Written as the fictional memoirs of Campbell Ouiniette, a music manager of questionable repute, Geoff Berner’s debut novel is a fun, fast read. A musician by trade, Berner’s career as an international touring artist undoubtedly provided a wealth of experience to pull from. Filled with rock ’n’ roll misadventure and emotional debris, Campbell’s speed- and booze-fuelled ramblings reflect – accurately and often hilariously – the unconventional characters that exist within the music industry.
Readers without prior knowledge of the business might find Campbell cartoonish and contradictory. Could someone who claims to look after his “people” and have such unflinching passion for music really be so fast to turn his back on artists and peers for the sake of a buck? Could someone be so articulate and intelligent, but also so drunk and disorderly? Could it really be so difficult for Campbell to understand the difference between bragging and fact? Anyone familiar with rock biographies, or who has spent time within the industry, will answer “yes” to all these questions.
The book’s humour resides in its truthfulness as much as the writing itself. One highlight is a chapter called “Soundman’s Guide,” which covers a sound tech’s perspectives on everything from musicians (“a bunch of whiny little punks”) to fanny packs (“women find them overpoweringly attractive”). At one point, Campbell wonders why the industry is so “fucked up”; the answer is that its product consists of smoke and mirrors.
Berner prefaces this novel with a note of caution to readers, expressing hope that his audience will be sophisticated enough to “figure out that the opinions and attitudes of the novel’s protagonist do not necessarily reflect etc., etc.” Although Berner has been careful to state that Campbell is a fictional character, Festival Man nevertheless reads like an insider’s guide to the illusions and foibles of the Canadian music biz.