By Danya Trommer
Starting June 14, punks from all over North America descended upon the small Canadian town of Montebello for Montebello Rockfest. With a population of less than 1,000, the festival engulfs the entire town. Local vendors set up shop on the town’s one main street, selling plenty of local Quebec cuisine such as poutine and smoked meat. Families sat outside their homes selling bags of ice and lemonade, while others offered up their homes as campgrounds.
Inside the festival, three stages stood, with stage one and two staggering act times while stage three had an almost constant barrage of smaller acts. This third stage showcased much of the French Canadian talent that the festival had to offer. A highlight was Mononc’ Serge, a comedy rock band donning black turtlenecks famous for their obscene lyrics. The crowd, as well as the backstage viewing area, was packed with fans who barked along to songs such as “Marijuana” and “Le joual.” While I may not speak French, I could easily tell there was hilarity in each song just from the singer Serge Robert’s delivery.
Another interesting act to grace the third stage was a no-music performance by Henry Rollins, the former singer of Black Flag. Rollins is incredibly participatory in social activism, and gave a 45 minute speech about problems ranging from Trump to sexual assault. Having this act at a festival was odd, as the festival did not make it clear on their promotional materials that Rollins would not be performing music. Many came to his set in anticipation of some Black Flag covers or maybe the Rollins Band, but none of that was to be found. Rollins was not able to sustain the attention of some of the intoxicated crowd as people trickled out to the other stages throughout his set, though he was met with many positive woops and hollers from those who stuck around.
Rollins was not the only act that was political. Thrash metal band Municipal Waste played in front of a banner depicting Donald Trump shooting himself in the head and opened their set with a speech against the president and then transitioned into their 2003 song, “I Wanna Kill the President.” Almost every American band playing the festival apologized for Trump at the beginning of sets, being met with cheers from the crowd each time. Punk being an inherently political genre, this was to be expected from many of the bands. However, even bands such as Weezer and Tenacious D made sure to let the audience know they disapproved of Trump as well.
Prophets of Rage, a thoroughly political band with a motto of “Unfuck the World,” put on an incredible performance as the headliners of day two’s lineup. Prophets of Rage–a supergroup composed of members of Rage Against the Machine, including the ridiculously talented Tom Morello, and rappers Chuck D and DJ Lord from Public Enemy and B-Real of Cyprus Hill–came on stage with raised fists, a gesture commonly associated with the Black Power movement. During the chorus of their song “Hail To The Chief,” an anti-Trump anthem, Chuck D marched across the stage in the style of a Nazi. The band obviously did not shy away from making a statement. The band formed in direct response to the election of Trump.
While the festival had an overall serious and politically charged atmosphere, there was plenty of fun to be had. Ska bands the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Mustard Plug brought carefree tunes, warm as the sun, that offered nice breathers from other more intense acts like metal bands Lamb of God and Dimmu Borgir. Lamb of God’s set in particular proved incredibly loud and blanketed the town in a sea of metal. Rancid also offered a nice break, as their danceable punk started a fun mosh pit. Unfortunately, I got punched in the face and broke my glasses, but all is well in the name of punk.
Montebello Rockfest brought an unforgettable experience that would be rare to find elsewhere. Our tent didn’t have all the pieces, so generous Canadians let us sleep in theirs. People were quick to help others out in a pinch. The atmosphere of the festival was so overwhelmingly positive in a way only Canada can provide. It’s no wonder people come back year after year to swarm the tiny town of Montebello–not only hear great music, but make new friends.