by Jon Neher (Host of The Buzz, every other Thursday 5-6pm)
I was particularly excited for Sled Island this year for two reasons: like everyone else, this was going to be my first Sled experience since the COVID-19 pandemic, but more uniquely this was the first time I have been able to attend the Festival where I wasn’t a performing artist. While playing Sled is absolutely a fun time, I have to say I was particularly happy I didn't have to think about schlepping gear at either 1pm or 1am, and instead take in as much of Sled Island as I could, starting on the Friday of the event.
The bevy of music available at Sled Island is a blessing and a curse. For people with big ambitions and low energy levels, it can be hard to balance exactly which shows you go to, in order to see everything you want to. That’s why the Palomino Smokehouse ended up being not only the first venue I went to on Friday, but a very familiar one for me over the weekend, with two stages that let me flip between as many shows as possible in a short amount of time. On Friday, the top floor featured a wide range of indie-rock music including the “twang-mo” emo of Big Rig (fronted by Jen Payne of the Courtneys) and the jangly power-pop of housepanther. The basement of the Palomino was grittier in style and sonics featuring a variety of “heavy” music, like the noisy and energetic sounds from the hilariously-named Counterfeit Jeans. I got the chance to see Saskatoon favourites Slow Down Molasses in the basement as well and it’s a truly underrated experience to see some of your local favs performing away from home. I hope the non-Saskatoonies enjoyed the shoegazey discord as much as I did!
The centrepiece show of my Sled Island experience was absolutely the ambient artist Grouper – I had passed up an opportunity to see Liz Harris at Sled Island a few years ago and have regretted it ever since. Together with one of my Sled Island running mates (hi, Troy and CFUV!) we snuck out from a bar to make our way to the Grouper show at the Central United Church. The venue was a very apt choice for Grouper because the best way I can describe the show experience is “religious euphoria.” Centred on stage behind a table and bathed in incidental lighting from an abstract and cyclical experimental film, Grouper played beautiful, enveloping music that slowly shifted and evolved, like a biblical angel with four heads. Beyond the symbolism, the church was an outstanding venue sonically, as it resonated and amplified the music in a way beyond the average Sunday service, never mind a bar sound-system. I left the show dazed but content, truly happy I didn’t miss Grouper this time.
One thing I do often miss out on during festivals is the “non-music” events that get held. While music is obviously the main draw for many at Sled, there are so many opportunities to interact with and even build a wider community. With some Saturday morning encouragement from my travelling party, I took in not only my first “non-music” show at Sled, but my first ever drag show! The audience was noticeably different from your average Sled Island event including a number of elementary schoolers who came to enjoy the pageantry and spectacle. The event host Karla Marx and venue host Broken City have to be commended for serving an extremely busy and fun event, when many Sled’ers would be nursing a hangover.
After brunch, I took a brisk walk to the Ship & Anchor to see Saskatchewan ex-pat Eden Rohatensky perform as their solo electronic project Also Also Also. Eden has a truly expressive voice and it was great to see them own the mic across whispery talk-singing and true belting – I hope we get to see Eden performing back in Saskatchewan soon. My next stop was again the Palomino Smokehouse, in large part because of the CFCR showcase on the main floor! I was of course so happy listening to Shirley & The Pyramids and Dump Babes, but I was most intrigued getting to see the young hip-hop collective ILL Human Nation perform at a Texas-barbecue joint. There was no shortage of excitement and confidence from the group and I look forward to seeing them perform in Saskatoon when I can. The downstairs of the Palomino on Saturday had a punkish, indie-rock edge with artists like Doreen and knitting playing abrupt, angular music you could still sing along to. I was extremely happy to be able to pop-in to see these shows while my CFCR friends switched between sets and I have to say that overall the Palomino was a wonderful place to spend my time at Sled.
I finished up my show-going with two very unique Sled Island venues: an idm electronic show at a coffee shop and a block party at a chicken factory. I first heard of Wihtikow a week or two before Sled and was excited to take in his skittering IDM at Kaffeklatash while sipping on a fourth-wave iced coffee. The block party truly lived up to its name as well, with skate ramps, food trucks, craft merchants, an art show, and a pizza place a short walk away, there was a ton of things to keep you entertained. The focal point was of course the mainstage featuring a number of crowd favourite indie rockers like the legendarily disarming Julie Doiron or the slacker icon Chad VanGaalen.
These two events more than anything represent the go-your-own-way success of Sled Island in bringing together world class entertainment into an unlikely but engrossing package in the heart of big business Calgary. Whether in a barbecue restaurant, a church, a coffee shop, or a big ol’ parking lot, there were exciting, experimental and plain old fun times available for all.