Sled Island 2019
Sled Island is one of the busiest times of year for Calgary, Alberta. While I have been a part of the journey for three of the last five years of this publication I challenged myself to see how how busy I could get. We offered live feeds of different bands from all over town, ran from 17th Avenue to Stephen Ave several times and caught as many shows as possible. It’s always hard when there’s one person running around with a camera and a notepad trying to get in all of the events that happen in a six day period but i feel like we got a good essence of everything going on and just how captivating of an event Sled Island is.
To those who are unfamiliar, Sled Island runs from the Tuesday of the event until Sunday, usually at the end of June. Bands from across Canada and through the States gather together here playing a show or too with different events happening from Noon until 2am most nights. Visual artists, performers, designers, and Comedians flood the city with different shows of all kinds and in that week all of downtown is flooded with people enjoying music from their local scene as well as huge acts.
This year Julien Baker headlined the whole thing and even helped curate everything. You can check out our interview with her in our upcoming Volume 3 which was pushed back so we could fit in a bunch of acts from Sled island. She helped pick out some amazing acts, and we tried to see as many of them as we could (even if we missed JPEGMAFIA and are still sad about it), and even was wandering around the festival to different venues catching as much as she could. People could see her sit in on different local acts, I myself watched her sit down for Calgary’s Silvering at Tubby Dog before she carried on to the next venue.
There was an evident push this year to highlight a lot of amazing femme musicians of all genres. Whether it was full bands of these musicians or just one or two people, myself and other press couldn’t help but notice all of the representation that was taking place over this particular Sled Island year. Nearly every show had someone of femme representation and that’s more than most festivals can say on an international level.
One of the beautiful things about the festival is the fact that it really helps bring all of the different venues together in the city. There are so many bars that have some unique quality about them and it’s only during Sled Island that they become music venues. Then, of course, there are the classics such as Tubby Dog, The Palace, Dickens, and Commonwealth, that are always hosting shows of different genres but the opportunity of seeing small bands look huge or large bands in an intimate setting is unique and a highlight of living in Calgary during Sled Island. People are constantly jumping from venue to venue with their Discovery Passes checking out as many artists as they can in the day. There are also ticket holders who stay settled in their one venue to check out a very specific band or show. It enables people to may be overwhelmed by the festival to still enjoy pieces of it.
Some highlights for us are evident by the photos we chose for this, but I particularly was blown away by Vancouver’s Necking. They are a band that truly shows the fun of life, have a crazy stage presence that makes you want to watch every second of it all. There’s clear chemistry with the band. They truly love each other and appreciate the fact that they can share the stage with one another. We were able to catch them at one of their two shows in Commonwealth for the Mint Records Party. They very quickly had even the stragglers around the venue coming inside to see what was going on and watch the vocalist, Hannah, turn into something of a contortionist on stage. If you are interested in seeing more from this band they happen to be another one of our featured artists in our upcoming volume.
Another one of our highlights also comes from Vancouver, being Anchoress. While the band seemed to have slowed down for a while, they have been playing more shows in their local environment and we had the pleasure of catching their set at the Palomino Smokehouse. Playing on the main level, they sprawled out with the crowd, full of energy and the crowd mirrored it. At one point their vocalist, Rob, even got a nice little piggy-back ride from a person in the crowd to cut across while be screamed his parts. There was an impressive group of people blocking off the stairs to the other set and covering that back section of the bar. In true kindness, Anchoress cut their set just slightly because of how much they wanted to support the band that was playing in the basement, going so far to tell everyone else to go join them there. If you are into bands such as Self Defence Family, it is highly suggested that you take the time to listen to the likings of Anchoress.
One of the most highly anticipated nights of Sled Island was Saturday night with Julien Baker at the Palace Theatre. Opening up for her was Sister Ray, and Tasha, both femme-based acoustic, soulful acts that fed perfectly into the performance of Julien Baker. My heart broke during Tasha from the moment she started playing, reciting a poem from her album, drawing me in. There were a few people talking in the back who I felt sorry for missing out on the beauty that was her performance. But it was during Julien Baker that the entire room went silent taking in every moment that she would give, trying to listen to the quiet words that she would speak to the crowd in between a few songs.
While to many, Sled Island can be intimidating or a discovery pass can seem like a steep amount of money I do challenge those who really enjoy music and the culture around it to participate. Even if some of your favourite bands are not playing that year, it might be a good time to expand and see some one from either your home town, or that extends further in the continent. It’s when you fully dive into the festival that you really get a better appreciation for everything that’s happening rather than the few “off” shows that you might attend. There’s always a lot going on and there’s always a lot to see. It’s easy to bounce over to venues you don’t normally get to see as well as people you have never heard of. Sled Island is weird, chaotic, and endearing. On top of that I truly think that it is an arts festival for artists and something that people need to take advantage of if they happen to live in the city at the end of June. Do yourself a favour and check it out if you ever get the chance.