Every August long weekend, music enthusiasts from different regions of our fair country migrate to the tiny town of Sackville for Sappyfest. While every music festival boasts its own unique array of music, Sappyfest has proven time and again that they are a music festival in tune with the tastes of fans on the outer fringes of the mainstream.
A brief look at this year’s line-up confir ms the arguably undisputed popularity of the festival for both fans as well as those making the music. For every up-and-coming act performing at this year’s festival including Marine Dreams, The Mouthbreathers, and Cousins, there are established groups such as Polaris Music Prize nominees Cold Specks, Yamantanka/Sonic Titan, Timber Timbre, and Christine Fellows.
Approach Sappyfest with an open mind and open ears and the possibilities are endless. Those possibilities were certainly realized last year when mega-indie rock band Arcade Fire, in the area to perform with U2 at Magnetic Hill, popped into Sappyfest to perform a surprise set under the guise of Shark Attack.
These seemingly ongoing victories are not lost on Sappyfest organizer Paul Henderson.
While having Arcade Fire simply ‘pop by’ to play was a major coup, giving audiences the opportunity to see the band in a relatively intimate atmosphere, Henderson says that it has been his experience that the ‘underdogs’ are often the real winners.
‘Working with Arcade Fire to set up last year’s show was a very lucky and mutually beneficial partnership. They were amazing people to work with,’ he says. ‘As cool as it was though, I think that more people had a more profound experience the next night watching Charles Bradley. That to me was validation for doing this whole thing.’ Henderson shares that the planning aspects of Sappyfest 7 actually began before last year’s festival had even wrapped up. The festival’s venues tend to be the same year after year, as does the support offered by the Sackville community at large. Having the financial support of the community as well as having them make in-kind contributions including promotion, recycling and more, is a big part of the festival’s success as far as Henderson is concerned.
‘I believe that a good portion of the Sackville community looks forward to Sappyfest each year including audiences, volunteers, and the businesses in the town.’ Evan Matthews of Yellowteeth and The Mouthbreathers (both acts are slated to perform during Sappyfest) says that as a devoted Sappyfest attendee of the past four or five years, it is the diverse line-up of music that has kept him coming back year after year.
‘What brings me back to Sappyfest every year is a combination of the lineup and the vibe of the festival,’ Matthews says. ‘While the bands all tread in different stylistic territory, in my experience all of the music featured during the festival is stellar and the vibe of the whole festival is like one big, relaxed party that takes over a small town for a weekend. Everyone is just there to enjoy themselves, and no one overdoes it.
‘Sappy manages to create an experience where young people like me can have fun and enjoy ourselves while still remaining a family-friendly atmosphere. Plus the fact that Sappy is a registered non-profit organization that largely eschews big corporate influence makes it an event that I am proud to support year after year,’ he says.
Erik Evans of Quebec band Canailles says that their band loves the small-town appeal of Sappyfest as it is often where some of the best memories are made.
‘We get closer to the public and most of the time, the experiences are unforgettable,’ Evans says. ‘We just came back from playing in Dawson City, Yukon and when you play these small towns, you feel more welcome and are more inclined to stay and enjoy yourselves.’ Approximately half of this year’s Sappyfest roster has been invited to play while the other 50 per cent is comprised of bands who have applied for a highly coveted spot in the festival.
Seeing how Sappyfest organizer Henderson was spot on with his prediction of how Charles Bradley’s set would be received at last year’s festival, we took a moment to pick his brain with respect to who he is looking forward to seeing at this year’s edition: ‘Michael Hurley,’ Henderson affir ms.
‘He is an American legend – hilarious and heartfelt stoner folk. He is in his 70s and is just an incredible songwriter and person. I am also proud to have some of the local punk bands on the bill like Yellow Teeth, Mouthbreathers and Astral Gunk. They are all terrifyingly filthy and amazing. Oneida are also an insane monster that will warp the crowd, in my opinion.’