Amnesia Rockfest: outdoing themselves one year at a time

On some level, every show organizer and promoter wants to have the event that those who attended look back and remember as the most incredible thing they ever saw. The memories of seeing that moment when a band hit that perfect stride after having been mothballed for years or that chime when a baby band proved they were going to be the next big thing to set the world on fire are the sorts of things that fans discuss romantically for years after the fact; they’re the kind of moments that are unforgettable – and every promoter quietly hopes they’ll be able to say they helped to bring that to people, one day. For the last eight years, Amnesia Rockfest organizer Alex Martel has been pulling together concert lineups that he has hoped will be the one that people remember that way but, now in its ninth year, Martel has no doubt that he has put together the Amnesia that no one ever forgets.

“For me, the Rockfest experience – putting the whole thing together every year and watching how much people enjoy it – has been really excellent, but it has been really cool to see how it has grown too,” exclaims Martel. “We always try, but it really does just get bigger and bigger every year! Last year, people were saying there was no way we’d be able to top the lineup that we had, but the first thing they said when we announced the first wave of bands this year was that they didn’t know how we’d done it, but we had outdone ourselves again.”

Under many circumstances, such excited language might be dismissed as an over-eager sales pitch, but one look at the bands on the lineup for Amnesia Rockfest 2014 truly does brim with the promise of something great. This year, some artists who are making waves in the metal, hard rock, punk and hardcore scenes including (but certainly not limited to) Motley Crue, Alice In Chains, Gaslight Anthem, Joan Jett and Mastodon will all be making their way to Montebello, Quebec [photo above by Valérie Ménard] to take a turn on the Amnesia stage beginning June 20, 2014. Other more ambitious artists will be playing with more than one band; “Fat” Mike Burkett, for example, will be playing with NOFX and Mefirst and The Gimme Gimmes, while Eric Melvin will take the stage with both NOFX and Punk Rock Karaoke.

Such performances promise to spark a lot of curiosity (everyone wants to see what stuff an ironman is really made of), but the fact that names like Danzig and Henry Rollins AND both Black Flag and The Misfits appear on the bill promises to generate even more. Of course, no one is saying that those artists’ paths will definitely cross, but the excitement at the possibility of artists like these sharing some time on stage is palpable, and something Martel was very conscious of when he was building the lineup for the show.

“Every year, we really try to get a few combinations of bands which will really make people looking at the posters look twice, but this year we’ve gotten a little more of that than usual,” laughs Martel. “We do that on purpose for fans to create something special. Like, even if they don’t get on stage with each other, all of those bands are on the same package, and it’s really cool to watch people looking at posters before the show; you can see it on their faces – like, ‘WHAT?! Oh wow! They’re BOTH playing this year? That would be so cool if they got onstage together!’

“I spend a lot of time working on the lineup every year, and spend a lot of time listening to those who have been to the festival over the last nine years to see who they think would be great to see on the bill,” Martel continues. “I also go to lots of festivals throughout the year all over the world to see what they’re doing and how it comes together and what people are interested in seeing; the headliners are important, but that’s one thing – I want to know what smaller bands people are coming out to see. That’s one of the reasons why we get a lot of cult bands and bands who have reunited on the bill as well, and we take several months to put it together so that the show can appeal to a really large number of people. There are big names, even at the bottom of the poster, and there are so many that people are surprised to see some names, even if they look at the poster twice.”

The work that Martel has put in this year has very obviously been answered; while a few tickets for Rockfest still remained when we spoke, the number was pretty small and excitement for the proverbial curtains to go up on the show was already reaching a fever pitch. Even with the show nearing though, Martel remained fairly calm and happily announced that his hair hasn’t gotten any greyer with the experience and, in fact, he has already begun organizing the lineup for Amnesia Rockfest’s tenth anniversary next year.

“I’m really excited about this year’s lineup, of course, but I’m already working on next year’s lineup,” Martel laughs. “I put a lot of time into it to make it an event every time; like, while some of the bands have been back more than once, I try to make sure no one’s back two years in a row. We try to keep it really mixed up too, which has worked out really well because tastes are always changing; Anti-Flag were one of the headliners in 2010, for example, and now they’re opening the main stage on Saturday this year. Gob is another one – they headlined Amnesia in 2009 and now they’re playing on our punk stage in the afternoon, and the same is true of Lamb Of God. Even NOFX was our headliner in 2011, but they’re playing the main stage on Friday at 5pm this year. For me, it’s really interesting to see how things shift and change like that, and I always take it into consideration when I’m putting the bill together for the show the next year. All of my time and energy goes into putting this show on every year and I really do do it full-time to make sure those who come get an experience they won’t forget.”


Amnesia Rockfest begins June 20, 2014 and runs through June 21, 2014.


Bill Adams is Editor-in-Chief of Ground Control Mag.