SappyFest XI: It Was Lit
A single match burning juxtaposed with the caption “It’s lit!” lies on the banner for the entrance to the main tent of SappyFest XI, designed by stage designers Corey Isenor and Eli Manchester as a subtle jab at art director Jon Claytor’s designs for the festival. These playful relationships can only exist in a paradise as idyllic as SappyFest – respect, love and wit all intermingled to bring out the best in ourselves. For many, SappyFest is like an old flame rekindled each summer to provide those fleeting moments of exhilaration, intimacy and nostalgia. Sappy XI proved no different.
My job for the past two summers has been to fan those flames of summer romance and gin-soaked memories to keep the SappyFest machine rolling. I was tasked with tackling festival duties alongside my coworkers and board members throughout the day, balancing bartending duties at Thunder & Lightning Ltd. in the evenings, and squeezing in some music and face time with old and new friends throughout the weekend. It’s tough to give a full review of the festival when you are a part of the organizers bringing it together, so here is a snapshot of my weekend to give a glance into one account of Sappy heaven.
The fun all begins in a hotly-anticipated Friday evening many clamour over throughout the summer as the gateway to debauchery. The Kids Corner Power Jam kicked off the festival with an electric set of original material on the main stage. The band, under the moniker Night Fox, saw 9 children of Sackville and beyond sing songs about foxes and cake with delirious effect that had the entire tent howling with joy by the set’s end. It was the perfect precursor before Adrian Teacher and the Subs took to the stage to deliver their signature charm of ecstasy.
I didn’t get a chance to check out the main tent for most of the evening on Friday after Adrian and co.’s set, mostly due to tackling box office hiccups and hocking up loogies in the porta-potties to mend my sick shell of a body, but I was able to make it out to the late night comedy showcase at the Painted Pony. Hosted by recent Sackville transplant Geordie Miller, the showcase exhibited the comedic talents of Paul Doucette (Flag on the Play) and Megan McDowell, as well as a musical performance by Kira Daube. I was in a haze of exhaustion and cold/flu medicine, but the sets touched on the absurdity of stand-up in a horse-speckled bar, the trappings of relationships and dating, and self-deprecation that any Sappy goer could appreciate. I stumbled home afterwards, opting out of the after-parties for another night, wishing my friends safe shenanigans as I slept towards Day 2.
Making my way down to the festival site for a full schedule of Sappy happenings for Saturday, I helped my volunteers set up for another busy day at the box office and checked in with my coworkers to ensure they were still in one piece. When all was harmonious, I managed to make my way down to the main stage to catch my current favourite Halifax export, Century Egg, complete a riveting afternoon set that recharged the crowd of sleepy and hungover attendees. The songs bounced over well-orchestrated harmonies, balancing lyrics in English and Mandarin with infectious hooks that resounded through the day. Special attention was paid to Nick Dourado, the bassist of Century Egg, who was hopping along to the rhythm of the set he was providing from his own instrument. Bands like these are what keep Sappy so fresh each year.
I took a break with my pals Shotgun Jimmie and Kevin Bertram at a nearby picnic table, who were painting watercolours at different sites throughout the weekend in between sets and pints. Jimmie was painting quick portraits of passerbys, and managed to capture my likeness in a cool 15 minute period to striking detail. These two provided some much-needed stress relief throughout my busy weekend, always popping up when comfort was sought in the form of a pep talk or hug. I always attempt to fully absorb how appreciative I am for these small moments with others that appear throughout the weekend. For me, it shows the love flowing through each artery of the festival and makes me feel truly at home in this community.
The first set I caught at the main stage in the evening was The Wooden Stars, the on-again/off-again reunion show for the ages. The band proved as meticulously in unison as their famed live sets of the past have proved, arching tight instrumentation and harmonies with cracklings of smiles and laughs that lit up the room. Guitarist Michael Feuerstack delivered some witty stage banter and one-liners that wouldn’t be out-of-place at a comedy showcase, and the band delivered one of my favourite sets of the weekend.
Next to the stage was Little Scream, delivering my most-anticipated set of the festival. Laurel Sprengelmeyer and her band were met with thunderous applause from the crowd, etching out a dancefloor in the centre of the crowd with recent hits “Love As A Weapon” and “Dark Dance”. The peak of the set came when Sprengelmeyer announced her newfound citizenship in Canada, finding solace in the joy of crowds of people like those in the audience of her set. When such an intimate bond is struck between the artist and crowd in moments like these, anything feels possible.
I rushed off to Thunder & Lightning Ltd. for a closing shift bartending and we prepped the living-room-meets-bowling-alley bar for the evening’s Pop Montreal showcase with Un Blonde and She-Devils. We were expecting the largest crowd the space has ever seen, and low and behold, a lineup formed of drunk, eager fans before the main stage even closed. The night passed in a blur, cracking Molson-after-Molson for hours on end while catching glimpses and sounds of She-Devils and Un Blonde providing unforgettable shows for a room full of sweaty people. Thank God for social media, as I was able to catch audio clips of a stunned crowd fully engrossed in every sway, every move, every breath of Jean-Sebastien Audet through Instagram posts and Snapchat stories. I for one am thankful for these new gateways to magic in the 2016 matrix.
Sundays at Sappy always start off with a groggy awakening, usually bogged down by late-onset hangovers and the effects of eating burgers and fries for a whole weekend. Nonetheless, I was feeling my Sunday best and woke up eager to catch the speakers at the annual Universal Dawn literary event. Andrew Patterson and Geordie Miller hosted the event in the cozy loft of the Vogue Cinema, and performances by Tim Darcy (Ought), Erinn Beth Langille and Patrick Kyle were caught by attentive ears.
One of my favourite sets of the weekend came compliments of Sackville supergroup-of-sorts, Heat Vision, at the Vogue Cinema. Partly due to a lean set of familiars and new material, and an amazing sound mix done by the sonic wizard Chris Meaney, all in attendance were transfixed by Steve Haley, Scott Brown, Jon McKiel and James Anderson on that fateful afternoon. Like a warm hot toddy, my soul was soothed and heart fluttered, so I rushed off to the bar for the final night of madness.
We hosted the Greville Tapes Music Club Revue, which found all 8 artists of the project performing on-stage together with hosts Construction & Destruction. The show was a musical locomotive, choo-chooing through genres and decades; each act took to the stage with their distinctive sound and each audience member checked their ticket for a ride through time. After the bar closed, I raced off to the after-party as quick as my little feet could take me, and fortunately I arrived in time to catch a special performance from Adrian Teacher and the Subs.
You know that scene in Almost Famous when Stillwater checks into Swingos Celebrity Inn in Cleveland? Walking into the after-party felt even more magical. Musicians, performers and attendees all intermingled joyfully, gushing fandom for one another while sharing stories over beer before the set. The room physically shook when the set started, and the floor curved inwards at our feet as the crowd swayed through a quick and sweaty set of classics. One of my friends hoisted me in the air and I surfed over the sea of hands before falling and landing piggybacked onto the always-reliable Scott Brown.
The set was everything I needed. It capped off an unforgettable weekend of work, love and fun. Walking home alone at dawn, I became enamoured with everyone who had crossed my path that weekend. This is the magic of Sappy – making you feel connected to an ever-growing community overflowing with unconditional love and support. Until next year, Sappy. It was lit.