Published Aug 01, 2011With or Without You, the slogan for Sackville, NB's sixth annual SappyFest, served as a lighthearted jab at the hugely publicized U2 and Arcade Fire concert in nearby Moncton during the independent festival. Although organizers for this modest but ever-growing musical affair weren't concerned about losing festivalgoers to competition, it's probably safe to say you should've been in smalltown Sackville.
Donning a cowboy hat and with a pack of cigarettes in his denim jacket pocket, Daniel Romano eased everyone into the first night with his smoothly crooned traditional country stylings. After Friday's original headliner Owen Pallett (whose set included a solid cover of Caribou's "Odessa") performed, a backdrop reading "Shark Attack" in uneven multi-coloured lettering was hastily hung up as onlookers waited excitedly for the night's rumoured secret guest.
After repeated chants of "Shark Attack," the Jaws theme began to rumble. Arcade Fire, under the aforementioned moniker, surfaced and thrashed wildly through an energetic 80-minute set. With no barricade separating the pulsating throng of fans from the stage, Win Butler stood atop of amps, teetering over the mass as it belted lyrics along with him. SappyFest co-founder Paul Henderson thanked the band and admitted, "It's really weird to climax the first night."
It turned out Friday's show would merely constitute as the rising action. With Saturday came rain, but also a rare performance from hook-gifted Moonsocket (i.e., Chris Thompson of Eric's Trip fame), as well as Sandro Perri, who presented his experimental melding of electronic, post-rock, jazz and folk matter-of-factly; Arthur Russell would've been proud. Despite guitar-tuning issues for Apollo Ghosts' first few songs, the Vancouver pop collective gave a quirky, spirited performance from their infectious catalogue, punctuated by tossing five-dollar bills into the audience and crowdsurfing. Toronto's Bonjay reaffirmed the festival organizers' decision to include more dance-centric acts this year; frontwoman Alanna Stuart won the crowd over with her impressive vocal acrobatics as she shimmied and slinked to their bass-heavy electro-dancehall sound.
Charles Bradley, the "Screaming Eagle of Soul" and gyrating headliner of Saturday night, wasn't so much a revivalist as someone who specializes in time travel. With heart and swagger, he transported all present to the grit and passion of the '60s and early '70s soul sound. Bradley was visibly overwhelmed by the adulation he received, tears weaving down his face alongside beads of sweat. Afterwards, SappyFest organizer Henderson humbly mentioned Bradley had just given "one of the most genuine and amazing performances" he'd ever seen in his life, to which the crowd cheered in resounding agreement.
Sunday brought sunshine and began with Universal Dawn -- a tribute to Dawn Aeron-Wason, a poet and friend of SappyFest who passed away earlier this year. The bittersweet event ended with a heartbreaking performance by Julie Doiron, tearful over the loss of her good friend. Back at the main stage, Calgary-based duo Sleepy Panther treated early risers to a woozily good set with deep, disaffected vocals, reverb-laden guitar and dazzling drums. Meanwhile, Quaker Parents charmed onlookers with head-bopping math rock and good-natured bickering between the twin brothers of the band.
Later that night, Sackville's own golden boy Shotgun Jimmie delivered a rollicking set of rock'n'roll gems. A chorus of voices sang along word for word with Jimmie, solidifying his popularity; everyone wants to be best buds with the guy. The legendary Jon Langford and His Sadies played a rowdy, rough-timbred set, which led into the night's headliner, Chad VanGaalen. The unassuming VanGaalen put on an unearthly performance, mostly playing tunes from his cinereous-sounding album, Diaper Island. Before beginning his final song, he plainly said, "SappyFest Six -- I don't know what to say. Go commit suicide because it's the best you're probably ever going to feel." Thankfully, it was a weekend so unfathomably magical that this afterglow could very well last until next year's festival.
Below you can view several of the performances from SappyFest.