By Jason Herring, July 3 2018 —
My first Sled Island festival was in 2012. At 15, just starting to branch beyond my dad’s classic rock influences, the all-ages pass was a godsend. By adulthood I’d already seen artists like The Hold Steady, Feist, Spiritualized and Thurston Moore at the festival.
Though I’ve since graduated to attending with a full festival pass, I still make my way out to a number of all-age shows each year — many of which feature the acts I’m most hyped on seeing. This year, that included acts like Grouper, Mount Eerie, The Flaming Lips, and — most importantly — Hamilton, Ontario’s own B.A. Johnston.
Sled Island executive director Maud Salvi highlighted a handful of all-age venues to me, including the beautiful Central United Church, the recently added National Music Centre concert hall and the always-fun Tubby Dog. She also added that most film and visual arts programming was also open to minors.
Salvi says that Calgary’s year-round music scene isn’t always accessible to underagers, something the festival hopes to address.
“We feel like it’s really important for teenagers to be able to accept good-quality music and art from as young as they are interested in getting involved with music and art,” she says. “Unfortunately what we’re seeing in Calgary is that a lot of the live music takes place in bars and therefore it’s not accessible on a regular basis. So during the festival we make an effort to have as many activities as possible so that teenagers and people under 18 can access and start discovering new things.”
Sled’s all-ages landscape has shifted over the last few years. The festival parted ways with its biggest under-18 venues, Olympic Plaza, after 2016. Though Salvi says this took away some of the festival’s largest headliners from the all-ages crowd, she thinks the festival filled that hole with the addition of the National Music Centre in 2017 and the McHugh House — an all-ages venue operated by the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association and CJSW 90.9 F.M.
The McHugh House just finished hosting its first set of shows for Sled Island, housing 25-plus bands over four days of the festival. One band it played host to was local death metal band Chained by Mind on June 22. The band’s 17-year-old drummer, Griffin Klapak, started the project when he was 13. He says this was his third year attending Sled Island but his first performing.
“To me, the all-ages scene through the year has been improving more and more,” Klapak says. “After we lost the New Black [Centre for Music & Art] — which I miss everyday, best all-ages venue Calgary has ever had — we had a struggle in the city for all-ages shows. But with Major Minor [Music Project] and all the other all-ages shows in the city, I feel it’s slowly improving.”
Shane Madani, guitarist and vocalist for Chained by Mind, says the band is keen on helping to maintain the city’s all-ages community.
“The biggest thing anyone can take from this is to keep the all-ages thing going because it’s important for the community and for the kids,” Madani says. “And when Griffin turns 18, we’ll continue to do all-ages shows.”
Sled Island sold a few dozen specifically all-ages passes this year, but Salvi says having the option makes sense for building the festival in future years.
“The reality is that people are only teenagers for a few years, and then they turn 18 and become a potential attendee who might buy a full-on pass or buy tickets,” she says. “If we don’t make an effort to outreach to this group of people before they turn 18, it’s unlikely that all of a sudden when they come of age they would even know of Sled Island.”
Chained by Mind have a self-produced demo on their Bandcamp page and are playing a show at Commons Church on July 27.