by Dustin Gaunt, host of Green Eggs & Ham (Wednesdays, 8-10am)
This summer was going to be a busy summer; out of town more than in. Despite this, free passes to Sled Island seemed like too good a chance to pass up. CFCR was running a contest for a couple pair of tickets, and I entered hopefully. But what were the chances I would actually win? The draw came and went and I remained ticket-less. I was mildly disappointed but thought perhaps a quiet weekend at home would do me some good. Then I got the call from (CFCR Program Director) Jay. He said he had noticed my name in Sled Island draw, and that if I would like to document and photograph the festival he could get me a pass in exchange.
I immediately made arrangements to get out of work and accepted the offer. Thus began the tale of a friendly weirdo's solo adventures in an unknown land. Wednesday morning I was up at the crack of dawnish. First on the itinerary was packing. Second was hosting Green Eggs & Ham from 8-10am After closing the show with a mini Sled Island preview, I passed off the studio to Bryce for So Many Roads and began my day proper. It was going to be a long drive but I'm nothing if not easily entertained, and it was a beautiful day. I had over two weeks to prepare for the trip but decided to try to wing it as hard as I could and see what happened. It had been close to 15 years since I last visited Calgary. In recent years I had driven through Airdrie for liquor and food on the way to the mountains of BC but only caught the faint hazy outline of skyscrapers and the vast sea of urban sprawl.
After a few minor delays and wrong turns, I was there. I picked up my pass and it was off to the venues. I was trying to pack as much music into the next five days as I could and there was no time for delay.
First stop was Flames Central where I arrived just in time to catch the beginning of Calgary local duo Humble Giants. The first thought that jumped to my mind was "Run The Jewels," bombastic personalities, passing smooth yet aggressive flows back and forth, and braggadocious without being egotistical. Fantastic beats as well.
While waiting for De La Soul to come on stage, I stepped out for some air to confirm that bikes are very popular in downtown Calgary, especially during Sled Island. Back inside, the venue was packed, the crowd was buzzing with anticipation, Maseo started spinning and the crowd erupted. Then came Posdnuos and Dave and they played an incredibly entertaining set. A cohesive sampling of their discography including hits such as "The Magic Number" and "Me Myself and I." The whole crew were relentless in making sure the whole crowd was having a good time, including restarting songs repeatedly until the crowd hype was at redline levels and taking the empties tray from a porter and telling him to take a break. All partied out I retreated to my hotel to recharge for the relatively early morning ahead.
After a quick breakfast at Michi that certainly wouldn't derail my day It was off to the East Village Riverwalk Plaza. I arrived just in time to catch Tory Lanez who was putting the finishing touches on an incredibly hype set on a beautiful day by the river. TroyBoi was up next, spinning old school tracks dripping with futurey synths and trap hi-hats.
A short walk back to south-downtown took me to one of my most anticipated shows of the festival at the Commonwealth. When I arrived, AYE & The Extaordinary Gentlemen were somewhere in the middle of their set. Full-band hip-hop tunes, immediately drawing comparisons in my mind with The Roots. There were bands playing upstairs and DJs playing downstairs, more or less alternating. Some very weird electronic jams with a scattering of interesting looking people dancing by themselves.
Mykki Blanco was the next act upstairs, and he put on a show the energy of which I can only compare to the multiple times I've seen BA Johnston, just on a completely different artistic wavelength. Standing on a counter he declared "Fuck the Commonwealth" facetiously I'm sure. Last up was Black Milk, backed by a full band. A long time favorite, Black Milk has always amazed me with next level beats and a calm, subdued, but driven lyrical style.
And so ended day two of this adventure as I stumbled home to catch some Zs.
The next morning, first up was a conference titled "Empowering Artists Through Technology" at the Theatre Junction Grand studio. Discussed were indie artists and the protection of distribution rights & profits, the unprofitability of streaming services, the difficulties of artists trying to do business, and the finer points of getting people to pay you by pouring gasoline on their front door (<3 Eugene).
I rolled in to the Central United Church just in time to find a spot to stand in the back that wasn't in the way, it was +30c out and this church was going to be a warm experience. Luckily some very nice ladies were selling licorice and pop.
Not only putting on a sonically beautiful show, Godspeed You! Black Emperor also employed a frenzied operator of five film projectors with loops and layers and effects, and all of this was done analogue, by hand.
The heat of the day put me out like a light. The next day started out with some heavy sounds and heavy meals at Tubby Dog where I caught Other Jesus and Heaven for Real. I then sought something even a mite heavier as I was able to catch the end of Waingro's set at Bamboo.
My next stop was Olympic Plaza, but along the way I walked by the Palomino and was able to catch the poppy, angsty hooks of Dead Soft. I arrived at Olympic Plaza as Calgary locals Viet Cong were setting up and the crowd was forming already. They took the stage to a warm welcome and proceeded to rock out with the crowd to tracks from their recent self titled release.
Drive Like Jehu played after and came out swinging as hard as ever despite the 20-year hiatus, and Television capped off the event sounding unbelievably tight as playing together for 40 years will lend to.
I couldn't stick around for the end though because I was on my way to the Night Owl Upstairs to check out the final show of the weekend for me involving Jazz Cartier and Keys 'N Krates. When I arrived, I was dismayed to discover that this show was incredibly popular and there was a priority sign up online that I did not know about. The Night Owl Downstairs however was busy but not full so I decided to check it out. When I entered the library half of the Night Owl, Calgary band Plastick was playing the aptly titled song "I Wanna Fuck Shit Up" and there was a dance party brewing.
Then came the headliner for this show, Guantanamo Baywatch. Playing a low-fi, garage rock style of surf rock they had the whole crowd pogo-ing and "ooo-ooo-ooo"ing for what turned out to be an incredibly fun event.
As I left the downstairs I asked the upstairs bouncer about the capacity and as we spoke he mistook me for having come outside from the upstairs for a smoke and encouraged me to go back in before they had to stop letting people because it was almost 2am. I did as he asked and found Keys 'N Krates taking the stage. The Toronto electronic group put on a hell of a show; the loudest of of the weekend next to GY!BE. The bass on the stacks near the stage made my body vibrate. The phones were out, and even the floor was cool.
With that I was finished my Sled Island experience, I awoke the next day, said goodbye to my new friend downtown Calgary and began the long drive home.