by Alex "Big Al" Brassard (Host of The Buzz, Fridays 5-6pm)
It was my first trip to the Sled Island Music & Art Festival, and I had a wild time. I saw 25 acts in 4 days as I walked (and e-scootered) around downtown Calgary. Some I knew beforehand, but for many, it was my first encounter with them. Here’s a handful that I loved, they’re ones that you definitely don’t want to miss.
I got into Calgary fairly late, having just enough time to drop my bags off at the hotel and have a quick shower before trekking (20 blocks. Woof.) to Pin Bar for the showcase put on by The Gauntlet.
Lushings — Kendra Lush’s voice floats over sleek guitar and surfy drums making a nice blend of 90s-inspired psych rock. Relatively new to Calgary’s music scene, check out their new self-titled EP.
Neighbourly — Coming in to replace Polish band Oxford Drama, this Victoria based band was a great surprise. Formerly known as SPEAK EASY, they put on a very tight performance, they were bobbing and weaving in-sync and they had the crowd grooving along with them.
I had a nice relaxing morning in the hotel room, but I knew that from this point on Sled Island would be non-stop. I made my way to lunch at the Ship & Anchor (top-notch fish & chips) where I met some new friends Paul and Jess. We bonded over community radio and they gave me pointers on how to get the most out of my Sled Experience. Paul then took me on a small downtown tour as we were both headed to the Sled Island Poster Show. Each year, local artists create limited-edition silkscreened posters for the headliners and this year it was hosted at I Love You coffeeshop, a cool vinyl cafe, inspired by Japanese-style listening bars. One quick phone-charging pit-stop, then I was off to my first musical stop for the night at the Palomino Steakhouse.
Vagina Witchcraft — Their opening track, Mercury, had me headbanging along but half way through it goes double-time and I instantly knew this was going to be one of the best shows this week. Non-binary poet and vocalist Kayla Fernandes screams about things like heartbreak and racial identity as the band plays either chuggy stoner metal or fiery hardcore punk.
Next stop was a few blocks down at Broken City for some hip-hop and R&B.
Lowkita — While she now lives in Vancouver, Lowkita is from Calgary and she didn’t disappoint the hometown crowd. She had a lot of fun serving up her Caribbean inspired hip-hop and R&B especially when she played her 2022 single “Likkle Honey.”
R.A.P. Ferreira — Formerly known as milo and now going by his initials, his set featured beats that were chill and understated and let his lyrical poetry truly shine. He didn’t have a DJ or any help on stage and he didn’t need it; he stood alone with his intimate lyrics and made it clear why there’s been buzz about him since he dropped his first mixtape.
My day had a slow start (shout out to festival beer, ’88 Brewing’s Love Letter Pale Ale) and didn’t get underway until the afternoon with a tour of Studio Bell and the National Music Centre. It’s a sleek building that spans 4th Street SE and connects to the legendary King Eddy hotel (which was carefully dismantled brick-by-brick from its original location, and meticulously rebuilt beside the NMC! -Ed.). Their collection holds many amazing pieces: harpsichords from the 1600s, an electric organ powered by a tractor engine and some of the earliest synthesizers ever made (many of the pieces are kept in playable condition). We were even lucky enough to get a full tour of the live rooms and studios above the King Eddy, but the two best things I saw were the TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra), and the Rolling Stones Mobile; both of which could fill books with the amount of music history they were a part of making.
Motherhood — Their set, which doubled as their release show for their 4th studio album Winded, tops my list of best shows at Sled. Their songs couldn’t be pinned down; going from light to heavy, sometimes fast then into something heavy all the while held in place by the three-piece’s ability to remain in sync amidst chaos. The crowd was with them every step as Motherhood jumped from the fun vocals and bassline of “Bird Chirp” to “Flood” which is slow and moody (until it’s not). These avant-garde rockers from New Brunswick are not to be missed.
A fresh bit of night air put a skip in my step as I went to my next spot, The #1 Legion Hall. I was told early on that I would miss out if I didn’t go to the Legion at least once and I’m glad I listened to that advice. Like many Sled Island venues, they held shows upstairs and downstairs and if you were a hustler you could catch 8 bands at one show. I kept it simple, getting there late, but still catching 5 of them. I started off upstairs with Betaboys (lovey-dovey, funky rock), then went down the main floor to catch Be Afraid (anxious, jangly indie rock) and Matt MacNeil (solid, emo-flavoured indie rock).
Joyce Manor — Finishing the night strong was this SoCal indie rock powerhouse. They put on a stellar show, playing music from not just their latest release, but tracks from all over including a track from their demo. That’s not saying much, but you can feel when a crowd pulls back, when less people know the words, or there’s less effort to mosh; none of which happened during this set. In a post-lockdown world it felt wonderful to sing along to each song with the 500+ people in attendance, this was a show that I happily lost my voice at.
Having taken it “easy” on Friday, I was up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my last day of Sled. I hopped on an E-Scooter (I fully accepting the dork-chique that is wearing a helmet) and hit the road for a midday cruise. I was able to sneak in a quick pint of Cakeface at Cold Garden brewing’s patio, then continued on to my main destination: The Ramsay Block Party. I didn’t stay long I’m afraid, just enough to get a quick bite from the food truck and catch a set on the grandstand (Thomas Thomas — Calgary darlings made of the perfect pairing of dreamy singer-songwriter Shannon Thomas and groovy indie-rocker Thomas Englund. The band evokes thoughts of July Talk, but less hostile (in a good way)), before flying back to the Palomino for the CFCR Showcase.
Ellen Froese — Starting off the CFCR showcase, Ellen and the Hot Toddies got things going with the fun toe-tapping number “Eaton’s Spring & Summer 1975.” Ellen’s songs paint pictures that range from fun to mournful but they carry a warm homespun feeling like you’re listening to the old records of someone you love.
Shirley & The Pyramids — A great show from this bunch of heavy psych rockers. These guys float around the realm of shoegaze, not getting too lost in it as they steer from fuzzy riffs to hard driving drums.
ILLHumanNation — With them having played only all-ages shows, I wasn’t too familiar with the ILL Human Nation, but I was soon putting my middle finger to the sky with the rest of them. Made up of 6 guys all of whom are under 20, they had a tight sense of camaraderie as they passed the mic back and forth between songs, taking turns singing hooks or being back-up before taking centre stage to drop their own bars. These young guns are setting their sights on changing the hip-hop landscape in western Canada and all power to them.
Dump Babes — Coming in hot off of the April release of their album niýa kîminîcâkan, this Saskatoon foursome put on an excellent show. The crowd was moving throughout the set, propelled by swaying tunes like “Gam Gam” or bouncing to the anxious energy of “It’s Too Much.” Dump Babes should be your first stop for danceable indie rock but they’ve got surprises too; like ending the set with a rip-roaring cover of Danzig’s "Mother."
By this point I was tired and oh so very hungry so I demolished an Applewood Smoked Pulled Pork while at the Palomino (it lasted a very delicious 2 minutes) so I went back to the hotel to recharge myself and my phone before heading to what would be my last show at the Ship & Anchor.
Necking — This high energy punk act from Vancouver put on a frenetic show, with singer Hannah Karren bouncing around the stage doing what at times felt like a fitness routine, as if challenging the crowd to move around more than she was. One thing for sure, they burn hard and fast, so be careful not to miss their blistering set.
Wine Lips — I rolled up my sleeves and had an absolute blast moving and grooving to this set. This Toronto threesome filled everyone’s cups with their brand of high energy “sonic tonic” in the form of a hard mix of garage & psych rock. A loud, high energy set, it was a great way to close out the Ship & Anchor for Sled Island.
Thanks for following me on my journey through Sled Island 2022, may it be the first of many trips to that great festival.
Till next time,
Alex “Big Al” Brassard