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Photo courtesy Sled Island // YouTube

Sled Island 2021 returns with both live and virtual performances

By Rachneet Randhawa, August 20 2021—

Sled Island Music & Arts Festival makes its coveted comeback as it announced its in-person programming for the summer. Camp Sled Island is a three-day event taking place at Beltline’s High Park and runs from August 19-21. The Gauntlet sat down with Maud Salvi, the Director of the Sled Island Festival, to learn more about this popular YYC music event.

The Sled Island Music & Arts Festival is an annual independent music and arts festival ongoing circa 2007 and showcases 300 bands, visual artists, filmmakers and comedians with over 40,000 attendees in multiple venues. Salvi mentioned that the festival is a whole gambit of music catering to any specific genre. 

“Sled Island is so much about community, people running into each other at the festival and sharing,” says Salvi. 

However, due to Alberta Health Services (AHS) restrictions, the setup has been modified this time around. The event itself will still have mandatory masks and physically distanced tables with lots of hand sanitizers everywhere. Salvi recognizes that not everyone has the same comfort levels, so they are choosing to remain cautious.

Like for most live events, COVID threw a wrench in their plans last year when Sled Island was cancelled, although this year they’re attempting a bold comeback. 

“It’s been difficult, knowing that live performances are the core of what we usually do so we’re trying to think outside the box and so obviously Camp Sled Island is the direct result of that,” says Salvi. ”We started that project at a time when we weren’t even sure if there were going to be any summer festivals or any live events even just a few months ago.”  

But mostly they’ve made a successful transition by offering a hybrid format with in-person live gigs, pre-recorded sets and film screenings. This allows them to offer a diverse palette of performances that can be easily digested by the average music lover and festival-goer.

Throughout the year, the festival organizers have been collecting and curating video content from local and international artists and are utterly excited to show them on the big screen. Over the three days, you can expect a mixed grab-bag of goodies like pre-recorded performances, film screenings, special guest video appearances and even snacks from Via Convenience and beer service from Eighty-Eight Brewing. 

Salvi mentions that, as a result of the adapted format, the recordings are not just sub-par vlogs but the music videos are made using state-of-the-art professional equipment. 

“It adds up because with COVID all of a sudden everything pivoted to online and then [we] realized not a lot of those artists have something to show,” she says. “One of the goals with the recordings was to give unrepresented artists a voice by offering them a platform to showcase their music with high production value.”

One outcome Salvi was enthusiastic about was the annual Rock Lotto. Traditionally, local musicians are drawn at random and those chosen are placed into groups to collaborate over two days to write, record and perform original songs on stage. However this time they had to readjust the Rock Lotto by curating 45 musicians from across Canada and drew names once more. The only catch was that each musician had to record their part in the song on their instrument remotely and pass it along to another collaborator. Eventually, tracks were edited, mixed and matched or edited together to create a song. The Rock Lotto has a total of nine original tracks that were created by people who, for the most part, had never even met in real life.   

There will be a couple of live performances as per the easing of Alberta’s public health restrictions, which includes headliners like Calgary singer-songwriter Samantha Savage Smith, Nêhiyaw songstress Bebe Buckskin, Edmonton soul singer Aladean Kheroufi, R&B and soul-inspired artist Indigo Rose and electronic-infused R&B performer Uyemi. Alongside the usual programming, there will be exclusive presentations like the full-length concert film from the legendary cosmic jazz group Sun Ra Arkestra rounding off Friday night. 

Photo of Camp Sled Island acts // courtesy Sled Island

Another partner project Salvi recommends to check out is a docu-series called Dispatches from the Calgary Underground spanning seven episodes that each feature a specific Calgary artist, a specific Calgary venue or collective of artists. 

Another highlight is the Quickdraw Animation Society’s 2021 Animation Lockdown Challenge in which each year animators are given 48 hours to churn out a brand new animation. This year, Quick Draw will be presenting nine curated animations with soundtracks from a previous year’s festival. And check this — they even have an indie rock puppet show from Calgary artist Jane Trash. 

What also enables Sled Island to be a standout from conventional music festivals is that it has had a gender-balanced ratio for almost a decade. If you’re all about women’s empowerment Salvi suggests checking out the feature film Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche, the story frontwoman of the punk band X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene, who was a Black artist forging the way forward for future generations of women in punk music. 

On average every year, nearly 1,000 applications for artist submissions to perform at the festival are received but only 200 are accepted. What makes Sled Island authentic is that they genuinely contribute to the local Calgary arts scene with nearly 25 different artists performing both in person and virtually. 

“We give a platform to local artists to reach a broader audience —  we do that by programming them on the same stage as international headliners and that way they can play in a bigger venue than they usually would this year,” Salvi says. “If you think about it, how many Calgary artists have that? Very few unless you’re signed to a record label and you have quite a budget behind you.” 

And the par-tay doesn’t end there — Sled Island also offers useful resources in their off-peak season like a series of online workshops called Tête-à-Têtes which are all about music-making for the creative types and offers a variety of dialogues for music fans. Everything from ageism and how gender inequality targets women in the music industry to how barriers impact those with disabilities and what progress has been made to make music more accessible. Salvi recommends checking out the workshop this upcoming Sunday run by Kid Koala and Jae Sterling called Don’t Box me in Musician — all about visual arts and visual artists and how the two worlds collide.   

For the overall setup, their sustainable initiatives integrated into the festivities too such as the compostable plates, napkins and other vendor essentials. Fun fact — Sled Island may have inadvertently played a hand in shaping the landscape of biking infrastructure in Calgary. A few years ago, the city utilized the Sled Island venue as a pilot project to trial whether the bypass for bikes would become permanent. Eventually, it was approved and the city partnered with Sled Island for the official launch of the downtown bike lane which was practically unveiled at the actual festival that year receiving rave reviews from attendees.

Considering the careful measures Sled Island is abiding by given the public health changes, the show is a go and your attendance is a must. Admission is based on arranged tables of four and can be purchased for $60 per table or $15 per person. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the live pre-show at 7:30 p.m. and performances run until before midnight on each day of the festival. To see the full lineup extraordinaire, purchase tickets and stay updated on protocols or future announcements, visit Sled Island’s website

Whether you’re a regular or a total newbie to visiting Sled Island we definitely recommend you drop in for the last chance days of summer.

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