Hope Your Heart Holds Up: A SappyFest Diary #2
by Kaley Evans, host of Way Out West, Thursdays 9-10pm

Saturday, August 4, 2012

I get up early and am under the Mainstage Tent long before the beginning of John Cougar Bandcamp, which is the culmination of a week-long rock camp in Sackville. My biggest regret of last year's SappyFest was missing it, so there's no way I'm going to repeat my mistake. The program proclaims it's “absolutely mind blowing, year after year,” and with an infant (being held by an adult) kicking off the show with a drum fill, things seem to be heading in that direction. Over the next thirty or so minutes, three groups comprised of all children and one supergroup featuring all of the participants leave me spellbound. Bands with names like Crayons on the Road and Woof Woof play songs that could only have been conceived by a child's imagination. A paean to City Mail, SappyFest's mail delivery service, is played and another song repeats the mantra “burst into flames.” Absolutely mind-blowing, indeed.

Knowing my weekend will be almost entirely filled with music, I decide to detour for a couple of hours. I find a seat inside the gorgeous Vogue Theatre to take in Universal Dawn, a collection of poetry, stories, and film, loosely based around the theme of dead musicians. SappyFest's queen, Julie Doiron, also plays a few songs. I carry on the welcome, yet still stimulating respite and take in the Zine Fair at the Legion. A short while later, I eat boiled corn on the cob and browse the farmer's market taking place on Bridge Street. It's time to get back to the music, so I make my way inside the Mainstage Tent.

Led by frontman Nigel Chapman, Nap Eyes play a fantastic set of beautifully lackadaisical crooked-pop. His singular vision reminds me of both Mac DeMarco and Sean Nicholas Savage and I wander away from their set mighty impressed. One of SappyFest 7's many surprises. I stay inside the tent and catch Baby Eagle, but their set makes me miss the Constantines more than I already do (a lot), and my mind begins to wander. They close with a version of “Shower of Stones” and I miss the Cons even more. One of SappyFest 7's only disappointments.

I settle into a prime seat inside the stunning MTA Chapel and try to prepare myself for what the next hours will bring. First up is Josephine Foster. Both playing guitar and singing unamplified, I am transfixed instantly and am in tears not long after. Her otherworldly folk is devastating and I am absolutely spent when her set comes to a close, bringing me to the SappyFest 7 moment I'm most looking forward to.

Since being introduced to his music a couple of years ago, Michael Hurley has become an indispensable part of my life. His bent songs filled with wry humour, quiet despair, and simple pleasures have revealed themselves with each listen and have become ingrained in my psyche. High expectations, but within minutes my (few) reservations are put to rest. Donning a floppy grey hat and looking every bit his age, his voice sounds just as it always has. He traverses the output of his 40-plus year musical career, and though the vocals are fairly low, each word rings true. After about an hour, he closes with “O My Stars,” one of my favourite songs of his, and I'm left sitting on the pew attempting to put together the pieces. In some sort of daze, I wander into the lobby and buy a print featuring Boone and Jocko, two cartoon dogs/wolves that have adorned many of his album covers (and songs), and meekly ask him to sign it for me.

I make my way from the chapel to my dorm room to decompress and change. For someone not used to the humidity, the heat in Sackville this weekend has done a number on me. Surviving on a diet seemingly consisting of only bananas and Picaroons Secret Show Ale may or may not be helping.

The members of Tomboyfriend are the least likely rock stars. Ten or so of them are on the main stage in varying degrees of undress, singing songs about topics like poverty and Alexander McQueen. More than most, they're seemingly ordinary people living their rock star dreams, and they're making the most of the opportunity. Theatrical, political, and ebullient, they are simply a joy to witness. The Blow are much more complicated. One member stands near the soundboard pulling strings, while the other is an autonomous marionette on stage. Clearly one of the most divisive acts of SappyFest 7, they are nothing if not captivating and it's a masterstroke of curating having them follow Tomboyfriend.

Three Gut Records played a very influential role in the development of my musical taste and subsequently, I've been an Oneida fan since Secret Wars was released in 2004. Having seen them live years ago (the same time I saw METZ), I think I have an idea of what to expect from their live show, but Oneida are ever-evolving, so I really have no idea what's in store. Hanoi Jane stalks the stage as the rest of the band gradually get things underway. He seemingly inspects each monitor, then kisses his fellow band members. Finally he dons his guitar, jumps into the fold, and they really take off. Leaning heavily on their triptych of latest releases, they barrel through a set full of twists and turns. Oneida is a prize fighter: agile and precise, powerful and unrelenting. They leave those of us under the Mainstage Tent  bruised and broken, left thinking about the time we had a shot at the title.

Having already experienced a revelatory Fucked Up show at Amigos not too long ago, I decide to be a casual observer of their SappyFest 7 set. Though the band is every bit as ferocious and tight as on they are on record, frontman David Abraham remains the focal point of their live show. Hollering and pacing the stage, within minutes he's wearing a once-inflated beach ball as a shirt. I have about as much life left in me as the ball, so I make my way to the Vogue Theatre as the band continues.

I sneakily join an endless line down Bridge Street and am soon ushered inside past both a man dressed as a cougar straddling a railing and another dressed as a gorilla stuck inside a makeshift cage. It's the Talking Exploding Diamond Talk Show. Hosted by Larry Snails aka Michael Feuerstack (formerly known as Snailhouse), and featuring Shotgun Jimmie as the one-man bandleader, the next hour or so proves wildly entertaining. I share popcorn with strangers and laugh and cringe at guests both real (B.A. Johnston, Calvin Johnson) and exaggerated (Baby Lalonde, Cat Pontoon). The cougar wrestles the gorilla and a talking diamond named Celeste does indeed explode. Combined with my waning energy level, it's a surreal way to bring the day to a close. Jimmie covers one of my favourite Neil Young songs as I make way out of the Vogue and towards to my temporary home. Two down, one to go.