On The Road: Sappyfest Day 2
The sun set on the first day of Sappyfest, only to give rise to a memorable Day 2. After some much needed brunch from the Sackville institution Patterson’s, many of us drank our gatorade, downed our coffees, and got back into festival mode.
I arrived to the grounds as the Montreal two-piece Solids were ending, a band which I scorned myself for missing. These guys hit hard and really pull no punches – their energy and ferocity could be felt from across town. Also, children were up front rocking out, making the rest of us seem like geezers.
One of my newfound favourites in the last month or two is Adrian Teacher. He’s a Vancouver-based artist that cut his chops in the bands Apollo Ghosts and COOL TV, but now going out on his own along with his band The Subs. A true DIY warrior, he’s been releasing music on his own for the better part of a decade. He’s collaborated with the likes of Julie Doiron, Dirty Beaches, Karl Blau, Shotgun Jimmie, just to name a few. Not only was he Polaris-nominated in 2010, but he was also the Sappyfest Songwriter in Residence in 2011.
Adrian Teacher’s set was definitely one of the highlights of the festival. Having had the pleasure of presenting a show with him (along with Human Music and Shotgun Jimmie) the prior week. His fun and witty antics on stage got people moving instantly, which I might add included giant smiles. He sings about simple things that we all think about or experience, like calling in sick, getting older, and of course, love. His delivery is irresistible, as is his music – his pseudo-crooner stage performance is supposed to be cheesy. He’s sort of like a more loveable Mac DeMarco.
At one point Adrian Teacher even invited up DJ Coconut – a DJ that happened to be dressed in a full body gorilla costume – who ended up jumping into the crowd and crowdsurfing, and Adrian followed suit. He played several songs off the recently released Sorta Hafta EP, such as “One Thing Your Money Couldn’t Buy” and “When Did I Get Older?” and also surprised us with a few Apollo Ghost tracks such as “I’m In Love With the USA.”
Adrian Teacher & the Subs at Sappyfest 2015.
We chugged our craft beers down and rushed over to the Vogue Theatre to catch Moon Socket, and finally got to sit down and take a load off. The Vogue Theatre is a beautiful art deco style theatre and cinema built in 1946 with a capacity of nearly 300. The white lights were dangled everywhere behind the stage, and the mood was set.
Moon Socket (Halifax via Moncton) is the solo project of Chris Thompson, who was also part of Eric’s Trip with Julie Doiron and The Memories Attack. The self-titled debut LP by Moon Socket came out in 1995, which is before many of the younger people at Sappyfest were even born. He also played the inaugural Sappyfest in 2006, which made it extra special to have him and the band back for the 10th anniversary of the festival.
The music definitely had a 90’s vibe to it, but it also contained interesting and intricate arrangements that, in my mind, transcend time. The music was neither fast nor slow – it was a mixed bag of crunchy and dissonant tones along with moments of atmospheric reprieve. I didn’t know about Moon Socket’s music coming in, but I enjoyed the nostalgic feel of his music and appreciated that it could stand the test of time. Fans of anyone from Elliott Smith to Sloan could easily get on board with this project.
Moon Socket at the Vogue Theatre
At this juncture the festivities were put on pause and we went back to grab some food and have a few drinks. It was the calm before the storm that would be the second half of Day 2.
As our group made our way back to the festival grounds, the piercing and penetrating vocals of Caila Thompson-Hannant, a.k.a. Mozart’s Sister (formerly of Shapes & Sizes) boomed throughout the streets of Sackville. Heads turned, and people were drawn towards the beautiful sounds.
Mozart’s Sister was easily one of the highlights of Sappyfest this year, as her jaw-dropping, near-perfect performance converted us all into believers. This was another act that I had been anxious to see for a few years but had never gotten around to it. Her strong, sexy disposition got the crowd in a frenzy as she danced and let loose on stage. Mozart’s Sister was a fun way to take us all into the night, bodies moving and the catchy pop rhythms pulsing through the town of Sackville on a perfect evening. Her angelic voice carried us all away and made us forget about the world around us, if only for a little while.
With the tone set, Toronto’s DIANA were up next on the main stage. Carmen Elle (also of Army Girls) and the band were stunning as usual, having a few years of playing under their belt since their 2013 release Perpetual Surrender. The synth-heavy, atmospheric feel of their music was accentuated during their live performance, playing songs such as “Perpetual Surrender” and “Born Again” to keep the energy of the night going. Using the cable going across the stage as a prop throughout the set, Carmen Elle interacted with the audience and captivated the entire tent. If there was one band that could get people dancing in each other’s arms and making sex feel imminent, DIANA was that band.
DIANA at Sappyfest 2015
We didn’t end up staying out too late on this night, mainly due to how late we had stayed up for the Foundry show the night before. However, New Fries played at The Royal Canadian Legion down the road later on. This band has gotten a lot of positive attention and acclaim over the last while, and they proved why on the small Legion stage. Although I didn’t catch all their set or really know any of their music, New Fries are one of those bands that sound completely different than anything else you’ve ever heard.
New Fries deconstruct conventional notions of what music is “supposed” to sound like. Abrupt, and at times, incoherent arrangements command the audience’s attention, while atypical time signatures and technically genius maneuvers reinforce how good the band really is. Beautiful chaos. They reminded me of Gatineau’s Fet.Nat, another band that is in a world of their own. Ottawa should be looking forward to catching New Fries at this year’s Arboretum Festival.
With another day done, we all hit the hay hard and got some well-deserved shuteye for the final day’s festivities.
New Fries at the Royal Canadian Legion
On The Road: Sappyfest Day 1
For years we’ve wanted to drop everything we’re doing and head out east to Sappyfest. If you’re not familiar with Sappyfest, you may be surprised to find out that it is not in fact an emo festival. Taking place in the near-perfect town Sackville, NB, Sappyfest is a small boutique music festival not unlike Hillside in Guelph or Arboretum in Ottawa. The quaint streets of Sackville fill up with music lovers and artists from all over the country. Also home to Mount Allison University in the town’s core, the emptied residences act as perfect rooms for lodging guests from out of town.
Sappyfest began in 2006, and this year’s festivities mark the tenth anniversary (known as SappyX) of the annual event. Past performers at the festival include Julie Doiron (co-founder), Destroyer, Timber Timbre, Attack in Black, The Sadies, Fucked Up, Grimes, Constantines, and even a few notable secrets sets by The Arcade Fire (under the name Shark Attack) and Sloan.
This year’s lineup is no exception, as the days and nights are stacked to the brim with incredible Canadian bands and artists. Eric, Tanya, and I made the gruelling 13-hour drive from Ottawa to Shediac, NB, the day before. The trip actually wasn’t that bad, but included driving past a severed deer leg and several 50-person lineups for the washrooms due to tourist buses.
After some sing-alongs, podcasts, and obligatory seafood stop in Moncton, we finally made it into cottage country and relaxed for the night. It was the calm before the storm that would be Sappyfest. The drive into Sackville is really beautiful, and it’s not far from the neighbouring city of Moncton. The volunteers and festival people are all extremely nice and direct us exactly to where we need to go for bracelets and check-in. This being my first time out east, I quickly realized that there is a very obvious generosity inherent in the way people out here treat others. The laid back atmosphere filled the festival grounds, which consisted of one main stage tent and one beer tent. Not a large area, but big enough to fit everyone comfortably.
The first band to play the festival main stage this year was Heat, a four-piece band from Montreal. I had seen them earlier this year at Megaphono during their set at the Diefenbunker, and their music instantly set my ears on fire – in a good way. They played a lot of new songs off their brand new Rooms EP, and their brand of melodic and upbeat rock got a group of toddlers dancing up front right away. Lead singer Susil Sharma, originally from New Brunswick, has a style that has been compared to Lou Reed. However cliché it may be, the comparison is an undeniable one. But Sharma’s style really is his own, and along with the band’s lively and catchy instrumentation the music got the growing Sappyfest crowd energized for the weekend’s festivities. With a huge blue moon floating bright over the horizon just past the main stage, the tone was set.
Unfortunately I missed most of Michael Feuerstack, a great musician formerly known as Snailhouse. He ended with his beautiful lullaby Chimney Sweep from 2010’s Monumental Moments, but the peaceful moment was abruptly interrupted by a very loud buzz from the sound system. Everyone simultaneously jumped, and some (including myself) thought that this was some sort of sick joke where each artist would do a dubstep remix of one of their songs. But Skrillex was nowhere to be seen, and unfortunately the buzzing sound issue continued to occur throughout the night.
Jennifer Castle was up next, and she serenaded each of us with her beautiful voice. Her sound is soft, yet powerful and penetrating. Her traditional folk style is in the same vein as Joan Baez, telling intimate stories from the heart. She played several newer and older songs, such as “I Don’t Care About Money,” “Truth is the Freshest Fruit,” “Working for the Man,” and “You Don’t Have to Be.” At one point she made a slight error while playing the guitar, which happened to coincide with a giant cloud of marijuana smoke coming over all of us. “I smell the marijuana,” she explained. “That’s gotta be why I missed that note.” The hollowbody guitar tones moved through us like a warm blanket, and along with her voice, she had the audience in her palm. She dedicated “How or Why” to the people that always let her stay at their place while on tour, and finished off the set with her new album’s title track “Pink City.”
We hung out with friends for a while and came back to the main stage area to catch Last Ex. Last Ex is an instrumental project by Simon Trottier and Olivier Fairfield of Timber Timbre, and the apocalyptic feel of their music is a result of a doomed cinematic horror film that Timber Timbre had planned to release in 2012. Fairfield, who lives in Gatineau and plays in the Ottawa-area band Fet.Nat, has an atypical drumming style that fits this kind of music perfectly. His precision is evident in every stroke, and his movements carry the overall feel of the music. In a live setting, the tones are brooding, and at times haunting. The fact that Last Ex can command attention the way they do on stage without vocals speaks volumes to their talent.
Next on the bill, and the last main stage show of the night, was PUP. I can’t think of any punk band that has a better live performance than PUP at the moment, as their energy and ferocity are unparalleled. In regards to the ongoing loud buzz issue, lead singer Stephan Babcock proclaimed that if it happens again then all it means it that everyone in the crowd needs to chug their beer. Challenge accepted, Stephan.
Coming off a month of Warper Tour throughout North America, the band should have been exhausted and likely sick of playing music for people – at least for a while. However, the band seemed so happy to be back in Canada to play a small festival such as Sappyfest. Their energy and stage presence was all there, and Stephan’s screaming could probably be heard all the way in P.E.I. . The band played lots of songs off their 2014 s/t album, which was one of my favourites last year. They included Dark Days, Lionheart, Cul de Sac, Reservoir, and more. PUP even played a new song that had a backstory involving masturbation gone wrong, because why not? They ended their powerful set with a cover of Sabotage by Beastie Boys, which could not have sounded better.
To take the music into the early morning hours, B.A. Johnston welcomed us into a packed bowling alley-turned-venue called Thunder and Lightening. It was a tight squeeze, and a sweaty one. But most of us were up for the challenge. T&L offered a really interesting space to experience B.A., and provided enough room for him to get rowdy with the crowd. At one point, B.A. ran down the bowling lane and dove head-first into the pins. Unfortunately he only got a spare and was very upset about that.
He played some classics from previous records such as “GST Cheque”, “My Heart is Blinking Like a Nintendo”, and “I Want to Drink With Aliens”. He also played some tunes off of this year’s Polaris-nominated Shit Sucks like “IKEA Hotdog” and “Drinkin on My Mom’s Dime”. As a natural born entertainer, B.A. got everyone in the crowd on his side as he ran around stealing the bar’s liquor and pouring people’s pints down their throats. He also had Peterborough’s Beef Boys (a really fun garage band) selling chilli dogs instead of merch, which many of us consumed and enjoyed thoroughly.
Strange Attractor capped things off afterwards and played a fast garage-punk set, which kept the crowd going and had a few bodies flying at the front. I missed most of their set but really recommend this band to anyone that digs the fast and the snotty.
One of the best parts of Sappy this year were the “secret” shows that took place. In a haze of alcohol and other pollutants, many of us heard about a Foundry show that was taking place down the road and past the tracks. And I mean all the way down the road. The Foundry is a remote spot outside the downtown core behind a warehouse. No lighting, no directions. We just followed the crowd until we heard the drone of guitars carrying through the darkness and into our ears.
With only a single dim light up by the impromptu stage and a red tail light from a truck nearby to guide our vision, Dorothy Paas, Freak Heat Waves, and Moon all played sets for nearly a hundred people that ended up there. Sketchy? Sure, maybe a little bit. But it was a 3am highlight that none of us will forget.