As the final day of this little festival commences, people recede into the shade under the only tree near the Town Bandstand where Toronto's Lisa Bolzikovic begins quietly. The sky is intensely blue and the shade offers very little respite from the scorching sun. After a few sullen numbers unaccompanied, Bozikovic is backed by three gents playing wurlizter, bass and drums. Her songs unravel a little more; they become less wistful and a little more whimsical. She is another pleasant surprise of the festival, despite my headache.
She is followed by Lil' Andy who's set fails to charm me. It seems flat, a little uninspired. Perhaps it's the heat, they are all in suites and I am uncomfortable even in a tank top. Perhaps they had a late night. Their recordings and videos suggest that they can do better.
With no need to settle for less at such a saturated festival, I saunter down to the Mainstage Tent where I get some good news and some bad news. Good news: The Brothers Grundy have arrived safe and sound this morning and are preparing to take the stage, along with bassist Brad Lahead, as the scrappy pop trio Quaker Parents. Bad news: I am told that Nat Baldwin has canceled last minute.
The Quaker's set begins humbly with a handful of Haligonians standing up front and most everyone else in their chairs. As they scramble, jerk and wander their way through a set of idiosyncratic mini-epics, people take notice and the tent fills with adoring onlookers. Their songs are exciting and full of strange plot twists. The member's tease each other between songs and the fans jeer as much as cheer. It's a perfect catalyst for the afternoon, the crowds on Bridge Street seem a little more vibrant upon exiting the tent. It is nice that the biggest stage at the festival can feel so intimate in the afternoons.
Since there is no one that I'm really excited about for the next hour or so (thanks to the cancellation) and a small fleet of vehicles heading to the lake, I decide to be swept up in the mission for relaxation and re-hydration. I feel like this is an important thing to mention (so important that I put it on the Internet), because small diversions are what put Sappyfest head and shoulders above any festival experience I've had. Beyond the stellar musical programming there are spontaneous mobile shows, secret pop-up bars, surprise guests, delicious clay oven pizza (courtesy of Halifax's A Moveable Feast), fireworks most anytime after midnight, lake trips, sing-a-longs; the small New Brunswick town bursts with excitement and enthusiasm from sun up to sun up.
Upon returning to the tent a few hours later, I wander in on Pat Jordache pummeling through a set of obtuse 80's tinged, pop rock. The guitars are shimmering, the bass is stubborn and charging and the drummers (two of them) sync and surprise with pragmatic poly-rhythms. I am not entirely engaged, but they are tight and there are plenty of moments to sink my teeth into. A promising young band, to be sure.
The sun and the swim, and the late nights, have taken a toll on me. I decide to head home for a nap. Thankfully, I run into a friend on her way to catch Jerry Granelli at the Vogue Theatre and I tag along. It's my first time in the theatre this year and as I enter, I am gobsmacked: Could it actually be hotter in here than last year?. The theatre is full and Granelli's set has just begun. The veteran drummer plays through different rhythms, with different mallets, at different volumes. He incites a call-and-response, he mumbles to himself as his limbs jitter complicated patterns. He performs one song by wandering up and down the isles of the sweltering theater with a set of bells. His set covers much ground but feels complete and well considered. It is a moving experience up until the moment where my eyelids begin forcing their way downwards. It's nap time; I duck out and head for home.
Returning to the tent as the sun goes down, I can hear Ladyhawk from a mile away. I am disappointed that I won't make it there in time to catch their set, but it sounds great echoing over residential Sackville. Up next is Jon Langford & His Sadies. Hunger strikes me and I spend the set just beyond the main tent, eating curbside. It sounds fantastic, but I must admit to being ignorant to most of Langford's work. Back by The Sadies, one of the finest live bands this journalist has seen, a pro like Langford seems in top form. He says sharp, insightful things between songs and the songs themselves rumble with an inherent energy. My pizza tastes great.
Lastly at the main tent is Sappy's foster child Chad VanGaalen. I haven't met anyone at the festival who isn't looking forward to this set. As always, he is self-deprecating and charming. The highlight of this set for me was Matt Flegel (formerly of Women), who's intricate guitar lines helped drag out the darker moments that make VanGaalen's songs so irresistible.
Out of curiosity, I head to Uncle Larry's where rising star Grimes performs a set of her nouveau-pop anthems. She crawls around on stage, occasionally affecting a grimace and swaying amidst the somewhat spooky lighting. The songs sound good, despite being more accessible and traditional sounding than I had hoped, but the show is not engaging me the way it is many others. I take in the remainder of the set watching a game of pool in the adjacent room and nod along. I fear that the festival fever has finally taken hold. I don't think I can properly process any more music at this point. Edmonton's Gobble Gobble take the stage around 1:30am as the last performers of the evening. Cecil Frena begins the set with an auto-tuned lullaby and then the party starts: a giant tribal drum, a shovel with a built in sequencer, stilts, flashing lights, synchronized routines. Their performance splits the large crowd that Grimes built, some flail along in frenzied excitement, while others, myself included, feel it is a bit much and wander off into the night.
After having a few more drinks in the aforementioned pop-up bar, I accompany some friends on their walk home (with one in a shopping cart). We stop halfway and lay on the street, starring up at the stars. We say goodnight, I love you, I can't believe it's over, etc. As I saunter home with the sun rising, I am filled with a sense of gratefulness. I ponder what might come next for Sappyfest and recall that I've already made a breakfast date in Sackville in 363 day's time. I trust that the integrity, respect, charm and grace of Sappyfest will live on in the coming years and I will want to be there to take it all in, over and over again.