Coszmos Quartette. All photos by Kate Killet.
In the small town of Sackville, New Brunswick, a little bit of swamp magic happened over the weekend as the much loved SappyFest took over. Sackville is a tiny East Coast place, mostly known as a university town, home to Mount Allison University. But since it’s founding in 2006, SappyFest has since grown to be Canada’s best kept artistic secret. Having now just completed its 11th year, SappyFest was initially founded by singer-songwriter Julie Doiron’s Sappy Records label, and it is now a registered non-profit organization. With no VIP area, no giant crowds or long lines, SappyFest is kind of the anti-festival festival. The arts and music festival has quickly become a haven for music nerds and kindhearted weirdos alike. The eclectic curation of talent local and abroad is always on point; having hosted past acts as Constantines, Destroyer, Grimes, Arcade Fire—who performed under the decoy name Shark Attack—and Angel Olsen. Every year the fest has a motto: pasts mottos include “Ambiguous At Best,” “Swamp Magic,” and “You Are Nowhere.” This year's motto? “IT’S LIT.”
We spoke to bands, volunteers, festivalgoers, and others who make up the vast and welcoming Sappy community; asking the newbies about their first Sappy experience and the long time veterans about what keeps them coming back. See and feel the swamp magic below:
Katie Monks of Dilly Dally. Festival performer. Toronto, Ontario. First SappyFest. "People here say hello to you. Strangers! In Toronto, you don’t get that. Even in other places, other little towns, you don’t get that. Here people say hello. Very polite. I thought it was very cute and tight.”
Dan. Volunteer and performed with Partner. Springhill, Nova Scotia. Fifth SappyFest. “There’s a very tight-knit, vibrant, artistic community. There are more art galleries than streetlights.” Maria. Volunteer. St. John’s, New Brunswick. Second SappyFest. “It’s small. It’s not a huge music festival with 80,000 people. It’s more personable.” Kathleen of Milkweed at the zine fair. Toronto, Ontario. Sixth SappyFest. "My faith in the curation and the community keeps me coming back.” Emmanue (left). Festivalgoer. Saint-Léonard, New Brunswick. Third SappyFest. “I love the music, the environment, and connecting with people. It’s this small little festival that no one knows about. We don’t want people to know about it. Don’t come! It’s affordable. There’s also more racialized performers coming and queer artists coming, before it wasn’t as diverse but now it’s starting to be and that’s dope.” She Devils. Sappy performers. Montreal, Quebec. First SappyFest. “Definitely our best show ever. People have said it’s like summer camp for musicians and I think that’s true.” Jeff. Festivalgoer. Sackville, New Brunswick. Ninth SappyFest. “Sackville is the center of the universe.” Michael Mandele. Sackville, New Brunswick. Seventh SappyFest. “It brings a lot of people here who wouldn’t normally know that Sackville exists. It’s great. I grew up here and wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else.
Ben. A Bartender at local venue and bowling alley, Thunder and Lightning. Sackville, New Brunswick. Eleventh SappyFest. “They’ve had wrestling and they’ve had a roller derby. They consistently try to make it an interesting festival, rather than just relying on big names. For the first six years, the municipality was constantly trying to shut down SappyFest as it did not fit their ideology. However, recently, it was brought to the town council that SappyFest brings four-hundred-thousand dollars into the town every year, so they’ve since stopped trying to shut it down. They’ve done a little bit to try to help it out and that’s pretty cool. SappyFest keeps a lot of businesses afloat. It’s good vibes. I’ve had to work the past two days but I still feel good.”
Hooded Fang. Sappy performers. Toronto. A. Aliermo. Second SappyFest. “It’s within a one block radius, which I love. You don’t need a map. It’s easy to navigate. You just run into other musicians and audience members alike.”
Kavana. Sappy Volunteer. Maputo, Mozambique. First SappyFest.
"When I first came I was like ‘this is not my music’ and a lot of it went over my head but now that I’ve been to a couple shows I’m like, ‘Wow!’ I think the diversity, the different voices, and perspectives are what makes it popular.” Jeska. Sappy Board Member. Sackville, New Brunswick. Fifth SappyFest.
“There’s something charming about coming to a small town and being in the middle of no place. It’s very supportive and stimulating for the local economy.” Partner. Sappy performers. East Coasters. Sixth Sappy Fest. “It’s like everyone’s just on the same party page. Everyone seems like they’re on love drugs, even when they’re not. It’s a beautiful, beautiful, thing. It feels like home, especially for a lot of people that aren’t from here. It’s metaphysical and hard to pin down.”
Tata Milan. Cakes Da Killa back up dancer. New York via New Jersey. First Sappy Fest. “It fucking rocked. The energy was insane and that’s hard to come by. So many beautiful souls and spirits just sending energy to us.”
Kate Killet is a photographer and writer from Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.