Published Aug 05, 2009The sleepy, postcard-lovely town of Sackville, New Brunswick was flooded with musicians and fans this past August long weekend for the fourth annual Sappyfest. The weekend was a perfect mix of community, reunions and new discoveries; it's small enough that you can run into friends at every step and big enough to foster a palpable sense of excitement and frequent moments of rock'n' roll transcendence.
On Friday, Halifax's Brent Randall and His Pinecones lured the early crowds in with the sleepy piano pop that they've honed to perfection. They were followed by Harbour Coats, the solo project by the Constantines' Bryan Webb, whose quiet, emotive tunes showcased his rusty rasp. Everyone went up for Old Man Luedecke — the Haligonian banjo troubadour is quickly approaching national treasure status. Favourites like "I Quit My Job" had all the crowd stomping and yelling their faces off, as he capped his set with a charming ditty about a bungled cross-country trip and a beautiful Sackville breakfast.
100 Dollars brought one of the festival's best sets with their eerie, heartfelt country tunes about broken workers, urban weirdos, juice and sage. Eric's Trip (pictured above) closed the evening with their annual reunion show as the rain began to hammer down, and the once-troubled, long-reconciled foursome was as squalling, shambolic and perfect as ever.
The next morning, festival-goers cracked their first beer to the sounds of the Gertrudes' rollicking tunes and were charmed by the sleeping baby strapped to one of the backup singer's chests. Jon-Rae Fletcher, backed by members of Ladyhawk, left many breathless with his stunning wail, as deep and smooth as the trombones that accompanied him. Over at Uncle Larry's, Dwight Schenk woke up the mid-afternoon crowd with his unique slurry of Beefheart-esque blues freak-outs and bone-bare slow jams.
The Baird Brothers, who serve as Julie Doiron's band and have previously backed the likes of Feist, gave a taste of things to come with a jammy rock set featuring Doiron, the Queen of Sackville, on bass. Eric's Tripper Rick White cooled the fest down after a break with a host of songs from his new material and brought out covers of "One" and "Who's Next In Line," which seemed doubly poignant in his winsome, whispery voice.
While Snailhouse's mellow rock was a bit tedious this time round, Ohbijou were earnestly pretty and twee. Thankfully, the fest's palates were cleared and rocked the fuck out with Ladyhawk, who played a delirious, chugging set that was all over the place.
Sunday morning began with Halifax singer-songwriter Jon McKiel, whose set was a surprising mix of soft twangy ballads and heavy, spacey rock. Montreal's Luyas were a strange little bunch fronted by former S.S. Cardiacs singer Jessie Stein. Their piping, atmospheric folk broke up the singer-songwriter tedium that Sappy sometimes gets lulled into.
It was then off to check out Calvin Johnson's and Destroyer's solo sets, the former brought a loopy performance that was half standup comedy and half oddball love songs, while Dan Bejar played a career spanning set that cut through the stifling afternoon and gave a reminder of what a unique, hypnotic musician he is. Then it was on to Clues, who played the loudest set of the festival and even brought some water balloons to cool down the sweaty mass of faces.
Julie Doiron joined many bands on the weekend, but it was her set with the Baird Brothers and Shotgun and Jaybird's Fred Squire that showcased her chops, not only as an endearingly vulnerable vocalist but also as a fierce bandleader and rock guitarist. Old ladies stood on chairs and clapped, while little kids mingled with bearded dudes in the front, and everyone was smiling as Doiron swung her ponytails and tore shit up real good.
The festival was capped off by a once in a lifetime supergroup – members of the Constantines, Ladyhawk and 100 Dollars took the stage at the revered George's Roadhouse for a secret show of Neil Young covers under the name Horseycraze. Festival-goers clung to strangers around them, stinking of beer and sweat, screaming along to "Harvest Moon," and sighed in total, ridiculous bliss.