I stumbled into SappyFest XI sometime on Friday evening, exhausted after having just completed a week long tour that culminated with an 18 hour drive from Peterborough, Ontario directly to Sackville, New Brunswick. Folks who frequent the festival have a cult like commitment to it – this was only my second time attending the festival, but I was accompanied by friends who were returning for their tenth year. SappyFest has a reputation in this region – that there is some unknown but powerful force ensuring that the programming will be interesting, you’ll meet great people, and the small maritime town will come alive and steal your heart.
After a quick shower and a long wait in the liquor commission line up, I was on Bridge Street, amidst the happy squeals of Sappy goers excitedly reuniting. I picked up the schedule, and after unsuccessfully trying to decipher the band classification system Sappy had invented for their program (bands could be one or more of the following categories: indie, weird, pop, dance, punk, hip hop or folk), I blindly selected a band categorized as “indie punk dance.” Toronto’s Dilly Dally, fronted by guitarist and vocalist Katie Monks, were so much more – grungy and punk with Monk’s vocals centered as she growled, whispered and shrieked lyrics that I couldn’t quite decipher but knew I probably liked. The band was expertly controlling their dynamics – quiet and intense moments somehow emerged from the slurry of loud aggressive noise.
Later that night, festival attendees mass migrated to local musician Evan Matthew’s house for the afterparty. The small house was bursting to the seams with people, and I showed up moments after Peterborough’s Shelia Beach played, and moments before a minor deck collapse. The conversation I later overheard between two very stoned fellows sitting on the ruined deck succinctly summarized the event – “Dude!” “Dude, what?” “Dude, this deck is collapsed.” “Duuuuuddddeee!!!”
Next up was Laps, the four piece weirdo pop group from Fredericton. I was so happy to groove to some familiar tunes, and bask in the glory that is Heather Ogilvie on guitar and vocals. My two bands, Nightbummerz and Glitterclit also had the chance to play, and it was simultaneously fun and terrifying as the floor of the old house bounced up and down with the moshers.
After a very slow morning, I was able to catch Halifax’s Century Egg, which was the highlight of my festival experience. They’re a relatively new band who has already attracted plenty of attention from their April release ‘Mountain God’. I had been overhearing excited mentions of their name all of Friday night. At two in the afternoon when they are about to start, the tent is already quite populated and would continue to fill as hungover festival goers shuffled in. They began, and the audience was immediately hypnotized. Shane Keyu Song stood center stage, and her cascading summery vocals enchanted the crowd. She dazzled with songs like ‘Since I Caught You‘, where her voice weaved in and around guitarist Robert Drisdelle’s infectious pop melodies and bassist Nick Dourado’s punchy yet bubbly lines. Drummer Tri Li seemed to hold it all together, with his precise and dynamic style providing a foundation that the other members danced around. Every time I see Century Egg at a smallish show, it feels like I’m witnessing something truly special - a band that is bound for great things. From what I could gather, the rest of the audience felt that too. I saw folks blinking at each other in astonishment, maybe not quite sure how to process the pure magic that is Century Egg.
On Saturday night, the main stage tent was completely full of people anxiously awaiting hometown heroes Partner. Josee Caron and Lucy Niles took to the stage with their usual band, plus a troupe of four backup vocalists. The set was explosive – Josee played a red double neck SG, and audience members crowd surfed almost the entire time. For the most part, Lucy and Josee were the ultimate goofballs onstage – songs like ‘Hot Knives’ and ‘Personal Weekend’ were alive and fun. At other times, the show was intense and personal. Josee cried during ‘Creatures in the Sun’, a song she wrote about a recently departed dog. Partner was a force of beautiful queer energy and power, and as I watched them I felt the 14 year old questioning bisexual inside of me shiver in her boots.
The rest of the weekend slipped by in a blur – Nap Eyes played a beautiful set Sunday night, and the house shows continued to rage nightly until the early hours of the morning. Though there was a lot of amazing stuff that I caught, there was an equal amount of amazing stuff that I missed – I kept hearing of the fabled Kids Corner Power Jam group Nightfox, and accounts of a legendary Unblonde after party show. But that’s the way that SappyFest goes.
SappyFest was filled with beautiful people and magical moments – but that doesn’t mean they did everything exactly right. Early on in the festival, I tallied the female and POC representation at the festival – something I always make a point to do. They did okay in terms of gender parity – of 48 bands, 24 had at least one female member. However, there weren’t nearly as many female fronted bands as there were male. SappyFest fared much worse in programming musicians of colour; there were only a handful of bands with POC members featured in the largely white lineup. SappyFest had brought in musicians from a nationwide pool, and could have curated a lineup that better represents the diversity of Canadian music communities. This criticism is meant to be productive – it’s important that these discrepancies are acknowledged. I have faith that the organizers of Sappy can recognize these problems and deal with them.
In my experience, Sappy has ultimately felt like a safe and fun space. It feels pretty inevitable that I’ll be going again next year – I feel Sappy pulling me closer, slowly turning me into someone who can’t help but return again and again.
For more information visit www.sappyfest.com