.

“I was always a huge music fan going to concerts, getting backstage, making friends with bands, then helping local bands put on shows, and playing with my own band. I feel like my story and background gives depth to the festival,” says Martel. “It’s not like I was a big businessman that decided, ‘hey, here’s a new venture, I’m going to start a rock festival!’ It just happened.”

What has helped Rockfest flourish apart from Martel’s self-proclaimed “perfectionist” working style, is the support he’s received over the years from performers. While he credits Anti-Flag as one of the first notable bands to really spread the word about Rockfest, those in NOFX and Rancid have also played a supportive role. So much so, that Fat Mike of NOFX and Tim Armstrong of Rancid assisted in this year’s building of the Rockfest lineup.

Apart from positive word of mouth, Martel believes that bands enjoy the small, country town vibe they get from playing in Montebello; the communal backstage environment; and the hospitality they are shown throughout their stay.

“It’s extremely difficult, but I started from scratch and have continued to find ways to make it happen,” adds Martel when asked how tough it is from a financial standpoint to put on such a mammoth event. “People often imagine that it’s easy, the money comes rolling in and we’re all multi-millionaires, but that couldn’t be further from reality. But, I love what I do and keep doing it.”

Martel concedes that Rockfest’s financial survival is largely dependent on sponsorship support, ticket sales, as well as the odd grant program. However, despite said survival, there have been growing pains along the way.

The 2013 edition of Rockfest received harsh criticism after complaints about poor venue conditions, ticketing issues, as well as band sets that were either delayed or cancelled without any real explanation. Martel felt the wrath in a very public manner and had to take action.

“That really sucked and I was the one who was the most upset about it, because that’s not what I wanted,” replies Martel when asked about the 2013 show. “We basically fired the production and logistics team we had hired for that year and got a new teamamnesia-rockfest-crowd last year – and we fixed everything. At the same time, you have to keep in mind that between 2012 and 2013, we had almost three times as many attendees, so a lot of improvements had to be made. They were all made in 2014 and everyone was happy – we’re continuing in that direction for 2015.”

As noted earlier, the 2015 edition of Rockfest is behemoth in terms of its roster of performers, with System of a Down arguably being the festival’s biggest get.

“It was really hard to get them because they don’t play many shows,” admits Martel. “I had been trying for many years and at first they were saying ‘no.’ I kept working on it and tried to find solutions – I’m super happy to have them, because they were by far the most requested band by the festival goers.”

Up until and through this summer’s Rockfest, you can expect Martel to be a tremendously busy man. Once it ends, then it’ll really become time to begin orchestrating what the 2016 edition of the show will look and sound like. It’s a pressure-packed gig, but somebody has to do it.

“Sometimes [Rockfest] feels overwhelming – especially two or three years ago when it really started taking off and becoming huge,” says Martel of the pressures that come along with the festival. “We’ve taken it one year at a time and have had to re-adjust. Now I feel like we are at a point where everything is built – it runs itself in a way. But, I’m not the type of person to rest on his laurels, so I feel like it’s going to keep evolving in every aspect.”

-Adam Grant


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