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Ottawa Uncovered.

Carpe Diem Rockfest


Lex Magazine Ottawa blog. Ottawa Uncovered.

Carpe Diem Rockfest

Lex Magazine

In 1989’s Dead Poet’s Society, Robin Williams masterfully inspires a group of young students to do something extraordinary with their lives.

“They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable?”

“Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - Carpe - - hear it? - - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Alex Martel did something extraordinary in 2005 when he started Rock Fest. His first carpe diem came at only 17 years old. Since its inception, Rock Fest grew and grew, year over year, beyond his wildest dreams. But in 2013 his grand creation was torn apart at the seams. A victim of its own success, 100 000 people descended upon the festival and brought it to its knees. Drowning in a sea of its own filth, the legend of a “lake of human piss and shit” became the biggest story to come out of the event, crippling its reputation.

A chance for redemption only comes once, if ever, in a man’s life. Martel and his team were keenly aware of this and big logistical changes were made for 2014’s mammoth event. Though the festival had grown to the size of Goliath, it had become David in the eyes of many. The task of organizing 150 bands and over 200 000 festival goers was seemingly impossible and many expected another fecal disaster.

So, is the tale of Rock Fest in 2014 one of triumphant redemption, or of a giant suffocating in a sea of its own excrement?

I prepared for the event with more caution than a nun at a swinger’s party. For you, my adoring readers, my psychogenic fecal retention issues would be evacuated. Armed with two ply, three ply, Depends, feminine wipes, Pepto Bismol, Imodium AD, an air-tight thermo-nuclear hazard suit and a toothbrush, I ventured forth into the lurid brown Montebello forest.

Travis Barker, drummer for Blink 182, was the first person I met upon entering the stunning Chateau Montebello in the hauntingly gorgeous village that bears its name. The most famous member of the most famous band was not nearly as important as the second person I met. The next person I met gave far more insight into the neurons that make Rock Fest’s heart beat. Her name was Jackie Martel, Alex’s grandmother.

Soon after meeting meeting Jackie, I bumped into Alex and his mother, Danielle. Who in their right mind brings their mom and grandma to an insane Rock/Punk/Metal music festival?

Peeling back the layers of Rockfest’s onion, it becomes clear, at every level there’s an element of family.

And it is in this togetherness that the core of Rockfest’s bloodied heart exists. Look at the ‘type’ of people who attend Rockfest. What’s your first reaction? “A bunch of stoned, drunk, dirty-looking metalheads who ought to be left in a cave until they murder each other.” And yeah, a few months ago I’d have agreed with you. But seeing Alex with his family, the team of volunteers, the bands and their groupies, the fans and the residents of Montebello, a stunning perspective begins to emerge. It’s as hauntingly beautiful as the historic village that warmly opens its arms to hundreds of thousands of rock’s pilgrims.

Make no mistake, the vast vast majority of Rock Festers were delinquent, anti-social misfits. Seeing any one of them alone on the street would make the average organic granola-crunching, fair-trade coffee sipping, zero emission commuting yuppi wretch. When you put 200 000 of them together, though, everything changes.

Hordes of alcohol, drugs, loud thrashing music and violent mosh pits create an astounding juxtaposition to what there wasn’t: Conflict, fights, or the threat of any danger. Rather, there was unity, camaraderie and kinsmanship. From the drunkest, nearly passed-out mosher to the biggest, most prolific rock stars, not a single person, not one, was anything but gracious. Editors note: With the exception of some fat, drunk, rude American douchebag from some hill called Cypress...

I’m no metal head, I’m no punk, I’m no rocker. But in my tye-dye kitten t-shirt and red Lulu Lemon pants, I began to feel as if I was one of them. Montebello was a safe place; it felt like home. And from behind this blinking cursor, I can’t help but yearn to go back, to be a part of the beautiful mayhem, to be with my newfound family.

Listen… Do you hear it? Can you hear that sound? That’s not the sound of Punk, Metal or Rock music. Listen more closely… Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day.

Written and Photographed by Steffi

Oh! Right, the shit and piss... Frankly, there’s not much to say about it. It just wasn’t an issue. The best thing anyone can say about the logistics of an event with over 200 000 people in attendance is the same as can be said for a referee at the Superbowl: nothing. A festivus miracle -- everything went off without a hitch.