One New Brunswick musician tells us why Sackville’s annual independent music and arts festival is his only yearly ‘non-negotiable’.
Sappy is coming. It’s right around the corner. When I stop to take a deep breath I can feel it at the edge of my inhalations. I catch a waft. I am worked up.
I often tell people that Sappyfest is my only yearly non-negotiable. That no matter how important you are to me, if your wedding is on Sappyfest weekend and it does not take place in Sackville, New Brunswick – or very close to it – during the late-morning window where music isn’t yet happening and I am recharging from the night before, I will not attend your wedding. Or your funeral, also, I guess. Don’t die right before Sappyfest, please.
But what is it about Sappyfest that is so irresistible to me? I know that I’m not alone in my devotion to the tiny festival. I know I’m not the only one who drives into Sackville with a big, expectant smile on my face. I know it’s not any individual lineup, because sometimes people ask me who I am excited about seeing and it occurs to me that I almost don’t really care.
Doesn’t everyone just inherently know why Sappyfest is a great time? No? Don’t they understand that isn’t not really the lineup in specific so much as the anticipation that I will like the lineup either way?
I guess maybe it’s not obvious.
Some Things About Sappy
Sappyfest is unique. It’s small and intimate. In some ways, it mirrors the feel of Sackville itself. 15-20 minutes of walking in just about any direction and you’re hitting the edge of town. Sappyfest occurs primarily on Bridge Street. You’ve got a few places to get coffee and snacks. There’s some evening venues. There’s a market on Saturday. It’s all just a minute or two away on foot. And – because the attendance is relatively small – even if you don’t know the names of everyone, the faces are familiar by the end of the festival. People are smiling and relaxed. I’ve often described the feel of Sappyfest as the festival equivalent of a hug. That might be a bit precious, but I stand by it.
Typically, Sappyfest’s biggest competitor has been Osheaga. Osheaga draws over 100,000 people annually. You watch bands via large screens from a great distance. I guess that’s fine. At Sappyfest I watch bands with what feels like less than 1,000 folks and – thanks to Bridge Street’s slope – I can see the people holding guitars with my unassisted eyeballs. I can prop up a light-hearted crowd-surfer or hang out in the back. Either is fine. I’ll see the performer later in the beer line and I will go, “that was so very good, thank you” and they will go “aww shucks!”
People will always ask, “who are you excited about at Sappy this year”? I have a few things I think will be great off the jump for 2017. Partner were super fun last year and they’ve got a new record. Jon McKiel will be great. The Highest Order! Ancient Shapes! Hooooo. But, what I have learned from repeated Sappys is that my favourite thing will be something I didn’t see coming. The lineups are reliably excellent. I will see some favourites. There will be surprises. I will hear a story about someone’s incendiary set at the Legion at 1am… I’ll almost always accidentally miss someone else’s festival highlight. All that really tells me is that Sappyfest is packed full of them.
Mostly, Sappyfest feels like the best, briefest, summer camp. Folks at Sappy become a big, dumb family. The kind you grew up hating. The functional kind who don’t fight and go on group vacations and sing songs together in the car. When it’s time for us to leave, we are all heartbroken. Just 362 days until we can come back to Sackville. 362 days until we can spin out to silver lake for a swim with our friends from all over the country. 362 days until we’ll all cram into the bowling alley at Thunder & Lightning, sweaty, exhausted, and trying to squeeze the last few minutes of great music out of the last band playing to us on the lanes.
But, luckily for all of us who are already excited, it’s just less than a few weeks away. Try not to die on me in the meantime, not that I’d rebook for your funeral anyway.