A couple of months ago, I interviewed the organizer of the Armstrong Metalfest and in that post (which you can read again, or for the first time here) made mention of the growing festival circuit that’s been popping up throughout western Canada over the past few yeas. Today, we bring you an interview with Nate Reno, head honcho of Big Nate Productions and the organizer of the Calagary Metal Fest, which is happening from September 15th to the 17th (with a kick-off party on the 14th) at various locations throughout downtown Calgary. In addition to our ongoing salute to, and fascination with the behind-the-scenes hard work and thankless toil that goes into putting together these gatherings of epic metal-tude, we’d like to point out that this year’s edition of CMF is not only the fifth, but also offers a very special treat for fans of Canadian metal to add to their bank of hazy, alcohol-obscured recollections. For the first time in western Canada in a long-ass time and for the first time on one stage ever, hoser headbanging heavyweights Sacrifice, Exciter, Razor and Annihilator will be performing together on the final night of the fest. We tracked down Reno to get some insight about slinging a mess like this together and ask (probably for the millionth time ) if Fenriz will stopping by to partake in this unique night of Canadian metal.
First off, can you give us some background and history about the Calgary Metal Fest? What was its original impetus and inspiration and how has it changed over the years?
Nate Reno: This is the fifth year. I started CMF as a celebration of my thirtieth birthday in 2012. I play bass in Kyoktys, and we had met a bunch of bands while touring. This was a chance to get them all together in one place and put a few bucks in their pocket doing what they love. Year two, the original early June date had aligned with some touring acts such as Skeletonwitch, Intronaut and others. This raised the profile significantly in only the second year. My luck had sort of run out after that, as June is typically the beginning of European festival season and hence made bigger acts unavailable. Although I was able to score Abigail Williams, Panzerfaust, and Kobra and the Lotus in years three and four, I decided to move the festival to September 14th through 18th, as it is now. This has increased the ability of bigger acts to accept my offers and avoids the busy western Canadian summer festival circuit.
What sort of atmosphere does the CMF offer in comparison to other fests? The line-up appears to not feature the 50-100+ bands that many fests do, so how do you feel it’s different from other fests you’ve attended or heard about?
At CMF II we did have 84 bands at five-plus venues, which was great but a lot to manage, trying to be in many places at once. With the budgets this year, I had to choose quality over sheer numbers. CMF is an indoor festival in a city, so there isn't a camping element. Nor is weather as much of a factor. To me, this sets the stage so that festival goers will be in front of the bands for more of the time than they might be at other festivals. In this way, it makes it more of a destination for the festival itself and not necessarily the "festival experience.”
This year the fest is featuring a whole host of first time appearances and exclusives. Can you give us a rundown of them all and how long it took for the stars to align for something like the "historic night of Canadian metal" show on 9/17?
Annihilator is playing an exclusive western Canadian performance, their first since 1993. Exciter has reformed their original line-up, which in that incarnation has not played in western Canada since 1985, however they did play Noctis Metalfest in 2013. Sacrifice and Razor also played at Noctis, and being the production manager for that festival, they won me over as huge fans and I had to work with them. Toxic Holocaust is headlining the Friday night at Dickens. I worked with them when they were last here in 2011 and instantly started asking them if they could play CMF. I got a “no” every year until this year due to the date change. Joel Grind was always very busy in the studio in June; their agent and I were laughing about how far back that email thread went. Glad we could finally make it happen! And finally, The Exalted Piledriver has NEVER played in western Canada and this exclusive performance will be legendary. They will be performing Thursday September 15th at Distortion-Live Music Venue. It's taken since the end of CMF IV to put this together. The bands have been really cool about the whole thing and I think they see the significance of this bill, as it’s never happened anywhere in the world previous!
A related question, what’s the booking process like for you? Assuming you book shows at other points of the year and not just festival gigs, how does doing the fest differ for you? Are you finding more touring bands willing to make the trek to and through western Canada?
Bands tour through when they can tour. Originally, I was hoping that bands would understand that CMF was happening every year and tour around it. This just is not the case. With the challenges from a logistical stand point, let alone all the other challenges that come with putting a bunch of people in a van and driving around the massive landscape known as Canada, this is just not plausible. This made it easy for me to change the date. Higher profile acts come around on their own during this time, so the chances of alignment go up. The booking process is actually one of the more loathsome parts of the process for me. I come from a technical and management end of this with festivals, so the backend stuff has been a bit of a learning curve for me over the past five years, but I've found my step and have my system down. It's neat to see it from multiple angles, being first a player and then melding into the business end. Let's just say I understand booking agents more now than I did before.
What else in life are you balancing with the fest and how time consuming is putting the fest together for you?
Well, I have a beautiful wife and daughter that take up most of my days. Like I mentioned, I do play in Kyoktys and we have been doing some touring and are currently writing our third EP. I also do sound at Dickens Pub and Distortion in Calgary and run my own podcast. Gettin' Hard in Nate's Backyard also gives an outlet to touring acts of all kinds for free form conversation. I won't lie, something like this takes a massive amount of time and planning. My business partner, Nancy Barnes has helped a lot in all of this. Having someone to bounce ideas off of is crucial. An idea can be good in your head and terrible when you say it [out loud] and it’s nice to have someone I can do that with. She is also able to deal with certain time consuming details that allow me to focus on bigger tasks.
What do you feel you’ve learned most about putting on a fest like this over the years and what are some of the challenges you’ve faced in keeping the ship running?
I've learned to have confidence in myself and believe what my gut is telling me. Basically, if I foresee something going a certain way, it probably will and sometimes more than anticipated. Money is always a challenge. Becoming good at raising money is a skill I've had to develop. Developing all the back-end contracts and other paperwork has been a thing too.
What improvements have you consciously made in putting this year’s version together? What mistakes have you attempted to avoid?
It’s really easy to make mistakes in the ticketing process. One year, we made only an All Access Pass and people assumed you had to buy the whole thing or nothing at all, even though tickets were available at the door. This year we don't even offer one, you have to buy individual tickets to the shows for maximum flexibility. We are also for the first time offering VIP tickets to all the shows that gets you access to soundchecks, band meet-and-greets and autograph sessions.
How long had you been working on this year’s version and what bands/events are you most excited about for 2016?
The idea of this year’s show has been kickin’ around for years, but nose to the grindstone since June 2015. I'm looking forward to the whole fest for all the awesome bands, but my favorite part is the CMF Charity Auction. This is an auction I've done every year since CMF II and we have raised $4000 to date for Make-A-Wish Southern Alberta. I get a 4'x6' poster made for each venue each year and I have all the bands sign it for auction. This year the Reverend Rock from Metal Nation Radio will be donating a Tony Iommi Signature Gibson Les Paul and Deviant Optiks will be donating a huge print! Both have donated in the past and a call will be put out to our sponsors and other artists to donate. We are looking to smash our record this year and sponsor a whole wish which is $10,000! This is by far my favourite part of the fest as I host the live auction and badger people into donating for a good cause!
And finally, who’s on your booking bucket list? Had you ever considered trying to lure Fenriz to do DJ or MC duties for the Canadian metal night?
No, I hadn't. Budgets are huge, makes stuff like that tough. I guess my bucket list would be King Diamond, Yngwie, maybe Gojira. Depends where it goes I guess.
Tickets and VIP passes (which include sound check viewings, band meet and greets, and autograph sessions) are on sale through:
or at Sloth Records in Calgary.