by Jay Allen, CFCR Program Director
Looking at my phone’s trusty weather app, there was rain in Calgary's forecast as we left for The Sled Island Music Festival. I made sure to pack an extra pair of shoes, a couple extra pairs of socks & my water-resistant shell jacket, just in case I got wet while cycling from venue-to-venue at the fest, which is spread out through much of Calgary's Downtown and Mission neighbourhoods. I even brought an umbrella. Little did I know what the weekend had in store for me, the festival and the city of Calgary; that water from above would be the least of our troubles.
In past years, CFCR Music Director AVL and I have waited until the Thursday of the festival week to head out to Calgary. Though Sled has started booking shows on Wednesday, there hasn’t been quite enough musical star-power to draw us there that extra day early. This year, headlining act Unknown Mortal Orchestra was slated to play Broken City on Wednesday night, and that was enough to get us on the highway a day early. As it turned out, I’m really glad we went Wednesday, since it gave me an extra night of music to enjoy at what would be a shortened festival.
So we saddled up my trusty steed, a 1993 Plymouth Voyager minivan named Alfie, and headed out on the road. After arriving in Calgary, we got checked into Hotel Arts, formerly known as the Holiday Inn, where Nirvana famously played in 1991. So we picked up our festival wristbands and took and obligatory trip to the top of the Calgary Tower...
We then headed over to Broken City to stake out a spot for the show. Broken City is not a huge venue by any means, and to host one of the festival’s mid-range headliners there promised to make the evening very busy. After being shooed out of half a dozen great vantage points by venue staff, we ended up right in front of the stage, essentially on top of the bands.
First up was Edmonton’s Travis Bretzer. Upon first glance/listen, Travis comes across as distinctly Mac Demarco-y. His show consists of quirky, cockeyed pop tunes and off-kilter banter and random grunts between songs. I don’t necessarily begrudge Travis too much for acting like Mac, since they apparently used to hang out when Mac still lived in Edmonton (along with other 780 musical odd-ducks like Renny Wilson (see second photo below)) and seem to have adopted some of the same mannerisms. Regardless, he put on a solid set and his music stands on its own.
Following Travis Bretzer was Calgary band Devonian Gardens. Formerly known as Deadhorse, the band went from sextet to quintet before changing their name after threat of legal action by another band with the same name. Though they have an LP under the Deadhorse name, Devonian Gardens played a set of exclusively new material at Broken City. The band has always had a varied sound since most (if not all) of the band members write songs. Boiled down, they swirl together 60s and 70s psychedelia and bluesy Americana with harp, harmonica and keys added to the guitar-bass-drums band model. This is a band that will build up steam once they get people to know them by their new name.
After Devonian Gardens was finished, I looked behind me from my stage-side perch to see that Broken City had really started to fill up. It’s funny how you can stake a claim at the beginning of a show with the intention of sticking it out until the headlining band, only to give up mid-way through, but that’s exactly what I did. I needed air and a bit of personal space so I headed outside to enjoy the gentle rain that had started to fall. People were lining up to get in, including fellow CFCR fella Brendan Flaherty, who was dutifully waiting to get in after being turned away from a very sold out Swans show.
I missed Calgary band Raleigh but made sure to get back in for the main event: Portland, Oregon band Unknown Mortal Orchestra. It may not have been the most visually exciting set I’ve ever seen, but they’ve got some great oddball pop songs and they were able to really bring them out as just a three-piece band.
UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA
I left the venue and marched back to my hotel… after making a quick food stop of course. I had forgotten my umbrella and I needed something to cover my head from the rain, and a small pizza box filled with a couple of slices was just the right size.
All photos (c) 2013 Jason Allen