BandcampWritten by Colin Medley
As I drove into Sackville early Friday evening, I thought to myself, “Who is even playing this year?” This was mere hours before the start of SappyFest XI, and personally, my eighth time attending the tiny music festival that could. I’d become so confident in the organizer’s programming that I’d barely glanced at the lineup before booking my flight over. Now here I was, about to dive into three straight days of music, with nothing on my schedule — yet I felt fine.
You see, SappyFest is not like other music festivals. There are no LARGE FONT “headliners,” time slots are somewhat irrelevant and with everything taking place in a one-and-a-half-block radius, it’s easy to catch a little bit of everything. My strategy for this year, which I have developed over many years of attending, is to just “go with the flow,” follow my whim, drift through the festival like a fine mist from the marshes.
Here are five moments of discovery from my weekend.
1. Century Egg
After a late Friday night spent catching up with friends and watching sets from the likes of Dilly Dally and Tuns, Saturday started pretty slowly for me. Sleepily stumbling into Sappy’s mainstage tent some time around 2 p.m., I was not feeling particularly sunny. Thankfully, Halifax’s Century Egg washed away my bad vibes with its infectious energy, upbeat pop songs (sung in both English and Mandarin) and entertaining stage presence (particularly from bassist Nick Dourado). So far the band has only released a short EP, but imagine we’ll be hearing a lot more from them soon.
2. Coszmos Quartette
A few months back, I happened to catch a set at a small café in Toronto by a group from Hamilton that calls itself Coszmos Quartette. To be honest, until I saw them again at the Vogue Theatre on Saturday afternoon as part of SappyFest, I thought that maybe I’d dreamed them up. The music is so beautiful and pristine and perfectly performed, complex yet simple, with songs that should already be considered classics around the world. Acoustic guitar, stand-up bass, violin, piano, some flute and singing. What a magical formula.
3. Wooden Stars
How could this be a discovery? Wooden Stars are one of the best and most influential bands to ever come out of Ottawa. I agree, it may be silly to include them on this list, but considering this was their first show together in close to 10 years, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a bigger deal. I knew going into the festival that the band would be performing alongside Julie Doiron, who released the Juno Award-winning album Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars in 1999, but I didn’t know the band was going to be digging into its own back catalogue for a standalone set on Saturday night. So, in that sense, it was a discovery. Hopefully they stick around and play some more shows because I’m sure there are a lot of people like me who never saw them back in the day. Plus, the music still sounds as fresh as ever.
4. Sappy's next generation
Every night of the festival, after the official programming had ended around 2 a.m., most people went back to their dorms or tents or wherever they were staying, but probably around 100 people stayed up extra late and descended on an unsuspecting house near the train tracks for a bit of bonus music. With bands set up in the living room, there really wasn’t much room for too many people to watch the music, but I managed to stand outside and catch a few acts through a window. While certain official festival performers stepped up and played — including Un Blonde, Cupcake Ductape and Adrian Teacher and the Subs — it was really heartening to see some younger bands like Halifax’s No Problem, Fredericton's LAPS and Peterborough’s Sheila Beach, among many others. Beyond being super fun parties, these unofficial showcases provided a glimpse into possible future Sappy artists.
5. Greville Tapes Music Club Revue
The last night of SappyFest is usually when I really let loose, and this year was no exception. After an amazing set in the mainstage tent by New Jersey’s Cakes da Killa, I stepped into Thunder & Lightning, a local pub with an attached bowling alley/concert venue. The show happening there was listed as the Greville Tapes Music Club, a name that really didn’t say much about what I was about to see. A little bit of research would indicate that it’s a collaborative recording project where two artists/bands set up shop at the Quarantine (a studio run by Construction & Destruction) in Port Greville, N.S., and write and perform on each other’s songs.
With past participants including Julie Doiron, Nancy Pants, Jon Mckiel, WHOOP-Szo, Eamon McGrath, Little You, Little Me and more, the showcase was sure to be good. It ended up being one of the weekend’s highlights. It helped that I was in a particularly celebratory mood, with another amazing festival in the books, but something about seeing so many great musicians playing together really put me over the top. Now I’m back home, listening to these songs, and it’s bringing me right back to that moment, and for that I am grateful.
Thanks again, Sappy.
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