Sled Island is a week-long event similar to what I imagine SXSW is like. 150 artists perform at 30 different venues across the city from Tuesday to Sunday with multiple events leading up to the festival as well. Its a terrific chance to discover some fresh local music or new sounds from abroad. This year was different for a couple of reasons: we got there tuesday, I conducted my first interview, I lost a memory card, and most upsetting of all- Sled Island was cancelled Friday.
Tuesday night the Commonwealth Bar put on a fun little kick-off party that was sponsored by Nudie Jeans. They were giving away 5 pairs of jeans to the 5 best #sledxnudie Instagram photos of the night. We got pretty creative and hung upside down, took off our pants, and ordered trays of condiments from Tubby Dog, winning me a fresh new pair of jeans from Leo Boutique.
Standout band of the night was Chains of Love from Vancouver. The soulful garage pop band is fronted by Nathalia Pizzaro, a rock goddess with a commanding smokey voice. I tried to talk with her after the show and she could barely make a sound, she had sung her guts out. Unfortunately I lost my memory card the next day at Staples, and along with it any photos from that night.Wednesday I interviewed Bear Mountain and laughed about running into them at Sasquatch, tearing apart phonebooks, and Courtney Love. I took them out to have their photo shot in front of a massive bear sculpture outside the library. That photo is gone forever to the Staples thief. The band went on to perform live on the air for CJSW the campus radio station, before their performance Wednesday night at Hifi Club. By then I had realized my card was gone and I had rushed home for a new one so I could keep shooting that night. Bear Mountain killed it that night, opening for Gaslamp Killer. Ian Bevis’ strong falsetto vocals backed by his twin brother, Greg’s, tropical percussion, and Kyle Statham’s danceable bass-work makes for a delicious triple threat, but Kenji Rodriguez cherrys the top with his psychedelic synchronized visualizations. Simply put, they play upbeat, exciting dance music that doesn’t shake your brain to goo with 9 billion decibles of bass.
I chose to rush over to Commonwealth after Bear Mountain for Humans, which was an easy decision because I’ve seen them play so many times. Humans threw down as usual and entertained a hearty crowd.
Then it started to pour. It rained all night wednesday, and by thursday morning Southwest Calgary was already under evacuation warnings from the flooding of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. And the rain wasn’t letting up either.
Thursday morning, we caught a comedic set by self-proclaimed “trash poet”, John Wesley Coleman III, playing songs called “Ooh Basketball”, “Christians Drive Like Shit”, and “A Clown Gave You a Baby”. This was not so humorously accompanied by the worst caesars and margaritas known to man courtesy of Local 510. By mid-afternoon the sun peaked out and I was sure the East Village Block Party was going to go off. We biked there along the riverwalk avoiding puddles where water had been pooling at low sections along the banks of the Bow River. When we got to East Village the crowd was sparse and would continue to be for the rest of the day as it seemed more and more people were evacuating the downtown core. But the sun was shinning, DJs were spinning, and those in attendance were happy to be there. But that all ended when a mandatory evacuation of the entire downtown core was issued midway through Kingdom and Kelela’s set. The music was shut down and police ushered people away from the pavilion.
We weren’t about to give up that easy so we headed to Palomino in the heart of downtown where the word apparently hadn’t spread yet. Calgary’s own, art-rock band Axis of Conversation, was belting out tunes and keeping the folks inside free from troubled minds. Their pop rock songs start out slow and small with only guitar and quiet percussion, before blossoming into works of artistic wonder complete with soulful vocals, violin, cello and keyboards. After a bite to eat and restocking my camera bag with beer and mickeys it was time for my greatest discovery of Sled Island.
We crushed some beers with some fellow bike riders and then stood in the rain for 20 minutes before finally being let inside the #1 Legion where July Talk was performing. July talk is and indie blues-rock band from Toronto. It is fronted by the sexy duo of the firm Peter Dremainis and the fiery Leah Fay. The duo boasts an on-stage relationship that makes Alexander and Jade of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros look like first graders. As Dremainis howls into the mic, Leah spins seductively in her summer dress then strokes his sweaty hair before before falling to the floor to sing her bubbly chorus from her back on the stage. Their energy is magnetic and the whole crowd is drawn to their powerful performance.
They were followed by another band I had read about before Sled Island and I was looking forward to seeing play live: Catl. They are another Toronto rock band, but with a southern influence; lots of harmonica and steel guitar. They put on a foot-stomping party that shivered the timbers of the old wooden Legion floors.
Then it was back to Hifi Club to hope for a Keys and Krates Performance since they were shut down before their set at the Block Party. Turned out it was only Smalltown DJs and Kingdom and Kelela. A mellow ending to what would be the final night of Sled Island.
Friday morning the entire festival got cancelled. By Sunday bands had joined together to put on fundraiser shows outside of the downtown core as part of the #YYCStrong movement. Below are a few photos from the flood zone taken on June 22.
More photos from Sled Island/Flood Island on Facebook