Before you jump all down my throat and get up in my grill, understand that not all metal festivals are on the same level as Wacken, MDF, Roadburn, Chaos in Tejas, Bloodstock, one of the annual Scion-sponsored shin-digs or even Hopscotch or FunFunFunFest. Not every fest has the ability to draw thousands or can be held in a major market or central location. Not every fest has the pull or financial backing to draw bands out of retirement or attract exclusive one-offs. While I’m sure most promoters would like to get to that point of professional operation, notoriety and opportunity, the truth is, shit can’t be big and exclusive all the time. That’s where fest like the Southern Ontario Metal fest come in.
Kicking off at Club Absinthe (with a second, outdoor stage to be set up in the adjacent parking lot) in downtown Hamilton tomorrow, the SOMF is in its third year and is what you’d consider a smaller regional fest that brings together a few internationally recognised acts with a good number of popular Canadian acts and younger bands local to the region for a weekend of fun and frolic in the mid-sized city yours truly has called home for the past decade. Yes, a coup of sorts is happening as tech-metal wizards Psyopus are getting back together to play SOMF, and one of the jerks who wrote this will be doing an exclusive spoken word/reading thing at the Friday show, but for the most part, this is the equivalent of your younger brother scampering after you, yelling “Wait up! Wait up! Let me hang out with you!” as you and your dumb friends take off to smoke weed and fail miserably at picking up chicks down at the A&W. So there.
SOMF promoter, Matt “Hugo” Lewis is a long-time friend of mine and has been peppering me with regular phone calls over the past few months, regaling me with tales of frustration, triumph and hilarity. He’s even foolishly asked me for advice a couple times. I know, what a crazy fucker!! The latest obstacle has been the local city government giving our man hard time after hassle as the sands trickle through the hourglass and the fest’s start date ambles over the horizon. So, just to give you a small sampling of the shit promoters have to put up with, I got Matt to jot down a bit of his recent experience.
You used to hold the fest at some campground in the middle of fucking nowhere, southwestern Ontario. I’m pretty sure Middle of Fucking Nowhere actually was the name of the town. Why did you decide to move it to downtown Hamilton? Were there any other locations/cities you considered?
As we started to plan the third year of the fest, we were advised that the campground we had been using was no longer going to be open. So, for a couple weeks in October I called around and tried to find an alternative site that we could still include camping. No other campground wanted metal heads moshing and drinking all weekend on their grounds. We decided that if we couldn’t keep the camping, we might as well move it to a more centralized location. I had been putting on shows in Hamilton for years and had a good relationship with the club. They had moved to a new location which fit the possibility of still having two stages. We also needed to keep in it Southern Ontario because of the name. We didn’t really seriously consider any other city until seven months into this when I got frustrated with the process. If we do put on this festival next year, it may be in a different city.
Tell us, in as much detail as you’re willing to spare, about all the shit you’ve had to deal with, with the City of Hamilton in having this show in the city?
The start of the process to get a festival approved in the City of Hamilton looked fairly straight forward. There is an application you fill out with all the details including why this event would be good for the city. The CoH sets up a meeting to go over the application with you, ask questions that any experienced promoter should know and they talk to you about security and policing, noise, road closures, if there will be any alcohol, etc. That process happened in February and two weeks after the meeting, the event was approved. I went about my business planning, getting a production team in place, fencing, staging, security and bands.
One day I got an email from the CoH saying the city councilor for the district had some concerns about the bands playing. Fuck The Facts was his main concern at this point and wanted to know how they were going to be announced. I let the CoH know we dont have announcers, this isn’t Rock on the Range or some redneck fest. I was polite and professional and advised the city we don’t have announcers and that I could talk to the band and ask them not to say their name. [Guitarist] Topon [Das] from FtF thought this was hilarious and insane, but agreed cause he’s an awesome guy. As ridiculous and morally objectionable as it was to me, I was happy to work with them because they could put any number of obstacles in front of me to prevent the outdoor stage from happening. About a month later, I was in the city of Burlington [the city “next door” to Hamilton] locking down some production stuff when a City of Burlington employee told me that he’s hearing all this controversy about our festival and didnt think it was happening anymore. Uh, news to me.
After hearing this I got a hold of some people and found out what the issue was. The city councilor had looked up some of Dying Fetus’ lyrics…. Well, this was a whole other thing now. It took some time after I reached out a couple times to go over his concerns. When we did speak, he had the usual questions about metal that most other people outside of this community would have. I understood his concerns about an outdoor stage and that people walking by could potentially hear offensive language. Something not offensive to me is I am sure really offensive to someone else, but this country has freedom of speech, doesn’t it? I understand that when someone stands on a street and preaches the love of God, which offends me to no end, I respect his right to say what he wants and I expect the same from him. Now back to the topic at hand. Said councilor wanted a list of talking points so he could defend the festival to his constituents. No problem, I sent that off which included some consequences I would be willing to enforce if bands expressed their opinion in an offensive way. That seemed to do the trick.
Now, as far as the noise by-law is concerned… Since the parking lot is considered semi-private, I had to file for a noise exemption from the city. I filed that in the beginning of June. After multiple follow ups, I heard nothing about it until the third week of July. They wanted to meet. I obliged, brought a gear list and site map. The meeting went well; I signed for the exemption and they said they would send it to me by email. A week later I got an email asking me to do a test run in the parking lot with my equipment. I said, “Well, that’s not possible. I am not going to spend extra money on a generator and the gear were using for 20 minutes.” They said it didn’t have to be the same gear, they just want a reading of the decibels. I politely said that’s not something I am willing to do as no other festival [in the city] ever has been asked to do a test run before, plus it’s three weeks before the festival. If this was the second or third week of June, I would have ample time to make changes, if needed, to meet their requirements. They came back and said we won’t issue the permit if you dont do the test run. Well, now my back is against the the wall. If i dont do the test run, I have to drop the outdoor stage and then this fest isn’t what was advertised and through no fault of my own. I put together the “test run” goes pretty well and now I am currently waiting to hear back if we get the permit.
The good news is that the test run happened a few days ago and went well. The SOMF will go on and Fuck the Facts, Dying Fetus and the rest will be able to offend not only the local councillor, but the multitude of crack dealers, alley-dwelling drunks, pregnant pack-a-day huffing welfare moms and screaming homeless schizophrenics that are usually found wandering this particular part of his ward and downtown Hamilton. And no, I’m not kidding, embellishing or being dramatic.