SappyFest Prepares To Enter Tenth Year

Les Hay Babies are scheduled to perform at SappyFest
Les Hay Babies are scheduled to perform at SappyFest

Now entering its tenth year, SappyFest, has helped put Sackville on the world’s musical map.

A staple of the August long weekend, this year’s festival will bring together a line-up of more than 30 bands, performers, artists and more from across North America, delivering an eclectic mix of indie rock, folk, punk, pop and electro music.

Although SappyFest made an impressive name for itself over the course of the last decade, having attracted acclaimed acts including Arcade Fire, The Sadies, Sloan, The Constantines and more, the festival’s 2013 edition encountered significant financial difficulty. With the threat of permanently being sidelined posed a real possibility last year, the festival soldiered on, albeit in a streamlined form.

It is no coincidence that this year’s festival slogan of “Looks Like We Made It” reflects the gratitude that organizers’ feel at being able to continue:

“Last year’s festival definitely could have been the last time SappyFest was staged,” festival organizer Lucas Hicks explains. “If last year had not been successful, as much as both we and the community love it, I don’t know that anybody would have had the ambition to do something this year.

“Fortunately for everyone, that isn’t the case. The festival is going to continue to evolve and grow in the years ahead, just as it has done up to this point.”

Hicks says the festival’s evolution has been in large part due to the bands they have been able to secure in previous years. And while the easy thing to do would be to continually book the acts which organizers are confident could haul in big crowds, introducing new acts to audiences is among the festival’s chief mandates:

“With the exception of members crossing over from group to group, I would estimate that upwards of 65% of this year’s line-up has never played SappyFest in the past. That’s exciting to us, as the festival has helped introduce a lot of bands to audiences. We are constantly looking for ways to branch out in terms of what we are offering the people of the Maritimes.”

SappyFest has indeed made its mark upon the population of the Maritimes and beyond. It is routine to have attendees travel from outside of the region to attend the festival, something Hicks attributes to the community spirit that permeates SappyFest.

“It is amazing to hear some of my favourite bands talking about hanging out at the festival and how well they are treated while they are here. We aim to create the type of experience that is going to prompt performers to tell their friends in bands,” Hicks says.

It is the community spirit behind SappyFest that is a major drawing card for Ontario punk band PUP. The group last performed in Atlantic Canada almost two years ago, at the time their debut record had been released. Since then, PUP has headlined stages all over the world including North America, Europe and Australia.

The group’s headlining slot at SappyFest on Friday evening comes on the heels of the band’s participation on the acclaimed Warped Tour.

“SappyFest has an overall great reputation in the music community, amongst bands and fans,” PUP vocalist-guitarist Stefan Babcock says. “Every band we have talked to that has performed at the festival has just had glowing things to say.

“As a band, you know when you’re playing a cookie-cutter, run-of-the-mill festival, but you also know when you’re stepping into something truly special. That is how we view our participation at SappyFest: We don’t take it lightly that they faith in us to be one of the main stage headliners. It feels like the ultimate culmination of the last two years of work.”

While bands are an undeniably important aspect of SappyFest, there are a number of other events complementing the festival.

With a total of four showings throughout the weekend, the first of which start Thursday July 30, The Water Thief, a film by Sean Frey and Amy Siegel, tells the story of an 80 year-old man who keeps time and memory alive by maintaining a giant clock run by water, called a clepsydra. The arrival of a ghostly whale forces the film’s primary character to confront loss, spirits of the past as well as his own mortality.

The Water Thief stars local actor Bertholet Charron and draws upon real happenings and histories of Rockport, N.B., where filming took place.

Another part of SappyFest focuses on different aspects of the literary world: The festival’s Zine Fair, taking place from Noon until 4 p.m. on Saturday Aug. 1 at Sackville’s Royal Canadian Legion, has been an annual occurrence, bringing together a selection of writers, comic artists and other creative geniuses to sell and showcase a selection of their work. This year will feature works from Conundrum Press, Third Space Gallery and Metatron Publishing.

From Noon until 3 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 3 at Sackville’s Vogue Theatre, Universal Dawn, an annual literary event, will honour the memory of Dawn Wason, a long-time SappyFest cohort. The event will be curated and hosted by Halifax poet Andrew Patterson and will bring together a wide array of authors including Andrew Hood, Rebecca Roher, Jonathan Rotsztain, Kaleigh Trace and Ashley Opheim.

What: Sappyfest Ten
When: Friday July 31 through Sunday Aug. 2
Where: Various venues throughout Sackville
Festival information, including ticket prices and schedule, available online at www.sappyfest.com