Sled Island Music Festival Calgary AB June 27 to 30

By the time Tim Harrington of Les Savy Fav led a Sled Island crowd in chanting "best festival ever,” it was clear that North America’s newest music and arts festival had an auspicious inaugural year. Calgary’s version of NXNE or SXSW (without panel talks, thus far), Sled Island boasted over 90 bands playing in 16 indoor venues. It brought together Canada’s indie rock elite, undiscovered talent and world-class bands, who especially enjoyed an appreciative welcome from the Canadian wild west. The festival began with a bewitching set from Jain Vain and the Dark Matter, the opening act for Cat Power. Backed by Blues Explosion guitarist Judah Bauer, Chan Marshall treated a hushed audience to an intensely soulful two-and-a-half-hour catharsis. After a mesmerising set heavy on cover tunes, the couple were commanded back to the stage by Folsom Prison-esque stomps. Fittingly, their encore included a medley of "Folsom Prison Blues” and "Hey Porter.” Spoon spotlessly performed songs from their entire discography, ironically including "They Never Got You” while an electrical rainstorm raged outside. While Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live, Trenchmouth) finished a brief comedic act behind a drum kit, the Walkmen pried themselves away from Guitar Hero and put on an intensely focused and blustery set heavy on new material. One-man whirling dervishes of creativity, both Chad VanGaalen and Dan Bejar (Destroyer) debuted previously unperformed songs as well. Fans might have been the most demonstrative for Eric Bachmann, who was accompanied by a violinist and an audience singing along to Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers songs word for word. Also impressing crowds were Calgary favourites the Dudes (joined by Moustache Wax brothers, the A-Team), Dojo Workhorse, the Summerlad, Hot Little Rocket, Smalltown DJs, Woodpigeon (with Aaron Booth), Montreal’s CPC Gangbangs and Toronto’s Constantines, whom the city is prepared to adopt as its own. Sweet surprises included Gunther (who performed a set of Shellac covers), the exquisite Forest City Lovers, and artists that will soon inherit the earth like Miracle Fortress, Vailhalen and Edmonton’s answer to Josh Rouse, Darren Frank. In a rare North American appearance, Osaka’s Boredoms detonated sonic bombs upon their audience with a riveting 90-minute drum solo (powered by three huge drums sets facing each other). Officially closing the festival, Bobby Connblasted out rock’n’roll to a crowd that happily swayed with sleep-deprivation and likely went home to dream of Sled Island 2008.