Ten years ago, there were maybe seven metal bands in Winnipeg, and there were only two big metal shows a year, where a crowd of 30 would be a blessing. In 2001, Cory Thomas and Chris Leskiw wanted to change that.
The duo created Manitoba Metalfest, which has since become an annual event. Last year, the festival sold out, bringing in an audience that included not just Manitobans, but metal fans from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Minneapolis and Grand Forks as well.
Leskiw has since left the festival, leaving Thomas as its driving force. This year’s edition includes 14 bands playing at two venues over three evenings (see sidebar).
Highlights of the festival include performances by Calgary death metal band Divinity, who are signed to Nuclear Blast, a widely respected record label that specializes in metal; and legendary Ontario thrash metal band Razor.
“Divinity is here for the kids, Razor is here for the old fans,” Thomas said. “Razor makes [the festival] more special because they never play anymore. This will be the last chance many people have to see them.”
Along with those special guests, headbangers can expect a healthy dose of bands from Winnipeg’s now-thriving metal scene. It’s a scene Thomas believes is more diverse than any other city in Canada.
“Montreal bands are primarily metalcore, Edmonton is death metal, Toronto is grindcore, but Winnipeg has everything,” he said. He added that bands who tour through Winnipeg also often note the city’s diverse fan base.
“There are a variety of people in the crowds. Bands from other places come here and say, ‘Wow, there are actually cute girls at our shows,’” Thomas said.
Due to popular demand, this will be the first year since 2002 that Thomas has included an all-ages show as part of the festival. Although it will be over by the time you read this, musicians like Sam Jacobs, guitarist for participating metal band Annex Theory, couldn’t be happier about the addition.
“In a way, the West End [Cultural Centre] and Park Theatre are the only all-ages venues for metal bands,” the 17-year-old said. “There are a lot of younger fans that can’t make it to shows because they are all 18-plus.”
Thomas wants to start organizing more all-ages shows, but fears venues will have no interest in being liable for kids. Venues like The Park Theatre refuse to host under-age shows on the weekends because of past instances of vandalism. Thomas believes he could easily fill an all-ages venue with 1,000 or more people, and is considering moving the festival to The Garrick Centre next year for this reason.
Both Thomas and Jacobs believe that Winnipeg has some of the best metal in the country.
Part of what makes the scene thrive so well is the community musicians have formed with each other, Jacobs said.
“A lot of the bands you play with will be your best friends. It’s sort of a brotherhood. I am originally from Nova Scotia and the scene is a lot more segregated there, whereas in Winnipeg everybody helps each other out.”
Published in Volume 63, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 26, 2009)