There are a lot of music festivals out there. Are they all the same? And where does Heavy Montreal land in the mix? It all depends on what you are looking for in a festival.
Let’s confine ourselves to general rock festivals in the US and Canada (but mostly in the US). For example, I am leaving out Maryland Deathfest because, even though it is a great festival, it is too specific: Death Metal. I will compare Heavy Montreal to Aftershock, Inkcarceration, Sonic Temple, Rocklahoma, etc. Festivals like that.
What matters about a festival? I think these things are important: lineup, price, number of days, venue (and location), other cool stuff at the festival, food, and promoter policies. With these things in mind, let’s see how Heavy Montreal stacks up.
Lineup. Heavy Montreal has headliners just as prominent as any other festival. The festival headliner this year was Slayer doing its final lap on their farewell tour. The real strength in the acts they present lies in two characteristics: there are more heavy bands than at other festivals and there are always bands that no other festival has.
Price. This festival is less expensive than other major festival, and by a considerable margin. General Admission passes and VIP are both cheaper, and recently, if you are traveling from the US, the exchange rate really helps you out because the US$1.00 is worth about C$1.32. More bang for your buck.
Number of days. Heavy Montreal is two days while many other festivals are three days. This difference partly accounts for the lower ticket price. However, the 77 Festival is held at the same location on the Friday before Heavy Montreal, and you can buy tickets as add-ons for a very modest price difference. If you want three days, you got it. 77 is a punk festival and the lineup is always impressive. It is a strong complement to Heavy Montreal.
Venue (and location). Montreal is a beautiful city with a European feel. There are endless art and cultural activities all year round, and excellent nightlife spots. Public transportation is easy to use, safe, and inexpensive. It is a great city to visit. The festival venue is Parc Jean-Drapeau, an attractive green park on an island in the St. Lawrence River that runs along the city. There is a Metro stop immediately at the entrance to Heavy Montreal – you can’t miss it. This unique and amazing place adds depth and ambience to the festival. There are other festivals in beautiful and special places, like Fire in the Mountains, for example, held on a ranch in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Most festivals are situated more for access than for environment. It is truly something special when you both come together.
Other cool stuff at the festival. Some festivals offer other attractions besides the music. Inkcarceration has a expansive tattoo festival going on at the same time. Sonic Temple included beautiful art installations all over the festival grounds. This year, Heavy Montreal had professional wrestling – something I have never seen at any other festival. The live wrestling events drew a small but loyal and enthusiastic crowd who clearly knew the wrestlers involved because the cheered the heroes and booed the villains.
Food. The food is what I would describe as Canadian cuisine. Poutine plus food that has standard US Midwestern equivalents. Prices were good (especially with the exchange rate bump). Water was sold very inexpensively (C$2.00/bottle) and there were many hydration stations with free water – a very important and valuable benefit mostly absent or extremely limited at US festivals. Indeed, the water makes up for the limited food selections, in my view. The greatest food tragedy for me was the absence of Island Noodles! I didn’t know what to do with myself.
Promoter policies. The two complaints I hear most from fans about event policies are the bag policy (what bags you can carry into the venue) and ticket discounting. Heavy Montreal has a clear tier system for selling tickets, and they tell exactly how many tickets are available at each step. When one step sells out, then the price goes up. There is no mystery about it. They also allow VIP (called “Gold”) upgrades from GA tickets you have already bought, which is a rarity in the festival world. Some festivals have enraged fans by selling tickets at deep discounts near the start of the event in order to sell it out. Heavy Montreal does not do this. The bag policy is very relaxed compared to other festivals, and security is simplified so the lines move quickly. Overall, Heavy Montreal is much more fan-friendly than most other festivals.
To summarize in one phrase: Heavy Montreal is one of the top 5 music festivals in North America. If you can go every year, you should. I you can’t go every year, you have try it at least once and see what the fuss is all about. You won’t regret it.
Slayer photo by Tim Snow. Words and all other photos ©2019 Wayne Edwards.