Sappyfest: the little festival that keeps on growing

Since 2006, music fans from near and far have converged in Sackville every New Brunswick Day weekend to take in some of today’s most eclectic musicians and artists who perform during Sappyfest.

Sappyfest is an annual independent music and arts festival, produced in partnership with the OK.Quoi?! Arts Festival, Struts Gallery and the Faucet Media Arts Centre. It takes place from Friday through Sunday at venues throughout Sackville. 

Among the performers scheduled for this year’s edition are Canadian psych-country band,The Sadies, The Felice Brothers, Chad Van Gaalen, Jim Guthrie and By Divine Right. 

There is also a generous helping of Maritime talent, including former Eric’s Trip members Julie Doiron and Rick White as well as Purple Knight, Nova Scotia-band Contrived and critically acclaimed folk hero Old Man Luedecke. 

Although some of above names might not ring the bells of familiarity with some, the festival has a knack for selecting vital artists and bands to perform. These groups may not be well known in the mainstream, but are often critically acclaimed in alternative music circles. 

Sappyfest got its beginnings back in 2006 when Paul Henderson was looking to start his own record label. 

Moncton singer-songwriter Julie Doiron, formerly of Eric’s Trip, caught wind of this and offered her friend the use of the Sappy Records name.Back in the early ’90s, Eric’s Trip used the Sappy label as the home for their projects outside of the band but had allowed the label to go dormant.

According to Julie, the festival was started in an effort to help raise awareness that the label had a new life. 

“The festival was a way to celebrate the Sappy label’s re-birth and also a way to get our friends together to play music over the course of a weekend,” she says. 

Since then, the festival has grown by leaps and bounds, both in terms of the sheer number of bands participating as well as the crowds coming to see the shows. 

“The audience has grown tremendously,” Paul, Sappyfest’s creative director, says. “We estimate that we gain about 200 to 300 attendees every year.” 

The MainStage Tent, which is actually two, large tents set up on Bridge Street in the heart of downtown, can hold up to 1,500 people and covers the stage, audience, bar and merchandise area. (For the festival, Bridge Street will be closed from Main to Lorne).

Paul proudly notes that the festival’s continued growth and success has spread via word of mouth as there is very little to spend on promoting the festival. With a core staff of three organizers and a festival committee of six, Sappy is easily able to retain the small music festival feeling that suits its Sackville home. 

But with an enviable list of performers at this year’s festival, Paul and his partners might not be able to contain the Sappy secret much longer. 

Sappyfest is more than just a music festival though: On Saturday, at the Royal Canadian Legion on Lorne Street, there will be a fanzine and record fair held between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. And on Sunday, there will be a craft fair hosted on Bridge Street between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. 

Paul feels that the non-musical events that help keep the festival interesting, offer attendees a break from music and ultimately help set Sappyfest apart from other music-only festivals. 

There are 58 bands slated to play over the course of the entire weekend. Among them are: 

* Julie Doiron: After the demise of seminal indie-band Eric’s Trip, Moncton’s Julie Doiron has forged a very successful solo career. She has released nine records to date, the most recent being the critically acclaimed “I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day.” 

Aside from her upcoming Sappyfest performance, Doiron is keeping busy this summer and into the fall as a part of the band backing Tragically Hip vocalist Gord Downie on his upcoming solo tour. 

* The Sadies: From Central Canada, Toronto band The Sadies is in the midst of promoting its newest record, “Darker Circles” which was released in May of this year. Together for 15 years, the band’s versatility live has seen it play shows with everyone from Blue Rodeo to The Tragically Hip. 

* Old Man Luedecke: The pride of Chester, Nova Scotia, Old Man Luedecke, is one of Canada’s best loved and most intriguing roots singer-songwriters.

His 2008 record “Proof Of Love” earned him a Juno Award for Best Roots-Solo Album. His newest record “My Hands Are On Fire And Other Love Songs” has earned national accolades.

Article published in July 29, 2010 edition of the Times & Transcript