Interview: Jamie Mittendorf, Blackout Fest founder, talks 13th year and how it might be the perfect punk rock festival

Blackout Fest is hosting their 13th festival this year in Brantford, ON on October 18th and 19th. This year’s lineup features bands such as Seaway, Direct Hit, Like Pacific, The Anti-Queens, The Penske File, Keep Flying, Harbour, Calling All Captains and over 50 more bands over two nights across three venues. I had the opportunity to catch up with Jamie Mittendorf, the founder and owner of Blackout Fest and the lead singer and bassist for Harbour this past week to talk about why he started Blackout Fest, how the festival runs, this year’s lineup, and the future for the festival.

Read the full interview below:

Haley: Can you just start by telling us who you are and why you started Blackout Fest?

Jamie: My name is Jamie. I am a 28 year old concert promoter and musician. I started Blackout Fest because I was going to a few different festivals around Southern Ontario such as Scene Fest in St. Catherines and Coy(?) Fest in Kitchener and I thought it was such a cool concept and almost a sense of community within the local music scene which ties in with the bigger music scene as well. People who would not normally see these local bands play with these bigger bands and I always thought that was a really cool concept. So I started it on a pretty small scale 13 years ago, we were just a one day, one venue festival with like 8 or 10 bands, I forget how many we had the first time, but we sorta grew it to a multi-day, multi-venue festival and we’ve hosted some of the biggest names in punk rock, emo, pop-punk and everything else under the sun.

Okay cool! Can you just give the listeners a general overview of how the festival runs from two days to having three different venues, can you just explain how the whole thing works?

Jamie: So we’re kinda doing a Friday-Saturday sorta thing so Friday night we have two venues with two stages at each venue so there’ll always be a band on at each venue so it’s basically non-stop music from 6pm til 1am and then on the Saturday we’re gonna have 3 venues sort of the same idea [as Friday] and that’ll run from basically noon until midnight. People are encouraged to hop from venue to venue and see as many bands as possible. It is a 19+ event, sorry kids.  We used to be an all-ages festival and we noticed that there was maybe like 10-15 people under 19 who were coming out and it wasn’t worth the extra fees having to delegate more security and more this and that to make it all ages so we just decided to make the event 19+. We’ve had a few people complain but the difference in price that comes out of our pockets and overall cost are much higher when it’s all-ages so we decided to make it 19+. It might change again, who knows, but for now, it’s 19+.

So, I noticed that the lineup, has a lot of the biggest Canadian bands right now on it. Was that intentional or was that an accident? You have Seaway, Like Pacific, Calling All Captains I know those are some big Canadian bands right now.

Jamie: Right now, the Canadian dollar is really low so it’s tough for a Canadian promoter to get a lot of bigger American bands because say, if they need $5,000, you’re actually paying them $7,500 so it’s a lot better to grab a Canadian band to headline in Canada because you end up paying exactly what they want not 30% more. It’s good in that sense and of course we’re always trying to get the biggest bands as we possibly can without breaking the wallet too much. I think this year is almost the perfect lineup for what the 2019 pop punk/punk rock music scene is. Right now, I think we have the perfect lineup and it’s shown because we’ve sold over 1,200 tickets already which is unbelievable. We’ve hit 1,000 in the past, but we haven’t hit this many with two weeks to go still so it’s pretty exciting.

Haley: Yeah no, you definitely have a crazy lineup this year. When I saw it, I was like I definitely have to go this festival, it’s crazy.

Jamie: Well, that’s what we want.

Haley: Yeah, we were gonna go last year, but we didn’t end up making it out there last year so we’re really excited for this year, but who are you looking forward to seeing most this year?

Jamie: There’s a band that’s getting a lot of hype right now from North Carolina that we have playing called Summer Wars, they’re sorta blowing up a bit and that is probably the number one band I’m excited to see. Other than that, Let Down puts on an awesome show, Direct Hit, I’ve never seen before, I’m very excited to see them. Surprisingly enough, I haven’t seen Seaway play since they opened for my band about seven years ago. I’m very excited to see them yet again. Keep Flying, another great band to see live. The Anti-Queens, they just put out a pretty solid new record. So yeah, those are probably my top 6 or 7 bands.

Haley: Yeah, we actually just saw Keep Flying at the beginning of September with Real Friends so I’m really excited to see them again.

Jamie: Right on, was that Buffalo?


Haley: Yeah, and we saw Seaway last year on their co-headliner with Trophy Eyes that was a really, really good show too. So, I’m excited to say the least.

Jamie: Yeah, I’m excited to see them again.

Haley: So, I have a question here that says, “Do you think this year’s festival will live up to previous years?” but from what you’ve been telling me, I feel like it will. Do you agree?

Jamie: Yeah, it’s definitely, in my opinion and I’m sure in many other people’s opinions, it’s probably the best lineup we’ve had so far. Other lineups have been different, but this is definitely the best one so far.

Haley: Can you explain how you book the bands? I know you do sort of a submission type booking process, but can you explain how you got someone like Seaway on this bill?

Jamie: Well, funny enough, I don’t think many people know this, but I actually had them confirmed for last year. Like basically, the contract was in place, it was 100% good to go, but their singer forgot about a wedding that he had to go to, so a week after I confirmed with their booking agent, he called me up and he was like “Dude, I’m so sorry, but like, they can’t do it” and I’m like “Okay, well, back to the drawing board I guess”. So, uh, what was the question again? I kinda drifted off there…

Haley: How do you decide who gets to play Blackout Fest and who doesn’t?

Jamie: Oh yeah, so I told the booking agent I want Seaway for next year and he’s like alright, we’ll make it happen. They had some tour plans they needed to sort out, so I reached out in about January this year to nail them down and it took until about May to get a 100% yes, we’re gonna do it. It’s a lot of back and forth, a lot of waiting, because I can’t go out and look for another, I mean you can, you can go out and look for other headliners and what not but basically I always get one bigger band and then I go from there, I get some smaller bands and what-not. But I can’t keep putting in a bunch of offers for all these bigger bands because what if someone says yes, but there’s a band like Seaway who I’m waiting to hear back from and they’re the #1 band I wanted to get. It’s tough because you gotta put in clauses and stuff like that. This year seemed to work out pretty well, I had Seaway booked, and then I basically had a bunch of bands just like catch wind on who I had and they basically emailed me like Calling All Captains and a bunch of others and they were like “We wanna play” and I was like “Alright there’s a spot for you guys” so all these bands just like created tours from wherever they are, to and from Blackout Fest, which is pretty cool. I guess it’s become such a popular festival in that sense where it’s cool that bands actually make it almost a priority to play. So it’s a pretty good feeling to basically build up a festival, like I don’t have a huge team, it’s a few guys that help out, but pretty much from day one, it’s been me because all the day-to-day stuff is essentially just me and has been just me so it is a ton of work but I love doing it.

Haley: Yeah, I was gonna ask you what does it take to put on a festival like Blackout Fest. Like, three venues, two days, over fifty bands, that must be insane so what does it really take?

Jamie: It’s a lot of stress. You have to have a lot of people working for you, there’s so many moving parts and there’s so much that could go wrong, and you have to be prepared for the worst. You have to have two of everything in terms of gear and you have to be prepared for the worst possible outcome and cross your fingers that nothing that bad will happen. But usually, I think the biggest thing, on the day of Blackout, is keeping everything on time, it’s tough to make sure all the bands start on time and get off the stage on time and all that, it’s just a lot of work, but we make it work and we plan accordingly. We’ve never had too much of a problem before but knock on wood that that doesn’t start on lucky #13.

Haley: And how is it with your band playing the festival too? I bet that just adds a whole other layer of stress to your day or your weekend.

Jamie: No, you’re right. I put my band on every year just because, I mean, I can and it’s funny because I had Hawthorne Heights play the festival three or four years ago and JT, the singer, said “I’d like to thank Harbour for having us out tonight”. It’s really funny because a lot of people joke, they call it “Harbour-fest” because I don’t know, it’s a funny little remark but to answer your question, it’s tough, it adds another layer of stress because I’m already exhausted and running off like 12 coffees and four hours of sleep and then I gotta go try and play a set which is tough and then to add more to it, I joined another band and Blackout Fest is our first show.

Haley: Oh, what band?

Jamie: We’re called the Bar Tops.

Haley: Are you playing Friday or Saturday?

Jamie: We’re playing Saturday.

Haley: Alright I’ll get to catch your set then, uh, both of your sets. So what do you want to accomplish in the future years of Blackout Fest? I feel like this year, especially, you guys have blown up especially with Seaway and Like Pacific on your bill, I know a lot of people love them and are coming out to the festival specifically to see them, but also to see all the other bands but what do you hope the future of Blackout Fest looks like?

Jamie: Ya know what? I just hope it stays the same. I can’t hope for a million things because I’ve seen these festivals come and go. I can’t name another other festivals like this in Ontario, well sorry I can, there’s three and there used to be a lot more than that. I mean, it’s 2019, the music scene is very, very tough these days. We found a way to make Blackout Fest work and somehow it’s only getting bigger. So we’re gonna keep doing exactly what we’re doing right now. A lot of people have asked me, “Are you gonna go bigger? Like are you gonna do outdoor stages?” I was like no, I’m not going any bigger than it is right now. This is already a ton of work for me to do and I already have basically two other full time jobs and then I add Blackout Fest to the mix. It is a ton of work, I don’t have the time and I don’t have the energy to make it any bigger than what it is. And you know what? I think right now, I think this is the perfect size festival and it’s what the Southern Ontario music scene really needs right now and it’s working well and like my father always said, “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken”. Again, it’s working well right now. Hell, we’ve sold 1,200 tickets to a festival in 2019 which is pretty damn good if I must say so. We’re happy with where we’re at so the upcoming years can be pretty much the same. Not the same bands, I’m not saying that, but like the same level. The same price, the same size venues, it’ll be exactly what we’re at right now.

Haley: Yeah, I feel like, in the next couple years, we’ll see a lot more festivals like Blackout Fest pop up all over the US especially with the end of Warped Tour. That kinda just hurt the whole scene in general.

Jamie: Yeah, I think it did.

Haley: Like Sad Summer Fest kinda picked it up, but I feel like what we need is more festivals like Blackout Fest that showcase local bands but also big bands but it’s not like a whole country tour that costs a ton of money and if you don’t sell tickets, it’s just a total nightmare.

Jamie: Exactly.

Haley: Alright, that’s all I have for you today. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Jamie: Weekend passes are $40, single day tickets for Friday with Direct Hit!, Penske Files, and The Anti-Queens are $20. Tickets for Seaway, Like Pacific, Keep Flying, Harbour, Calling All Captains on the Saturday are $25. You can get them at blackoutfest.net and I hope to see you there!

Haley: Thank you so much for chatting with me today. We’ll see you at the festival!

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