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.”
Last Ex at @sappyfest #sappyX #latergram A photo posted by Ottawa Showbox (@ottawashowbox) on
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.