It’s come a long way from its backyard bash roots.
Now in its 10th year, Armstrong MetalFest is bigger than ever as West Metal Entertainment Society, the not-for-profit created to organize the festival and other heavy metal happenings in the North Okanagan, gears up for the festival set to rock Armstrong’s Hassen Memorial Arena July 13-14.
Jesse Valstar, festival co-founder, is stoked that Armstrong MetalFest has seen the exponential growth it has over the past decade.
“I was a fairly ambitious 19-year-old and 10 years kind of flew by,” Valstar laughed. “We’ve had a lot of different events that have shaped the festival in different ways. We’ve had all sorts of bumps along the road to help make the crew a well-oiled unit.”
Armstrong MetalFest started when Valstar and friends decided to throw a private backyard party.
“We nailed it down. The first year was a raging success,” said Valstar, who was in charge of booking talent. “In year two, attendance doubled. It was frightening for a couple 20-year-old kids,” Valstar laughed. “It went full Project X.”
The lads decided that they no longer desired to utilize their parent’s backyard for the bash and upgraded to the Hassen Memorial Arena for the festival’s third instalment. And, for the past seven years, attendance has been on a steady incline. Valstar credits that spike to the devotion found within both the heavy metal community in western Canada and his hometown of Armstrong.
“I remember looking at the price tag of the festival, losing hair and going white,” Valstar said.
However, Armstrong MetalFest has always at least managed to break even.
“Our community hasn’t let us down,” said Valstar, who recently returned from promoting the festival at Metalocalypstick in Lone Butte, B.C.
At the core of Armstrong MetalFest is quality metal acts from across the continent that come to the North Okanagan to rock the arena.
“We have Sarah Longfield — she’s a Youtube sensation gone metal act. She’s going to be very interesting,” Valstar said.
Also gracing the stage are Quebec death metal phenoms Kataklysm and Vancouver Juno-nominated technical death metal fame Archspire.
“The lineup is heavy. It’s quite diverse,” Valstar said. “Balance has been our No. 1 thing.”
Valstar, a self-proclaimed numbers man, said that organizers use a proportional representation-based algorithm for determining the number of bands from each location as well as the ratio of bands per genre, with sub-genres like brutal death metal falling under the primary death metal umbrella. Categories include technical metal, death metal, doom and sludge metal, alternative metal, black metal and more.
“We have a ton of guys that work on this all year,” Valstar said of West Metal Entertainment’s lineup algorithm.
While it originated as a society in tandem with Armstrong MetalFest, West Metal Entertainment has grown to provide metal bands with the opportunity to get on a multitude of stages in the North Okanagan.
This year, the Society was also able to give a scholarship to the tune of $500 to a Pleasant Valley Secondary School graduate. Scholarship candidates were required to write a letter about how music of any genre has impacted their lives.
“This is the first year we’ve ever done it. We kept it as broad as possible because we don’t know how to do this,” Valstar laughed. “(It was) in the name of heavy metal, funded by heavy metal.”
The scholarship has been on West Metal Entertainment’s radar for several years. However, Valstar said they decided to make it a priority this year.
As the festival continues to grow, he hopes that the scholarships will follow suit.
“I’d like to see the festival continue to grow at the rate it is. I’d like to see it go on for a very long time,” Valstar said. “One of my favourite parts is hearing about how people meet their fiance, husband or wife at the festival. It brings a bunch of like-minded people together.”
For Valstar, building that community is what the festival is all about.
“The No. 1 thing is it’s not that you attend our festival, it’s that you attend a festival and get out there and support the community,” Valstar said. “They require people at the event to keep going. Just get out there and support local.”
When organizers pour everything into their festival, Valstar said that community support makes it all worthwhile.
“I don’t think I know how to stop,” Valstar said. “I think I’d be lost.”
Advance weekend passes are $125, walk up rate is $165. All tickets include tent camping. Guests are welcome to sleep in their vehicles, RV or trailer. Reserve RV spots online to guarantee a spot that includes water and power hookups. For more information and tickets, visit armstrongmetalfest.ca.