MACROCK One Last Time

It is almost eleven on a Thursday night and the chipped hardwood floor of Crayola house is flooded with pink shirts, demo tapes, and VIP wristbands. MACROCK, Harrisonburg’s independent music festival is the following day and the festival’s committee members are, quite literally, tying up any loose ends: filling band packets, figuring out meeting times, and arranging rides.

Crayola House

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.

Rebirth of DIY Panel

“Mindblowing. It was so great and poetic at time. It was really wonderful. I got to talk to Pierce Jordan after and Jafar and Christian which was also awesome because they’re all really great humans,” Calhoun said about her experience speaking on the panel.

Of course, the most memorable stories from MACROCK didn’t take place in these quiet art and recording studios, but rather in the bars, raging and ear splitting, deafening and jam-packed. It was impossible to go to any show during the course of the weekend without bumping into another festival-goer, all sharing the same ear-to-ear grin as they bounced around from the Artful Dodger, to Court Square, to the Pony, to Little Grill, to Brother’s Brewery, and back.

In fact, it was only 5:00 on the first day of the festival, an hour after it had began, when the Artful Dodger first reached capacity and the volunteers working the door had to begin to turn people away.

One of Rivera’s favorite groups, Street Sects, caused quite a shock when they brought out heavy fog machines and chainsaws out during their live show at the Pony. Many festival goers reported being actually afraid for their life as the band ran through the foggy venue, grabbing at the audiences ankles.

Anyone who spent their two days at MACROCK would see Johnathan, he is impossible to miss. Whether it was during a show at Court Square or simply checking attendance outside the Dodger, he was everywhere. A brief smile would flash across his face when a venue had reached capacity but he would quickly rush to deal with another problem.

Rivera at the Golden Pony

Becca Calhoun, a panelist at the Rebirth of DIY panel, said “At the actual festival, I saw him running around and making sure everything was in order, he did a great job.”

After all, Johnathan has sunk a lot of hours into planning MACROCK. Chelsea Goodspeed, one of the festival’s committee members, said, “I have never seen somebody work so hard in my life. I would walk into carrier, it doesn’t matter what time of day it was. He was on the phone, coordinating something in the main floor. Just pacing. Probably hasn’t slept. That’s Johnathan.”

Calhoun, Goodspeed, and Pierce Jordan at the Rebirth of DIY Panel

On top of all of the day to day, there was also the overall budget and planning of the event. Johnathan said that the planning for the event really starts in early summer, more than eight months prior to the actual festival. This year, they began by deciding committee members, and e-mailing some of the headliners. Johnathan would have to email at least fifty headliners just to get a few responses.

There are a lot of budget issues to consider as well,

“We spend it mainly on headliners, venues, guidebooks, t-shirts, flyers/promotion, and our audio equipment from Standford audio...of course this doesn’t include hotel rooms for headliners, gas for some bands, travel…” Johnathan said.

A MACROCK Guidebook

Much of the money comes from fundraisers hosted in the Fall, MACROCKtober is a series of fundraisers that take place in October to raise money for the festival.

The first thing that has to be done is the headliners get locked down, about twelve this year. Afterward, there is a long process of filling the other slots with bands that apply to be in the festival. This is a blind listening process that takes months to complete. Simaltaneously, Johnathan and the other MACROCK committee members are hitting up venues and locking down times when the festival will take place.

Rivera

In the next month, the process will start over again. Veteran committee members will begin interviewing applicants to fill the new slots on committee left by members leaving Harrisonburg, Rivera will be among them. Afterward, the members will begin budgeting, emailing bands, and fundraisers for MACROCK 2018.

Even without the veteran committee head, MACROCK will continue to grow, bringing independent artists from around the world to play in the back of tucked away bars in a small town in the Shenandoah Valley. Johnathan, although he won’t be playing a formal role in next years MACROCK has high hopes for its future.

“I see MACROCK next year, I could see it expanding a little bit. I don’t know, I don’t know how, I don’t know what I mean by that but who knows?”

MACROCK committee is looking strong going into the summer and MACROCK 2018 is shaping up to be the best one so far.

Describe MACROCK in one sentence.

"Spectacular."-Johnathan Rivera

“Best Weekend of the year”-Chelsea Goodspeed

“The most anticipated time of the year”-Becca Calhoun

Created By
Matthew Rucker
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