The Sleducation of Brendan Flaherty

Summertime in the Northern Hemisphere means certain things to certain people. It's that time of the year when you bust out your favourite groin-hugging piece of swimwear and hit the beach, sip a Tom Collins on a patio somewhere, or simply curl up under a blanket in a darkened basement reading Nietzsche (I'm talking about you, goths). It's also the season for music festivals, a worldwide circuit that gets everyone to pay big ticket prices to stand in a sun-baked field somewhere and sort of see the Dave Matthews Band (if only that tall guy would move his head a little to the left). To the ever-growing list, add Sled Island: Calgary's answer to the bloated outdoor indie Meh-stivals. I went to Sled for the first time this year not knowing exactly what to expect. I knew I would see a lot of bands; I also knew I would probably learn a thing or two about how to go about things for the next time. Here's what I learned:

1) I'm out of shape.

The shows that take place over the 4 nights of Sled Island take place in 30 venues spread out over Calgary's infamously sprawling downtown areas. It's recommended to "do" the fest by bike. It's quicker than walking and you save lots of time on transportation that you could be using to see more bands. My first night in Calgary I was on foot the entire time and, while not particularly tiring, it was time-consuming enough to be bothersome. Not to mention that all night long I watched well-prepared scenesters whizz by me on their fixies, seemingly taunting me with their good sense. I opted to bike for the remaining nights of Sled, which proved to be a good decision. I also biked during the day, however, and this served only to remind me that I don't often bike ALL DAY. By closing time on Friday, for instance, I was experiencing enough fatigue that I was considering pounding the pavement the next day. But I sucked it up. Biking is more fun.

2) Who needs context?

There were certain bands I told myself I had to see at Sled Island 2011: Twin Shadow (they killed it at the Hifi Club), of Montreal (their live show is spectacular in every sense of the word) and Crocodiles (showmen and songsmiths who craft great tunes and put in the work), among many others. These were shows I'd go into with expectations, and most of the time the expectations were exceeded. Some of the truly inspirational and affirming moments of the weekend came with the exposure to new acts I'd never heard or heard of before: bands like Red Cedar (an up-and-coming Vancouver 5-piece who would fit on a bill with Yukon Blond) and Bayonets!!! (a fun Edmonton nerd-punk outfit that played a long-for-them 16 minute set on the same bill as Auld Beak) really made the trip worthwhile. 

3) I'm addicted to technology.

While the real story of Sled Island was the music, I wouldn't have seen nearly enough without electronic devices. This occurred to me the night before the trip when I was charging my phone, my iPod, my computer, my video camera and my portable recharger simultaneously. My phone alone was a Sled Island schedule, a map, a resource of information on the bands themselves and sometimes a phone. Time and time again, after pausing on a street corner to search on my smart-phone for the directions to the next venue, I was regarded as a local and asked for directions by strangers. I was rarely, if ever, actually helpful to these people. I'm sure I did a bit of damage to the reputation of all Calgarians, so you're welcome Saskatoon.

4) I've got my work cut out for me.

In an effort to capture the essence of Sled Island for, I brought along my trusty camcorder with the hope of getting lots of good footage. I did... a little too much. The tape was rolling at multiple points during every band I saw but, since I saw 26 bands (of a possible 200+), I have just a bit of sifting to do. Check back here for video highlights of Sled Island, as well as interviews with Slam Dunk, Bayonets!!! and Charles Rowell from Crocodiles .

4) We need to feed our scene.

Sled is great and, while a uniquely Calgarian experience, involves a couple of long drives for us out-of-towner music fans. Once in the city, I found myself running into Saskatonians everywhere- fellow Sled attendees, Toon-town expats, even strangers that turned out to have common acquaintances. The place was crawling with Hub City natives. Saskatoon is still a small city with an even smaller music community, but that's no reason not to dream big for the future. We do have rambunctious upstarts working their butts off to bring bands to our town for us to see, even in the festival template (ViveFest comes to mind), but nothing yet on too large of a scale (at least for independent music). This can change, and everyone can help it along by doing small things; go to a couple more shows, tell a few more friends about a band you love, fly blind by going to see somebody you've never heard of. Go to something like Sled Island and spread the word about Saskatoon, the Paris of the Prairies. Imagine if we had The Dandy Warhols, The Buzzcocks, or of Montreal coming to town. Now, all we have to do is make it happen.

Brendan Flaherty
Host, Green Eggs & Ham
Thursdays, 6-8am