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A (Pop)Montreal Travelogue – Part 3

Posted by Jer / October 16, 2007

Due to a slight publishing error, we've kept you, dear readers, accidentally in suspense. My apologies. But without further delay, here is the third and final post in a series contributed by Ben Kim, a visitor to this year’s Pop Montreal Festival from Austin, Texas. As the festival wraps up, Ben has some words for the organizers. The views expressed here are solely those of the author, and of course, anyone else who agrees with said author.

On Sunday night I had a single musical goal: Eric’s Trip (Moncton). I got to the Ukrainian in time for Vicious/Delicious, two girls and three guys doing straight-up early-‘90s shoegaze with passable pluck, though a third of their songs really dragged. Now I barely paid attention to Eric’s Trip back in the day, but I suspected they were fondly remembered up here. What an understatement! The atmosphere was electric, a mosh pit erupted three songs in, and well, there was a lot of love in the air. Nostalgia too, but what’s the harm? The band was enjoying themselves immensely, and while the frontline raged brilliantly, most valuable player had to be drummer Mark Gaudet. I’m skeptical as hell about all of the punk/new wave reunions, but there was nothing perfunctory about this performance. My PopMontreal experience ended on a crackling high.

Appendix: Suggestions For Improvement

I’m not trying to take anything away from PopMontreal. Obviously a lot of people worked very hard on it, and a great time was had by many, myself included. But I do hail from Austin, home to the mother of all multi-venue pop music festivals, and I’ve seen it done right by the best. I see two major areas for improvement here.

One: Schedule

Stick to the schedule. Easier said than done, but it’s your festival, so run it. Fest goers are planning their night down to the minute. On Saturday I wasted a time slot and a cab ride on going to see Dragons of Zynth at Les 3 Minots. They were scheduled for 9pm but it was clear they had no intention of starting on time. It’s not just another night at the club, when you wait however long it takes for the place to fill up. Some slots are a tough draw – tough luck, you play to an empty room. Same night, different example: at the National I met a member of Barkus Born, who was crestfallen to learn he’d just missed Sunset Rubdown (and wasted a costly taxi ride). He would’ve been there in plenty of time, but they flipped Sunset and Black Mountain in the order. Nowhere was that change publicized. Stick to the schedule.

Two: Wristband Policy (the general all-festival red wristband I paid $80 for)

Large festivals usually work like this: there are three classes of attendees for any given show. First are holders of the VIP or industry all-festival pass. (Sometimes performers are included at this level.) This is the most expensive. Next are holders of the general all-festival pass. This is moderately expensive, but can easily pay for itself over the course of the festival. Last are single ticket buyers. Usually no sales are made to this group until the venue’s doors open or later.

PopMontreal sold two tiers of passes, but otherwise completely inverted the logic and integrity of how this system usually works (i.e. VIPs get all access, general pass holders get priority, and single tickets are made available at the door). They gave top priority to single ticket buyers, sold out the hottest shows well in advance, and protected zero capacity for general pass holders. Zero. (I don’t know how VIPs fared.) That’s how on Thursday my red wristband was turned away an hour before the first act took the stage at the Ukrainian. (The headliner was Final Fantasy.) That’s how I learned on Thursday, three nights ahead, that no red wristbands at all would be admitted to the National (at the National) on Sunday. That’s how my red wristband was turned away from Eric’s Trip on Sunday, except I wheedled the girl at the booth and got in.

What PopMontreal did was fraudulent, and probably actionable under the law. I think the presenters of South By Southwest would fall off their chairs laughing over the sheer audacity of what PopMontreal perpetrated. “Sell the capacity twice – why didn’t we think of that!” Because it would be unconscionable. PopMontreal needs to state explicitly up front that no capacity whatsoever is reserved for pass holders and that all shows may be sold out in advance to single ticket buyers (and that the most popular shows almost certainly will be).

Pop Montreal has a lot going for it, starting with a great city and a great music scene. I had a good time despite getting ripped off on the festival pass. Six years in, people are expecting you to run it right. I won’t be back to the festival, nor will I recommend it. But for the sake of music fans everywhere, from globe-trotters to hometowners, I hope you fix it. Or at least stop selling that worthless wristband.

midnight poutine thanks Ben Kim, random music loving guy from Austin Texas, for his three post series and hopes that he'll return to our fair city (maybe for the mutek festival though).



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