Johnathan Rivera, a MACROCK committee head and the most senior member, gathers the group together to resolve any last-minute outstanding issues, mainly, planning out getting breakfast with sponsors and transporting equipment.
“Ok, I’m just finding out right now that we don’t have a pick-up truck,” he says to the group. Every committee member begins to take out their phones, looking for any friends they have that might be able to loan them a big car for the day, finally settling on a van.
Johnathan featuring the volunteer T-shirt for this year.
Johnathan let’s people go home, finishing up the last bits of work himself, reminding the others to meet up in the morning at 8 a.m.
This is how it has been for Johnathan for the last nine months; it has been late nights, unanswered emails, and frustrating phone calls all in the name of putting on a large scale music festival on in a unusually small town, completely run by volunteers.
“I love it so much. I love MACROCK so much,” he said. "I love independent music so much. I love good music. I love how MACROCK brings out the community.”
It’s an emotional final MACROCK for Johnathan who said he plans on moving out of Harrisonburg soon.
Johnathan, now a few years out of college, began with MACROCK in his sophomore year at JMU as a volunteer and worked his way up to Head Coordinator. However, MACROCK has been around for 20 years now, its message of “DIY or die” (do it yourself or...die, embracing independent music and all that surrounds it) has persisted throughout constant changes in organizers, venues, and political atmospheres.
The back of local WXJM General Manager Sydney Yi's jacket
MACROCK began in 1996 as a JMU sponsored event primarily centered around college radio. It is no longer affiliated with JMU and it is completely run by volunteers, from the head coordinators to the people checking tickets at the door, everything is volunteer. The festival embraces DIY culture through educational panels, label expositions, and of course through a rich lineup of independent artists from across the nation and around the world: Alex Cameron (Sydney Australia), Elysia Crampton (California/Bolivia), RP Boo (Chicago, Illinois), Lionlimb (Nashville, Tennessee).
The festival itself is unique in its setup. It’s not in one location and there’s not a big farm field with tents. It’s simply in downtown Harrisonburg, amongst the bars and many local art shops.
“I feel like what makes MACROCK so unlike other festivals is that its so big compared to the surroundings of it," Johnathan said "It’s a small town, the venues are so close to each other. There are so many people in such a small area and that’s what makes it really awesome."
The panels, organized by Johnathan, dealt with sexual violence and DIY culture; they took place in Larkin Arts and Hotel Appalachia respectively. Johnathan, especially passionate about hot button issues like Safer Spaces and sexual violence commented,
“I feel like that’s an issue that everyone has to deal with you know. DIY communities are intimate; they’re tight. It happens in Harrisonburg, it happens in Richmond, it happens in every DIY scene when someone gets sexually assaulted…it can be more difficult if it’s a person you also know, you also know the person that did the sexual assault. You see friend groups divide. How do we deal with that in such an intimate group.”
During the Safer Spaces panel, a group of 30 sat huddled in the back of Larkin Arts attempting to tackle these difficult issues. Speakers included activists from both Harrisonburg and Richmond: Ha Tran, Dansen Mayhay, Sidney Yi, Jess Garcia.
Its panels like these that make MACROCK so unique; it’s not solely a festival about live independent bands, it is more comprehensive than that.
At the “Rebirth of DIY” panel, the Oakland Warehouse fire was heavily discussed. Panelists Pierce Jordan, Becca Calhoun, Jafar Flowers, and Christian Something discussed several issues that face DIY communities, especially issues like sexual violence, transgender rights, and trouble with law enforcement officials.