When you think of music festivals you probably think of big cities and well-funded acts, like at Coachella in California or South by Southwest in Texas. Your mind most likely does not think of small towns in the state of Virginia. But this story is different. This is MACROCK.
MACROCK, the Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference, is the largest annual DIY music festival and conference on the East Coast. The festival covers indie, metal, electronic, rock, hip-hop, punk and so much more. It all began back in 1993 at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Later in 1997, MACROCK found its home in Harrisonburg, Virginia as an event held by James Madison University’s WXJM-fm and the University Program Board.
When MACROCK began, it was the place where you could find big name bands and artists like Tsunami, Elliot Smith, Fugazi, Sufjan Stevens, War on Drugs, Animal Collective, Eternal Summers, Gym Class Heroes and so many more. The original concept of MACROCK was for it to be passed around from college to college each year. However, after the first year in Harrisonburg, no one picked up the idea so the town got the honor of keeping the music festival its own.
The events used to be held on campus in places that we know now as Dukes, Top Dog and the Godwin gym. In addition to on-campus locations, downtown Harrisonburg was utilized as well in places such as The Little Grill, Artful Dodger and other well-known venues. Currently MACROCK still uses those downtown venues plus anymore that will donate their spaces to the cause.
In 2004 money had been stolen from MACROCK causing JMU to end its partnership with them. After JMU cut ties, MACROCK was no longer allowed to be held on any part of campus and it moved all of its performances to downtown Harrisonburg. Because of this scandal, in 2007 the music festival was skipped. It was decided that rather than having a year where things might be shaky without JMUs help, they would just wait a year and come back with a bang in 2008. MACROCK was resurrected and came back being more DIY than ever. This time you would start to see bands that were not well known yet, but would be the bands on the cover of Vice or Pitchfork just a few months later.
MACROCK takes pride in not receiving any funds from corporate companies, including JMU. Since the mid 2000’s, the event has become its own entity run by solely volunteers. The only way it is made possible to happen is by getting support from the community and small businesses such as all music venues in the downtown area and grants from the Arts Council of the Valley. Additionally, there is a ton of fundraising held, with October being one of the main months for it. Every weekend in the month there is a different fundraiser and a small percentage made at each one goes towards MACROCK, with the rest going towards the artist or venue where it was held.
But with so much awesome music existing in the world, how does anyone pick the artists to be featured at MACROCK? Well, applications for the festival open around October and last through February. During those months the committee listens to all of the applications sent in by doing a blind listen. This means that the committee does not learn the bands name or anything about them until after are accepted to play at the festival. If someone on the committee recognizes the music, they do not get to vote on the band. By doing this blind listen they give all of the artists an unbiased and fair chance to get to perform at MACROCK.
MACROCK’s mission is to enhance the Shenandoah Valley by bringing in many bands from around the country to the residents of Harrisonburg and Rockingham. Additionally MACROCK provides educational and enriching community events celebrating the DIY culture. This is done by hosting panels at the festival led by community educators that discuss a variety of topics. They might also feature musicians or people who run their own companies and they give talks about issues in the DIY community.
So there you have it: the history of the biggest DIY music festival on the East Coast. If you have not had the pleasure of being a part of the cause, you should find your way to the small college town that is Harrisonburg so you can see the beautiful chaos that is MACROCK.
The people of MACROCK would like to thank the volunteers and Harrisonburg businesses that give their time, energy and spaces to the event. Without them, this event could not be made possible.
xX Long live college radio Xx