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Your day-by-day guide to Sled Island

By Troy Hasselman, June 6 2019 —

The Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, a Calgary festival and cultural institution, has grown to be one of the biggest draws in the city’s busy festival season as the downtown core is transformed into a playground for lovers of music, film, art and comedy. With countless bands, art installations, comedians, films and special events to choose from, the large lineup can be intimidating and overwhelming. To help you with that, we spoke to Sled Island executive director Maud Salvi about the numerous things to see and do during the expansive festival that runs from June 19–23.

Tuesday, June 18:

The action begins with a rollout on Tuesday of Sled Island traditions such as Quiz Shoe, the Sled Island-themed trivia night at Broken City and the first concerts of the week at the Sled Island Kick-Off Party at Commonwealth Bar & Stage. The Kick-Off Party will take over both the main floor and basement of Commonwealth. This will showcase many of the local bands featured in the festival, including Sled veterans Crystal Eyes, Carbolizer and Sunglaciers, while also including first time Sled acts like NETRVNNER. This focus on local acts is a trademark of Sled Island’s lineup and a major part of what makes it such an important festival and community fixture.

“We want Sled to be representative of Calgary. It’s really a community festival,” Salvi says. “For us, it wouldn’t make sense to have local musicians deeply involved with us. It’s really good to nurture the scene in the sense that it gives local artists a really good platform to play in front of more people than they would the rest of the year. It also gives them a chance to have them play with artists they really look up to and have influenced them.

“Also having them play with other Canadian artists from other provinces gives them a chance to build relationships,” continues Salvi. “Say, a band from Alberta and Quebec play at the festival and really get along they could help each other book tours and play together beyond the festival.”

The first days as well give festival-goers their first chance to look at the many art installations that will be open throughout the festival. These include multimedia works, pieces inside Sled Island music venues and partnerships between Sled Island and local galleries and arts organizations and staples of the festival such as the annual Sled Island Poster show which will be held in the rumpus room of Pin-Bar again this year.

“The poster show is definitely an institution within Sled Island — we’ve had it since year one and it’s always really nice to be able to pair our local illustrators with artists,” Salvi says.

Tuesday will also showcase art exhibitions such as your one & only at the Marion Nicoll Gallery, Translated landscapes on the main floor of the Memorial Park Library and a multimedia piece called Meshes at TRUCK Contemporary Art.

Wednesday, June 19:

Wednesday is the first official day of the festival and will involve numerous art exhibitions, a dizzying amount of shows, events and even a movie to watch.

Some notable headlining shows on Wednesday include indie-pop introvert Japanese Breakfast at #1 Legion, who is a selection of guest curator Julien Baker. Garage-rock experimentalists Obnox will bring their unique and chaotic show to Broken City. Haunting singer-songwriter Cass McCombs will play the Central United Church. Queer-rap innovator Le1f will play Commonwealth and New Jersey riff-rockers Screaming Females will headline Dickens. Local favourites 36? will headline a CBC showcase at the King Eddy and post-punk child-prodigy-turned-veteran dancefloor powerhouse Chandra will play the Palomino while local swamp-punks Calisthenics headline upstairs.

These are some notable names among countless other headliners at venues across the city. These shows complement the many more art exhibitions that will open on this day during the festival. Getting ready for my haunting will open at the ATB artvault on Stephen ave. Strike, Dip, Spin will open upstairs at the #1 Legion with video installation A Monster and An Animal playing in the basement. All of these installations will continue throughout the festival.

“This is something we really like having — art directly inside the music venue — because it makes it really easy to enjoy multidisciplinary art in the same space,” Salvi says.

Sled Island’s film lineup will also debut Wednesday with Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project playing at the Globe Cinema. The film is a work by Matt Wolf who scored acclaim for his 2013 documentary Teenage that explored youth culture. Recorder follows the titular Marion Stokes who recorded television 24 hours a day for 30 years and amassed a collection of 70,000 VHS tapes. The film includes music from Sled Island alumni Owen Pallett and is sure to be a highlight of the festival.

Thursday, June 20:

The festival continues on Thursday with another packed day of shows including a double-bill at the #1 Legion of reunited experimentalists Fly Pan Am and the prog-influenced instrumental rock of the Messthetics, which includes the rhythm section of post-hardcore legends Fugazi. The jamming continues upstairs at the #1 Legion with a set from Vancouver jazz-funk trio Yep.

Broken City will be headlined by singer-songwriter and Julien Baker selection TORRES while Los Angeles singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt will bring her soft-spoken songs to the Central United Church.

Miami’s TORCHE will headline Dickens Pubwhile Commonwealth will play host to a highly anticipated set from the abrasive noise rapper and guest pick of curator Julien Baker, JPEGMAFIA. Salvi recommends passholders show up early to get inside the venue before capacity is hit.

“JPEGMAFIA is already sold out from individual tickets but definitely people should be showing up early to make sure they get in.” Salvi says.

Hifi will play host to a multimedia show from the dance duo of Sinjin Hawke and Zora Jones while Screaming Females will play the King Eddy. The Grammy nominated Rapsody will headline the Palace Theatre while Detroit indie-rocker Stef Chura will play the Palomino basement. The Ship & Anchor will play host to melodic pop-punk from Julien Baker selection Worriers in a show presented by the Gauntlet. Tubby Dog will host another set from Obnox while the Studio Bell Performance Hall will host Ukranian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk in a rare performance.

“That’s been a really long time coming,” Salvi says. “He is from Ukraine originally, but has lived in Canada for part of his life, it should be a really special show.”

Thursday will as well be the opening night for Sled Island’s comedy lineup at The Tea House hosted by Amy Edgar in a showcase of local comedians.

“Comedy is always such a highlight of Sled,” Salvi says. “Evan Wilson, who is our committee curator, always does such a great job and has such a diverse lineup which is really great.”

The Globe Cinema will screen the 2018 documentary Echo in the Canyon, which explores the impact of the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter scene of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

Friday, June 21:

Friday will have another double-bill at the Legion with garage rockers Kid Congo Powers + the Pink Monkey Birds, led by the former-member of legendary groups such as The Gun Club, the Cramps and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds with a set after from blues-punk firebrands Oblivians. Berlin art-rockers GYM Tonic will bring their noisy, new-wave influenced sound to the upstairs of the Legion.

Broken City will host two separate showcases on Friday, with an early-day slot from local heroes Melted Mirror and a night time headlining slot from Los Angeles’ Death Bells. The Commonwealth main floor will play host to an afternoon showcase from legendary Vancouver punk label Mint Records. The King Eddy will have a drony but dancy set from Toronto’s Ziibiwan. The Palace Theatre will give the one-two punch of Bully and Hop Along, both selected by Julien Baker in what promises to be a highlight of the festival. The Palomino main floor will have bands playing all day while the basement will be headlined by Oakland sludge-rockers Kowloon Walled City.

Pin-Bar will host another set from Worriers while R&B merry prankster Har Mar Superstar will play a set at the Ship & Anchor. Black Belt Eagle Scout will headline the Studio Bell Performance Hall in the second set of the festival for the Julien Baker selected singer-songwriter who will also be playing at Broken City the night before. Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall at the Central Public Library will make its debut as a Sled Island venue on Friday with a set from ambient veteran William Basinski in what Salvi believes will be a highlight of the festival.

“The William Basinski show should be really cool because Wiliam Basinski is great and it will also be our very first show at the new Central Library in their performance hall,” Salvia says. “The direct opener for William Basinski is Muqata’a, whom I’m excited to see because I think he’s the first Palestinian artist we’ve booked and I think his music is amazing.”

Friday will host another comedy showcase at The Tea House with sets from an all-Canadian lineup that includes This Hour Has 22 Minutes contributor Adam Christie.

A showcase of short films from the ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival — in another collaboration between Sled Island and the Indigenous film festival — will screen on Friday.

“We started collaborating with them last year as part of National Indigenous Day programming which was really successful and we thought they had really good content so we partnered with them again for two different screenings,” Salvi says. “One is short packages and the other is feature length.”

Saturday, June 22:

Saturday will include sets from the ethereal singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon on the main floor of the #1 Legion while a showcase from the Pop Montreal festival will play upstairs. Broken City will again host two showcases, with afternoon sets as part of the CITR/Discorder showcase at Broken City while the Natural Selection DJ’s will spin the night away later on. The Commonwealth basement will play host to electronic music from Leucrocuta while upstairs will have the space-age UK jazz of the Comet iIs Coming in what Salvi believes will be another highlight of the festival.

The science-fiction influenced surf-rock of Man or Astro-Man? will come to Dickens while bass duo My Nu Leng will play the Hifi Club. Ian Blurton’s Future Now will bring their stoned take on garage rock to the Palomino basement while bands will fill the main floor for the full day on Saturday. Pin-Bar will have two showcases with an afternoon headlining set from Kowloon Walled City and an evening show from the Shiverettes.

Kid Congo Powers + the Pink Monkey Birds will play another set at the Ship & Anchor while the Sled Island Block Party will have sets from festival highlights including Har Mar Superstar and My Nu Leng. Tubby Dog has all-ages shows throughout the day on Saturday while guest curator Julien Baker will headline the Palace Theatre in what promises to be a breathtaking show.

Saturday will as well include another film showcase from ImagineNATIVE with the feature length Tia & Piujuq playing at the Globe Cinema.

The Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall will have another comedy showcase that will be headlined by bona-fide comedy legend, Everybody Loves Raymond star and Late Show with David Letterman staple Andy Kindler.

Saturday will also include special events within the festival such as the Music Lover’s Weekend from the Central Memorial Library.

“We’ve been working quite closely with the Memorial Park Library. They do a lot of great things for music on a year round basis, they have an instrument library that is available to people all year round,” Salvi says. “The weekend of Sled, there will be a lot of free workshops for people who want an easy introduction to playing an instrument. For people who already have a basis of primary music-making skills or full-on beginners you can just drop by — the workshops are pretty quick so you don’t have to dedicate a whole day.”

The We are Not an Island Queer Zine Fair will take place at the new Central Library this year that will compound a panel discussion on spaces for queer art and a workshop on how to create zines.

“This year, we’re having the Queer Zine Fair at the Central Library, which is exciting becuase I think it will open it up to a whole new audience and so in correlation with the fair we’re doing we’re having a panel discussion around queer art spaces on the Saturday,” Salvi says. “On the Sunday we have a zine-making workshop so people who’ve always looked at zines from afar and want to get hands-on can start doing their own zine. We’re also working with Pink Flamingo to have a little after party with people at the fair in the Lukes cafe attached to the library to end the festival on a high note.”

People looking to get some exercise during the week of Sled Island are in luck — the post-apocalyptic themed Mad Max Ride going from north of the Stampede Grounds to Inglewood encourages goers to dress up in post-apocalyptic garb as they journey to the Sled Island Block Party. As well, yoga will be happening on the lawn of the Memorial Park on Sunday morning for anyone looking to wind down and relax after a packed week of music.

Sunday, June 23:

The festival wraps up on Sunday with shows at the Central Memorial Park Library and the traditional Sled Island Pig Roast at the Palomino with bands playing both floors throughout the day including sets from Kid Congo Powers + the Pink Monkey Birds, Har Mar Superstar and GYM Tonic.

More events will take place at the Memorial Park Library as part of their Music Lovers Weekend and the festival will close off with the traditional Sled Island karaoke party at Broken City.

“I would say for anyone who is able to make it to the karaoke on Sunday night it is always such a fun event because it doubles as our staff closing party,” Salvi says. “Though there is still some work to do it offers everyone a chance to let loose a bit and talk about the last week of shows. It is a really big tradition that we very much love.”

If you are unable to make it to the festival this year, keep your eyes peeled for events presented by Sled Island, as the organization is a community fixture involved on the music scene in a year round basis. The festival is currently collaborating with the National Music Centre.

“This year, we launched a seasonal concert series at the National Music Centre, which we’re really happy about. We had our first edition earlier in May with William Craig,” Salvi says. “The second one will be in September with Sarah Neufeld from Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, which will be really cool and there will be one each season after that.”

Passes for Sled Island can be purchased online through their website or picked up at Sloth Records or Lukes Drug Mart. Individual tickets are also available for Sled Island shows and the festival has introduced day passes this year, for people interested in doing single days of the festival.

The Gauntlet is a media partner of this years Sled Island Music & Arts Festival

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