by Brendan Flaherty, host of Green Eggs & Ham, Thursdays 6-8am
And so, we fled. We fled seeking music, seeking shelter, coffee, food, and higher ground. The music festival was officially cancelled, our minds were tired, the river was still rising; and so, we fled. It's easy for me to call what we were doing fleeing, because it sure felt like fleeing, but it more closely resembled sitting in traffic. We sat in traffic. We talked amongst ourselves and wondered what would come next.
We were lucky.
[caption id="attachment_2548" align="alignnone" width="400"] Initial stages of evacuation[/caption]
Sled Island isn't the best-known festival, even within Canada, but that's part of what makes it one of the best festivals our country has going. Encompassing music, film, art, comedy, and general revelry, it boldly subverts Calgary's nightlife (and daylife) in the third week of June every year. While the late-spring/early-summer timing can (and has) made for unpredictable weather conditions, it's wealth of options makes that just another factor in its choose-your-own-adventure charm. If Olympic Plaza is rained out, there are a dozen other amazing shows going on within a ten-block radius.
That can make it hard sometimes, of course. Do you bounce around from venue to venue, hoping for short lines, or do you make specific plans for individual shows and stick to them? This year's stacked lineup seemed to reward the latter plan of action, something I neglected to realize. My own bad planning found me spending a large portion of my rainy Sled Island Wednesday on line, along with many others, all damp but optimistic. The festival's volunteers would routinely check in with us, wisely recommending we check out one of the other great shows that WASN'T Swans at the packed-to-the-gills Dickens Pub. Sled was trying it's best to be good to me, but I was stuck in a cycle of self-abuse, waiting for the other shoe to drop and for the long line to let up.
It's not letting up. Being stuck in a van on a freeway somewhere north of the damage but too far west of where you want to be isn't fun, but when it rains unabated the entire time you're stuck in the van, the van seems like the best place to be. We chat back and forth with each other about the night before, about the antics we had been up to; about the excellent comedy show at The Crystal Ballroom in the historic Fairmont Palliser hotel, and how the comedians were surprised there was anybody attending it; about the day shows we had been to and how everything seemed to be chugging along perfectly; about how it started to feel weird when we stopped to nab a bite at The Ship & Anchor and their power went out. This wasn't how it was supposed to go.
[caption id="attachment_2549" align="alignnone" width="301"] Comedy at the Crystal Ballroom[/caption]
Dean, who's driving, was supposed to play a show at The National Music Centre on the Saturday. We just heard on the radio that they are asking for generators and pumps and other supplies at the NMC to help reduce the damage being done there. The show's cancellation, the festival's, is part of the inevitable damage of a record-breaking flood that, it's said, will take 10 years to deal with. Somebody from the Sled Island office just called Dean to tell him the situation; we speculate whether this means they are at the E's on their list (his artist name is economics). Dean self-deprecatingly suggests that they must nearly be finished making all the calls since he is so "unimportant." We exchange a chuckle that quickly dies. Dean lets yet another car into the lane we all seem to be squeezing into. We continue to wait.
If the first night was all about waiting, it was determined that the second day of Sled Island should have an altogether more upbeat feel. The first priority is getting an interview with a band I a) have never seen and b) think is awesome. Stepping into the sun-dappled but packed Local 510, I find myself just in time to see a band that ends up meeting both criteria: Cop City/Chill Pillars, a John Dwyer-endorsed psych-punk band from West Palm Beach, Florida. Fair enough. I ask one, and then both, of their affable frontmen for a quick chat.
It's after this that the wheels come off the cart. I get a frantic phone call from the friend whose house I'm staying at telling me I need to come get my belongings. We are being evacuated. That morning, when the state of emergency had first been declared, we had spoken about the possibility of this happening. He had looked up data from the flooding in 2005 and found that his neighbourhood had been unaffected. We should be fine.
[caption id="attachment_2552" align="alignnone" width="601"] I'm no longer thinking 'Arby's for lunch.' Friday, June 21st, just off 12th Ave.[/caption]
It's amazing that people even organize music festivals. A crazy amount of work that finds artists, musicians, venues, volunteers, vendors, sponsors, media, and the public working in tandem like tiny cogs in an ambitious machine, all so we can have some… fun. Obviously, any music festival organization is run like a business with the festival itself being the product. Sled Island legendarily ran it's first few years at a loss, hoping that the phrase "if you build it, they will come" wasn't just something somebody heard in a corn field one time.
[caption id="attachment_2550" align="alignnone" width="600"] Superchunk on fire at Flames Central[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2551" align="alignnone" width="600"] Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, an outtake from their cover of CCR's "Bayou Country"[/caption]
While fleeing, and since our fleeing involved sitting in a van for a lengthy amount of time, we were pretty much glued to twitter. Hoping to find out which roads were closed, what our other friends were up to, and monitoring the true scope of this natural disaster. Suddenly, in an almost hive-mind synchronicity, plans started forming to have refugee bands play shows. Some in Lethbridge, some in Edmonton, some in houses throughout Calgary. The message of these efforts was clear; the flood waters were high, but the music and the spirit of the festival was undeterred.
Since we ourselves had no place to stay and no definite plan other than to head back to Saskatoon, we resigned ourselves to missing these events. And so, we fled.
With crusty, underslept, straining eyes. With soggy sneakers and muddy bicycles. With Superchunk cranked in the stereo system. With empathy in our hearts and music in our ears, we fled. But we will return.
All photos (c) 2013 Brendan Flaherty