Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Sights and Sounds of Rockfest - Day 2

Sights and Sounds of Rockfest  |  Day 2

                                   PHOTOS  |  JASON DUCHENE (RAW CUT MEDIA

I wake up to the smell of caramelized onions. The inside of the tent is becoming warmer by the minute. I get out and see an empty box of Bud Light rolling across my sight, like tumbleweed in an old Western movie.

Outside, party people are already very active. The shows have not yet started, and so everyone is earnestly preparing breakfast or drinking coffee, ready to face another day of complete disregard for anything remotely reasonable. I decide to bite the bullet and I go wait in queue at one of the several super-packed dépanneurs to get beer and ice. ‘Better now than in the middle of a show,’ I tell myself.

I come back to our camp a hero, stash our beers in the cooler, and crack one. I think of that Johnny Cash line from Sunday Morning Coming Down, which goes, “The beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had another one for dessert”. How fitting.

Then we quickly make our way to the concert area, not wanting to miss some of our favourite acts. Everyone is VERY excited about today’s lineup.

While Amber and Geneva waste five dollars to experience what they later claim is “the worst haunted house of all time”, I head bang vigorously to the fast-moving punk rock of the Transplants, along with Ivan and Anna, the newly arrived members of our crew. It is a perfect way to start the day: good old messy sunshine punk rock with a nice touch of MCing to spice things up. The band being fronted by veteran Tim Armstrong (founder of Op Ivy and Rancid), it sounds utterly tight. I’m enjoying myself a lot.

On our way back to the main stages, we pass the urinals, at the foot of which a powerfully stinky pool of fluid is evaporating in the blazing sun. We hold our breath.

We arrive a few minutes before the guys from Pennywise start their set. There has been a lot of shifting (and one departed soul) in the 25-year-old band’s lineup since the mid-90s, but it does not make it any less capable of delivering the goods. Which it does, in frantic, youthful craziness. A girl with colourful paint all over her face who’s sitting on this sturdy man’s shoulders finds it inspiring enough to flash her chest at the crowd while the pit is raging only a few feet away from her. As more and more hectic music is thrown at the moshers, they get increasingly frenzied. Lead singer Jim Lindberg is not helping matters, as he repeatedly asks for two giant circle pits to be formed, a request that is granted by the public without delay. It is mayhem in the sunny afternoon, and it only escalates when the band dives into a bewildering cover of Nirvana’s Stay Away. At this very instant, I turn my head and see this dude bodysurfing in his wheelchair near the front of the stage. It is added to, and then checked off the list of ‘Things I Want to See Before I Die’ immediately. Such bliss.

Pennywise's Jim Lindberg
Pennywise's Jim Lindberg

My unit and I gather at a poor tall skinny tree with no leaves that we established was our ‘in-between-acts meeting point’ (we baptised it ‘The Naked Tree’). There, Yolanda and I lay eyes on one of the most whimsical characters of the festival. Maybe THE most.

The sketched out farmer.

He looks like he’s about 30 years old, he’s wearing nothing but brown farmer overalls and a straw hat, his feet are bare and squish trough the mud with every step. He’s intently holding to a small box as if it was a precious treasure, and he looks utterly suspicious of every ounce of reality around him. He’s walking around at a pace that even a turtle would laugh at, and he’s looking at everything and everyone with an expression of heavy, weirded-out concern. The best part is he is actually strolling around, in the same patch of about 30 square feet, without really going anywhere. He’s zigzagging between passing people, with eyes in which you can read something along the lines of “what the f**k are you people doing in my field?” I love him with all my soul. I would pay good money to get a glimpse of what is going on in this man’s head right now.

Shortly after this wonderful encounter, a few of us move from the bigger to the smaller stage, intrigued by what the hell is going on there. The tableau is peculiarly funny: five men are wearing yellow Lycra bodysuits, three of whom are playing saxophone. That, my friends, is the happy campers of Arseniq33. Their music is all over the place, from frenetic ska pieces to very animated punk songs, with a dash of metal here and there. “These guys are awesome!” my friend Yolanda screams at me as we bump into each other in the midst of a fairly spaced out pit. Agreed, my fellow mosher. Agreed.

*  *  *

“It’s like he’s God, and the rest of us are the lamb,” my buddy Stewart will eventually say about Lamb of God’s bassist John Campbell. I cannot help but finding this audacious analogy eloquent. It is true, the man is a walking poem. He bears the face of an old sailor, with a thick, medium-length salt and pepper beard, a set of glorious wrinkles around his shades-covered eyes, and a pair of sharp cheekbones. He has a tight skinny body and long wavy hair that whitens gradually along the whole length, from the skull to the tips. Come to think of it, there is only one member of this straight-up mythological heavy metal act that has short hair. Needless to say, the head banging is a pretty sight when these guys are going at it.

But it would be foolish to merely speak of these guys’ looks. Their music sounds like a ton of bricks falling on a pile of hand grenades. They can shift speed in the space of a nanosecond, in the tightest of fashions, without breaking a drop of sweat. Using slow, carefully sculpted riffs that are laced with enough distortion to make your face melt, as well as hyper-fast phases that shoot through the air like a machine gun, they make the mountains of amps behind them howl at the night with severity. It is wholly satisfying. Just ask Ivan and Anna, who form a lovely couple, who somehow manage to romantically follow each other as they bodysurf over the head-banging crowd.

Lamb of God's John Campbell (photo: Jason Duchene)
Lamb of God's John Campbell
Shortly afterwards, on the smaller stage, Roller Skater shows up. They provide a ska-oriented variety of punk rock, with explosive horns and just enough grunge and filth. There is a bit of reggae in there, and as I realize that the sky is beginning to blacken, I find it pretty perfect that this band has been given the slot corresponding to the last moment of sunshine. It is enough to make me grin like a fool, once more. I’m working on those wrinkles around the eyes.

As darkness settles in, the name of the one they call its prince is on everyone’s lips. The anticipation becomes hard to bear for certain fans. Geneva is among those. She is freaking out, in disbelief that Marilyn Manson is actually about to step on stage.

And when he does, wow… does he do it in style.

At first, a wide black curtain hides the stage from the crowd. Then, purple, red, and yellow beams of light begin swaying in the smoke behind it as a noisy soundscape is launched into the atmosphere. Seconds later, all the beams of light turn red. The silhouette of a man holding a microphone stand over his head with one hand appears on the surface of the curtain. It is faint first, then increasingly clear as it moves forward and becomes bigger. A viscerally intense cheer erupts from the audience, who just does not know what to do with itself. The moshers get a generous shot of boundless energy and dive back into their mischievous habits.

Then, the curtain drops, revealing the prince to his febrile audience. It’s freaking pandemonium.

This performance consists of nothing but highlights. Manson bears makeup that reminisces of geishas: shiny white paint on his face and streaks of red over the eyes. He is dressed in black leathery outfits of all kinds, which he changes after every song. The mise en scène is absolutely out of this world. He sings one song behind a gigantic judge podium, another one under a shower of confetti that fuses towards the sky and falls over the entirety of the crowd. He sings Mobscene while twisting like an evil exotic dancer on the seat of a giant wooden chair. His presence is, as usual, incredibly vivid. This performance truly goes beyond a mere music show: it’s a deadly musical, a scary and unsettling play, a work of morbid art. It is magical, amazing, mind-blowing.

Then, my crew does something so stupid I will never forgive myself for following it.

It leaves the concert area to go back to the camp. And misses Alice Cooper. I know. Believe me, I am aware. I KNOW, I TELL YOU!!! SHUT UP!!! I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!!!

Yolanda and I at least run back to the concert area in order to see Mononc Serge finish the night. We arrive in time to witness Rise Against playing a few songs, but not being a massive fan of its music, I admit that my mind is mostly occupied elsewhere. When all its members leave after two encores, I am really excited to see the former Coloc perform the last set of the festival. But I will have to wait: Rise Against shows up for a third encore, despite the serious lack of the demand, which cuts into Mononc Serge’s set, big time. He even starts before they do it, thinking that his turn has come. No, not yet Serge, he is told. We all get impatient.

When he finally gets on, he offers his tongue-in-cheek fables, his protesting songs spiced up with a sprinkle of humour, his preposterous rhymes about punks, and marijuana, and life in community. He even takes the time to confide that he was asked to write a song about Rockfest, one that may resemble the one he wrote about Woodstock en Beauce, another very popular Quebec festival. “J’ai pas écrit une chanson,” he says with a big grin, “mais j’ai écrit un beau poème!

Uh oh.

Loyal to himself, he delivers a 10-minute series of controversial rhyming lines about how it sucks that local up-and-coming bands from Quebec were told a month ago that they had to sell tickets to avoid paying for their presence at the festival, and about the many logistical issues that the event has known so far. Shortly after finishing, he’s asked to leave the stage. No one knows if it’s because of his poem, or because Rise Against has stolen too many minutes from him and the night is actually over. Regardless, he’s called for an encore, which he performs beautifully before bowing to the heavyhearted crowd and running out of sight.

Music over. Time to wrap up the festival in style.

Yolanda and I decide to take a walk around the festival to finish things off properly. We bump into this guy named Dave, a dude from Edmonton who is the manager of an organic food store. He’s remarkably drunk. Apparently, he flew from Edmonton to Hamilton, and then hitchhiked from Hamilton to Montebello. His tent is pitched in a far away campground and he missed his shuttle. We thus offer him to spend the night with us, as we are not planning on sleeping too much. He accepts without hesitating.

In fact, there is not much that this wonderful individual says ‘no’ to. He stumbles around with us looking beyond plastered, and so Yolanda and I keep asking him if he’s alright. Every time, he snaps out of his zombie state in the space of a second and, in a perfectly intelligible way, he replies, “Yeah man! I’ve been waaaay more f***ed up than this!” He’s astonishingly convincing, so we keep offering him swigs of whiskey, beers, puffs, food, cigarettes: he happily says yes to everything, and displays tons of sincere gratefulness. We get such a kick out of this guy. He’s a goddamn trooper.

We are walking next to a hedge at one point and a voice comes out of it. “J’peux-tu t’acheter une bière?” the person inquires. All I have is whiskey. “J’en n’ai pas. J’peux vous donner une glou d’Jameson, si vous voulez…” They cheer in approval. Dave, Yolanda, and I walk over to them, and offer them some of the Irish nectar. While the bottle passes from one hand to the next, these guys keep ranting about how awesome the Alice Cooper show was. They speak with great excitement of the moment during which Marilyn Manson came on stage, kneeled in front of Cooper, and kissed his boot, before performing a song with him. I want to cry.

Cryptopsy's Chris Donaldson (photo: Jason Duchene)
Cryptopsy's Chris Donaldson
The night ends on the steps of the church again. There, we see the boys from the cemetery once more, and have another heartfelt conversation with them. We meet this big bulky guy named Ben, who just showed up here without a Rockfest ticket, only to hang out with festival people outside of the concert area. He keeps coming up with the funniest expressions. The way he describes himself, “a crazy in the pocket”, rapidly becomes an inside joke. Geneva is in a very altered state and keeps getting creeped out by Dave, whose zombie face is now a true wonder of human facial deformation. She is not subtle at all about her impression of good old Dave, and tells us to his face that he really freaks her out. It’s enough to make him snap out of his thickening fogginess and utter, “Are yooou still weirded… out by me? Don’t… wooor-ry, man, I’m teeelling yooou: I’ve been waaaaay moo-oo-rore f***ed uup than this.”
*  *  *

The next day, we are woken up by fat raindrops falling on the tent, and people rushing off in every direction. The church lot is almost empty already. We stash our wet stuff in our friend’s car in no time and take off, tired and happy.

One festival in the books. Bring the next one. I’m ready.

*  *  *

Check out Dangrz Studios' Virtual Tour, featuring 360 pictures, footage, and much more.

Special thanks to Jason Duchene from Raw Cut Media for the photos. 

Read more about Rockfest in Sights & Sounds of Rockfest | Day 1
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