Personally, I don’t share the fetishistic interest that so many North Americans have for the open air festival. I have no problem with something that’s held in the urban outdoors, like MDF or Heavy Montreal, but have no desire to combine my show-going experience with too much wilderness and camping. Why? Because this usually means losing your shoes in shin-deep mud and/or grass fires and/or drunks in Tankard patch jackets pissing on your accommodations before trying to crawl into your tent and/or people revved up on a full day of liquid courage and failing sunscreen who think they can down pick and sing like vintage James Hetfield so they decide to prove it to everyone by butchering “Master of Puppets” on an out-of-tune acoustic at five in the morning. But hey, who am I to judge? And who’s to say that bedbug-infested hotel rooms and crashing at shitty punk houses are in anyway a superior experience? It’s all about preference and lots of motherfuckers don’t mind rocking some fresh air for a few days at a time.
As we all know, Europe has close to a million open air metal fests that happen in fields, parks and forests every year and, in comparison, North America has a very small handful. Looking to combine his love of distortion and bug bites (and paintball!), is Alberta-based promoter Tyson Travnik, the mastermind behind Farmageddon Open Air, an annual gathering 45 miles outside of Edmonton, near Riley, Alberta. Two-thousand-fifteen will be the third year of his fest and it promises to be the biggest yet as it’s graduated from a mostly a showcase for Western Canada’s indie metal scene to bringing headliners from the U.S. and overseas this year. We caught up with Travnik for the scoop and needless to say, if you’re in the area (or even if you’re not) and you like your metal accompanied by a Coleman and a cooler, check out the fest’s website, linked below.
Can you give a history of the fest and your motivation for doing it?
After I worked as the sound tech for Metal Mountain in 2011 in Hinton, I was amazed by the popularity of a metal festival in the central Alberta area. Shortly after, I discovered the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise and really admired the intimate flavour that the cruise offered. I wanted to create an open air metal festival that would stay true to supporting independent Canadian bands, along with the highlight of presenting headliners who rarely, if ever visit Canada. I also wanted to always keep the attendance to a level that would always cater to the same intimate flavor of the metal cruises, where fans and bands get to mingle. From my research, smaller festivals also have greater success in providing fans with cleaner surroundings and a more intimate viewing experience when it comes to watching performances. Henceforth, the first Farmageddon Open Air was launched in 2013 and we feel that we’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to these goals.
What’s going to be different about year three when compared to years one and two? What do you feel you learned from the first two editions of the fest that you’ve applied to this coming version of it?
For our third year we’ve been blessed with a higher level of financial backing as well as cemented in a dedicated team involved in the festival. We’ve officially become a not-for-profit incorporation as well, under the name Prairie Fire Events Ltd. This allows us to obtain discounted rates on some festival expenses as well as be eligible for grant funding, etc. for future years. Doing so also proves to the bands and fans alike that our intentions of growing the festival and promoting our performers are our key goals, not pocketing all our profits. The first two years of the festival went very smoothly, with the only negative factor being some financial growing pains. This is to be expected with drafting an open-air festival, of course. But I learned what things are more important than others when it comes to variable costs. For our third year, we are offering more activities to participate in on the festival grounds, have reconfigured our festival grounds slightly, and have added a few more features. Our biggest change is our presenting of three, large, one-off performances from international bands that we are flying in. We are very excited to witness the crowd response.
How was the response to Farmageddon from local folks and bands (and beyond) when you first started it and how have reactions to it changed over the course of three years? Did you any trouble convincing the powers that be of your plans and have you had any trouble from local residents or government?
To propose the idea of a heavy metal festival to the general public is always a huge challenge in itself. The first year involved a lot of hoops to jump through to make sure all our legal bases were covered and that the festival was setup correctly in regards to licences, permits, etc. That said, the staff and surrounding residents of Beaver County have been pretty open-minded, and after the first two years went as smoothly as they did, they’ve relaxed a lot of their regulation requirements. From our attendees, we’ve had an overwhelming amount of fantastic feedback regarding these first two years and it seems that we actually have a difficult time trying to find any negative remarks that would lead us to specific improvements. That kind of support feels great!
Was the intent to always have it as an open air festival? How did you end up on the spot of land that you hold the fest on?
Yes. From day one, one thing I refused to sway on is changing the concept from an open-air festival. Also, because of the flavor and namesake recognition, we also want to try to keep the festival grounds based on a rural property. Being an avid paintballer in my younger twenties, I founded an acquaintanceship with Joe Laarhuis of Sniper Paintball, just outside of Ryley, AB. Joe and his wife are fantastic people and the festival wouldn’t be as successful as it is without their assistance before, after, and during the festival. It’s really neat being able to offer paintballing as an activity to our attendees. Where else can you listen to live heavy metal and play paintball at the same time?! They’ll be hosting us again this year, and we’re proud to work with them again.
What challenges do you feel Farmageddon faces that other fests you’re familiar with don’t have to deal with? Do you “research” other fests to do a little compare and contrast?
Western Canada is special when it comes to metal festivals. ALL metal fests in the area are extremely supportive of each other, to the extent that the managers of each festival have created the Western Canadian Metal Festival Alliance. This group ensures that no festival gets their “toes stepped on” accidentally, helps with making sure bands aren’t double-booked, and helps with cross promotion between all the festivals. We stay in close contact with each other, attend all the festivals, and do our part in offering anything that can help support the western Canadian metal scene. We are, however, the only larger open-air metal festival in Western Canada and that, in itself, brings on higher expenses when it comes to operation than if it was held in a venue. Everything has to be set up from scratch. Obviously, the weather can play a factor, but metalheads are a hardy bunch.
How did you convince the likes of Incantation, Pallbearer and Grim Reaper to make the trek into the wilds of Alberta? In booking the fest, do you find yourself having trouble convincing bands to play because of the location and whatnot?
That’s definitely one area we don’t have trouble with. With over 200+ band applications from around the globe this year, one of our hardest tasks is selecting the bill. We had no issue whatsoever in inviting our headliners over to play the festival. We make sure all our bands are well taken care of. Upon attending 70,000 Tons of Metal last January, I discovered that the reputation of the festival has reached as far as Europe, and upon mentioning it, it turns out that a fair amount of the larger bands have heard of Farmageddon Open Air. I was a pretty “proud papa!”
Who’s on your booking bucket list?
At the festival’s pinnacle, I’d like to look at bringing in bands like King Diamond, Helloween, Manowar, Twisted Sister, and other bands that are rarely seen in Canada. The cost of the tickets would likely increase slightly to help offset these higher expenses, but keeping our attendance fee as low as possible is super crucial.