It’s the end of June, and that means it’s time for that great annual summer festival held in Calgary, AB. No, not that one. If pancake breakfasts and chuckwagons just sprang to your mind, it’s time for an informal introduction to the innovative, the incomparable, the indomitable, Sled Island.
From a certain point of view, Sled Island is like the bizarro world Stampede. Where the Stampede is commercial, traditional, and mainstream, Sled Island is independent, countercultural, and offbeat. Case in point: there is no such place as Sled Island (and nobody really knows what the phrase means or refers to). In fact, there isn’t even a main stage, with various locales scattered around Calgary’s downtown core acting as temporary festival venues a la SXSW (or more accurately, Pop Montreal, after which Sled Island was originally modelled). In a city like Calgary, this format creates an absorbing scenario. Firstly, the lack of adequate live music venues means you can go to shows in back alley parking lots (Local 510), sandstone gothic churches (Knox United), basement wine cellars (Wine-Ohs), and pinball laden hotdog stands (Tubby Dog). Secondly, it means much of the city centre comes alive with a weird and wonderful energy not typically centralized in Calgary nightlife– a spread out city if there ever was one. If there is a heartbeat to Calgary’s gleaming-yet-latent indie spirit, Sled Island serves as a fantastic stethoscope.
Sled Island’s lineup is characteristically very eclectic. Scrolling through the schedule is not only a guarantee to discover plenty of musicians you’ve never heard of, but probably a few musical genres you’ve never heard of. Even so, there are always a handful of recognizable headliners, with 2015’s edition offering veterans like De La Soul, Yo La Tengo, and Daniel Lanois, as well as the recently reunited Drive Like Jehu and Television. The festival also features a guest curator each year, this year in the form of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who have hand-selected a segment of the festival’s lineup that includes Body/Head, The Ex, and Matana Roberts, among others. A historically fundamental component of every Sled Island has been local talent, and Western Canada is well represented this time around as well. Most prominent in this category is Calgary’s own Viet Cong, who were just last week long-listed for the Polaris Prize. Other boisterous events sprinkle the schedule, like Broken City’s Punk Rock Bingo, the East Village Block Party, and the Wrap-Up Pig Roast (RIP Republik), but if your only plan is to have a few drinks, pedal around downtown, and explore, you’re still doing it right. Leave the boots and belt buckle at home, though.
WORDS: Brett Fillmore