It’s been 20 years since James Madison University first hosted MACROCK, once known as the Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference, but much like the volunteers who organize it, it aims to stay up to date with fresh acts and up and coming bands all set to the quiet town of Harrisonburg as a backdrop.
Johnathan Rivera, one of the Head Coordinators for MACROCK 2017, remembered his first time attending the fest back in 2012. He didn’t learn about it until a few days before, but he made the leap and before long got lost in the weird and wonderful event as it enveloped his college’s most urban points.
“It was super fun because the music was great – I fell in love with it. It was my gateway into the DIY scene in Harrisonburg and into independent music,” said Rivera. The following year he got involved as a volunteer counting heads at the door, then he joined up at WXJM, JMU’s college radio which originally gave birth to the fest, and he found himself even more involved.
All the while, through the head and heart ache of putting on a fest, he maintained that love for the annual DIY event. Planning for the next fest starts only a few weeks after the previous one ends. Fundraisers and volunteer drives take up most of the year, but before long they open up their band submission window and start booking headliners.
“It ranges each year, from 16-20 headliners… we get about 150 applications but only take 50. So we had to reject like 100 bands,” he said. “It’s pretty hard.”
Rivera said band selection is up to MACROCK’s leadership committee members like himself, and while the fest has its roots in indie rock, metal and punk, they’ve used their pull to broaden the scope a little bit more each year. Last year offered one of their first big pushes for hip hop, and this year returns to that model, as well as more electronic and experimental tunes.
“We pretty much just book our favorite bands, and if they come up, get big in the music scene, then that’s pretty cool it witness,” Rivera said.
MACROCK catching bands long before they blow up has long been a tradition for the rural event. Elliot Smith played the first MACROCK in 1997. Sufjan Stevens, Converge, Dillinger Escape Plan, Superchunk and many others made the trip in years past as well, but as digital music took over, and local radio faded into the background, the “The Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference” became a harder sell. Some years were skipped, but it’s managed to return as a unique chance to hear new and underrepresented music.
“Most of the headliners are less known, and sometimes we can guess if they’re up and coming but we can’t really call the shots,” Rivera said. “But Lojii, we booked him [early], and before you know it he’s on BandCamp’s best albums of Winter 2016.”
The line up, which can be viewed along with the schedule here, still promises the metal, punk and indie the fest is known for, including some of RVA’s best and brightest like Hoboknife and Unsacred. But Rivera was just as proud of additions like Lojii and DJ Haram who offer more modern versions of their respective sounds.
“MACROCK is always changing, first it was with JMU, then it was in harrisonburg. Now its downtown, we gain a venue, lose a venue, but the biggest change has been a more diverse array of genres,” he said.
There’s still time to plan a trip out to Harrisonburg and find a hotel or AirBNB… or couch/floor, so do yourself a favor and head to their website and snag some tickets.
“Hopefully we get a great response,” Rivera said. “ We talk to people who attend every year and for the first time and, no matter what, they always have fun.”