INTERVIEW: Jesse Valstar, Co-Founder of Armstrong MetalFest

This summer, Armstrong MetalFest celebrates its 10th anniversary with two days of heavy metal debauchery. Held in the stunning Okanagan Valley, the festival has grown from a backyard party in 2009 to become one of Western Canada’s biggest gatherings of metalheads.

Ahead of this monster event, I put some questions to one of Armstrong MetalFest’s co-founders, Jesse Valstar. Jesse was inspired to start putting on the event after attending rock festivals in Europe where he was left wondering why Canada didn’t have similar events with camping. Jesse’s co-founder, Bretton Melanson, had seen some people playing a make-shift stage in the bush, and the pair thought “if they could do it, we could probably do it too!”

After that Eureka moment, Jesse says, “We jumped on it and here we are 10 years later, an ambitious good decision after all! It’s taking a lot of work and a lot of dedication, but it has paid off!”

The duo’s lack of experience made the first year of Armstrong MetalFest something of a challenge. Over the last ten years, Jesse has learned a lot and now finds putting on the festival much less challenging.

“Everything seems easier now,” he says, “but that’s because I have an idea as to what to expect. The hard part is refining things and trying new ways to make things work better. It is much safer to go with what you did before, but to try a new system it can be quite daunting.”

As you might expect, a decade of putting on a heavy metal festival has come with plenty of memories, but Jesse has a favourite:

“My favourite moment was probably the hour before the first festival even started. I didn’t have a ride so I was standing on the side of the road with a cardboard sign that read ‘METAL’ with my thumb out. I had been so busy organizing everything that I forgot to get myself a ride. So, I had to hitchhike and a bunch of the bands that we’re playing drove past me and honked their horns, and I am like, ‘Guys! I am supposed to meet you in like ten minutes for the festival meeting! Ugh!'”

Armstrong MetalFest features a lineup of more than 30 bands, including Kataklysm, Sarah Longfield, Archspire (from Vancouver), and The Kennedy Veil. In addition to Archspire, Vancouver’s metal scene is well represented, with Neck of the Woods, Road Rash, Blackwater Burial, Apollyon, Gatekeeper, The Hallowed Catharsis, Trollband, Apprentice and Anarcheon all playing sets at the festival.

Of the many bands set to perform during the weekend, Jesse says he is most excited about seeing Trollband (from Vancouver/Edmonton), telling me, “They claim to have something pretty crappy prepared… and Sam [the band’s vocalist] doesn’t make empty promises.”

The festival is coming up next week (July 13 & 14). Click here to check out all the details and grab last-minute tickets! Advance tickets cost $125, and the price will go up to $165 at the festival gates. All tickets include camping.

Watch the video below to get a taste of what Armstrong MetalFest is all about.