SAPPYFEST 2010 - Friday Night Re-Cap....

At first glance, Sackville, New Brunswick seems like an unlikely place for one of the greatest music festivals the country has to offer. It’s a small and incredibly condensed university town with stunning century old architecture, plenty of woodland and the cleanest streets you’ve ever walked in your life. It’s the kind of place where the locals are friendly and they keep an eye out for each other. But if you take a closer look you’ll begin to see why Sackville’s annual Sappyfest attracts the most awesome bands (and fans) in the land.

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Once we spent a little time in Sackville, the superficial elements stripped away revealing a town that is something of an East-Coast-Cultural-Mecca. It's a town that welcomes art with open arms. Aside from the many artsy courses taught at Mount Allison University, the town’s love of art and culture is evident at every turn. Like most of Canada’s bigger cities, telephone poles are littered with posters advertising band gigs and upcoming plays. Walking through downtown we counted 3 book stores (one of them a comic store), a beautiful old movie theatre and an art gallery. In fact, Sackville was declared the cultural capital of Canada in 2008 by the Department of Canadian Heritage. And if Sackville is the cultural capitol of Canada, Sappyfest is surely the musical equivalent.

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Like the town that hosts it, the appeal of Sappyfest isn’t only skin deep. Sure, the 3 day festival boasts a wide variety of awesome bands (some you’ve likely heard of and some you likely haven’t), cheap beer and an ideal place to party, but that’s pretty standard for summer rock festivals. What really sets this festival apart is Sackville’s atmosphere; its je ne sais quoi.

The town has a laid back vibe that is palpable. Everyone in attendance seemed at ease; ready to have a good time but not such a good time that that they might alienate others. Not once did we see anyone crying, fighting, being hauled away on a stretcher or being hauled away by the cops. And those are things we’ve seen at almost every music festival we’ve ever been to. It seemed that for one weekend everyone who donned their cheap paper wristbands and walked through the Sappyfest entrance adopted the attitude and disposition of the town itself. All of the musicians who played the event spent their time before and after their sets mulling about the festival grounds, taking in the music and enjoying themselves with the rest of the crowd. The separation between musician and music fan was practically non-existent. It felt like we were all in this together: the bands, the fans and the Sackville residents. Everyone was there simply to have a great time.

Mission accomplished.

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Of course, the Noisography team had one other mission in mind: to document this great time and share it with you, Internet.

The festival featured over 50 acts and while we weren’t able to take in absolutely everything the festival had to offer, we worked our asses (and ears) off to bring you the most extensive coverage physically possible. We left Sappyfest with more photos, video and stories than a million monkeys could shake a million sticks at. Even after we condensed it down to the shiniest diamond we could, we felt that one post wouldn’t do Sappyfest justice. Our logical conclusion was to separate it into three posts, each cataloguing a different day of Sap. So if you didn’t have the pleasure of attending (or if you just want to re-live the memory), sit back and prepare to get way jealous that you weren’t there too.

Ah, but there’s always next year.

The first thing we did after pulling off the highway into Sackville was to head to the liquor store. Plenty of other people had the same idea, with one line seemingly comprised of confused and/or mildly annoyed locals, wondering what was going on, and the other of recent arrivals from the likes of Halifax and Moncton, already abuzz with excitement for the multitude of shows that were about to go down this weekend.

After setting up tents and having a quick bite to eat (and the first of many coffee runs), we headed down to the main stage tent, about a 5 minute walk from where we were staying.

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Our strategy was one of Divide and Conquer: some of us headed into the tent to catch the end of Attack in Black, and get ready for the Felice Brothers. Dan surveyed the weekend's venues, which we were pleased to discover were largely within spitting distance of each other - as he poked and tapped at his iPhone, looking for the address of Uncle Larry’s, Tiffany pointed out the rather large, glowing sign hanging above and to the left of the Main Stage tent which read: Uncle Larry’s Billiards & Pool Hall (or something to that effect). All around us we found the Vogue Theatre, the United Church, and other impromptu venues (like the back of a trailer).


The first band we caught at Sappy on Friday night was Attack in Black, but it was only the tail end of their set. Their music was a good introduction to the festival. The band was rocking the main stage which was planted right in the middle of Bridge Street in downtown Sackville. Attack in Black played well executed, melodic rock which made a nice soundtrack for counting the plaid cowboy style shirts that everyone was wearing (move over skinny jeans and horn-rimmed glasses! This shirt style is now the official indie rock calling card. 3/4ths of the audience members were wearing these shirts. And they don’t call em hipsters because they’re unhip).

The Felice Brothers, took the stage as night fell and they rocked the roof of the main stage tent. The Felice Brothers are a band from Upstate New York who got their start as subway buskers and went on to release seven albums. Their music is a ramshackle mixture of drunken rock & roll and whiskey soaked country & western. Their lyrics are captivating examples of expert storytelling that rival modern story-song titans such as Tom Waits and Nick Cave.

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The band put on a foot-stomping brouhaha of a set that climaxed with the hectic, brilliant performance of “Frankie’s Gun”. James Felice, the band’s keyboardist, rocked an accordion while the violinist, Greg Farley, played the washboard. The quintet stomped around stage like a backwoods jug band on amphetamines. The audience shouted along, practically singing the song for the band.

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The most obvious observation people make about the Felice Brothers is that lead singer Ian Felice’s voice is a dead ringer for Bob Dylan’s. True as that may be, it’s in no way phony, that’s just the way the guy sounds. His voice has a gruff, worldly quality as though the young man is channelling a soul much older than his own. We’ve been in love with the Felice Brothers' recordings for a while now and we're glad to say the band’s live show totally delivered.

As the Felice Brothers wound down, the crowd began to surge outwards and down the main streets of Sackville towards the Civic Centre, host to a head scratching line up that included a roller derby, Chin Straps (replaced at the last minute by the Adam Mowery Organization Worldwide) vs. Purple Knights, a wrestling match, and indie dance extraordinaire, Holy Fuck. After a quick stop back at tent city, we followed the crowd streaming into the Civic Centre, past BA Johnston selling hotdogs from the back of a van, and into a hockey arena. While probably not the weirdest place to ever see a show, there were plenty of puzzled fans in the stand, and on the surface below. As we sat and watched, the Chins Straps and Purple Knight traded off rock and roll and punk songs while, yes, a roller derby circled around the floor in front of them. We weren't really sure what a roller derby was (and still aren’t), but at some point a winner emerged (the black team?) and our attention was drawn to the large wresting ring in one corner of the Arena.

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Would the band play DURING wresting? Would they be separate events? They were spaced as far apart as possible, but anything seemed possible at this point. Also, wrestling?? Some of the crowd seemed disapproving, but local fans gathered around the ring as a large, Mexican wrestling masked fighter emerged to elicit boos (the ‘bad guy’), followed by, well, Black Spiderman (Red Spiderman was apparently unavailable). A pin-striped ref hammed it up in the middle of the ring as classic 90’s soap opera - er, wrestling – drama played out, complete with ‘hidden’ weapons, post dives, hi-kicks, and ‘out of the ring’ hijinks. When the match ended, the crowd surged toward the opposite end of the Arena towards Holy Fuck’s stage.

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While an announcer pleaded for their return with all the clarity of an elephant with a bullhorn (in an echo chamber), a second set of wrestlers emerged to tango. By this point the hour was getting late, and Holy Fuck started up about half way through the second match, drawing most of the rest of the crowd over to their side for their trademark catchy, noisy, electro beats. Now fully integrated with permanent rhythm section, and with a new album under their belt, the band kept up a nonstop string of old hits and new material. There was surprisingly little dancing, especially for people who had just been entertained by a wrestling match, but I guess you can’t expect too much from a crowd where the word ‘hipster’ was overhead about 1000 times at various locations (and levels of plaid were off the charts).

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Unfortunately the Civic Center wasn’t the best venue for them. The sound was muffled sounding in the large arena. They would have sounded much better outside on the Main Stage. Still, they definitely live up to their hype. Their playing was great and the energy was high. The band delivered a fantastic set of crowd pleasing favourites and extended jams. If you haven’t seen Holy Fuck play live, you are out of the plaid-cowboy-shirt-club and not allowed back in until you remedy that oversight.

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(To see all the videos, visit us at our youtube page)

We hit the hay pretty quick after the show wound down - Saturday was up next, and it was such a smorgasbord of great shows that it will be featured in it's own post... stay tuned as we work our butts off to bring you the best photos, videos, and reviews!

TNaugler

3 comments:

Ryan Hillier said...

good writeup and photos! fyi the Attack in Black link directs to the Felice Brothers' myspace.

Anonymous said...

chin straps cancelled that was the adam mowery organization worldwide.

TNaugler said...

Thanks for the corrections guys!