We Saw the Constantines' Dress Up in Gorilla Suits and PUP Return a Shoe at SappyFest X
It’s a family affair at Canada’s premiere outsider music fest, featuring DJs in gorilla suits and the best bands in the country you haven’t heard of.
Shotgun Jimmie. All Photos By Matt Williams
On the last bright morning of SappyFest X in beautiful, sleepy downtown Sackville, New Brunswick, miraculously not hungover, I’m sitting across from Jim Kilpatrick, better known as Shotgun Jimmie. Jimmie is something of an “underground” Canadian music legend, and his collaborators (as well as artists he’s collaborated on releases with) read like an encyclopedia on the country’s outsider music. That might be because he’s toured to pretty much every part of the Great White North. He also plays SappyFest every year, and will take the main stage on Bridge Street later in the night to close out the weekend of the little music festival that could’s final night of its tenth anniversary.
Jimmie lived in Sackville for over a decade, and the frazzled waitress at Mel’s Tearoom knows him by name. We’re there for probably north of two hours, but only get our food in the last 15 minutes. Jimmie jokes about the photos of musicians lining the walls, their goofy, cringing faces caught live, and makes his own goofy, cringing face to practice posing for the shot in his set later on that might land him on the same wall. At this point we’re all nearly delirious wondering if our food will ever come and whether we’re caught in some sort of weird hell or Groundhog Day situation. Jimmie tests out some stage banter apologizing to the crowd because he’s still waiting to eat at Mel’s: “hey sorry, guys, should be there soon, ordered my food at Mel’s 12 hours ago, shouldn’t be long.”
He recounts the beginning of the festival, from pretty much nothing in the parking lot beside Struts Gallery around the corner, to an unlikely behemoth of scrapped-together family and underdog rock ‘n’ roll that saw Arcade Fire do a secret set as Shark Attack in 2011 (a performance, Jimmie says, that was overshadowed by soul man Charles Bradley’s life-affirming set). SappyFest has long been and still is a high watermark for bands that don’t really fit in anywhere, or at least come from roots where they carved out their own niche. If you’ve ever played Sappy, you’re likely to have instant cred among the handful of people who still buy physical music products and homemade band shirts. More than any other festival I’ve been to, Sappy’s community is warm, welcoming, and instantly recognizable. Which is to say mostly clad in army green or black, more function than fashion, likely because fashion wasn’t really much of a thought to begin with. It’s also filled with people whose sole jam is, well, jamming.
The Legendary Golden River Show
Earlier in the weekend, on Friday night, PUP played the full mainstage tent out with a blistering set accentuated by a brutal feedback squall from the sound system that had mysteriously been derailing songs all day. Luckily, the band is abrasive enough that it kind of fit in, and they even managed to return a pair of lost shoes to some (un)lucky crowd surfer. Over at Struts, after a Guided By Voices sing-a-long led by Jimmie and Cole Woods (of Human Music, who also happen to be Jimmie’s backing band on this tour), Constantines’ Steven Lambke, dressed in a full gorilla suit, performed as DJ Coconuts. DJ Coconuts’ set consists of himself and a small record player spinning Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson, but never the whole album—only “Coconut”, over and over again, for more than an hour. People loved it so much that they were genuinely disappointed when Coconuts had to put the record away.
Saturday brought more sun and with it, the not-so-sunny Angel Olsen, who capped things off after a blissful set from DIANA in front of a quiet and reverent crowd, stopping at one point to say, “life is just so hard, all the time.” But a good bet would be that most of the people under the tent didn't share that sentiment.These were obvious highlights, but those less obvious were plenty: Nap Eyes’ bright east coast rock ‘n’ roll, Walrus’ ecstatic psychedelia, ANAMAI’s transcendent doomy folk, The Legendary Golden River Show Band’s soulful Canadiana, and Solids’ thrashy guitar buzz provided some glorious moments in pre- and post-primetime slots. But still, none really compared to Shotgun Jimmie’s Sunday night finale.
Jimmie and his backing band Human Music took the stage with toothy grins and belted out around 20 catchy-as-hell tunes, stopping only to pose for the shot he hoped would make the Mel’s wall and dedicate songs to everyone under the sun. Jimmie played songs for Ladyhawk, Attack in Black, and Constantines, all Sappy alumni. He brought up Julie Doiron for a second on “Suzy”, dedicated another tune to a guy named Howard, and then ended his set with “a song about SappyFest” for his parents, Larry and Linda, who “just flew in from Ajax, and man, their arms are tired.” That tune was the fuzzed-out stomper “Swamp Magic”, and Jimmie led the crowd in a sing-a-long to the coda: “there’s enough people here to stay up all night/there’s enough people here to start a band all right.” Finishing there would’ve been all anyone could’ve asked for, but they came back out to play a riotous cover of Constantines’ “Young Lions”, complete with Bry Webb, Julie Doiron, Steven Lambke, and whoever else could fit onstage.
It was a gorgeous family moment that reminded those listening how much history and good vibes Sappy has built over the past ten years. Jimmie had mentioned earlier in the set that some of the best stage banter of the weekend was Lambke pointing out, “we’re not getting any lighter.” But the people smiling wide walking out of the main stage tent Sunday night looked like they felt so light they could’ve floated away. Hopefully that’s enough to get a Shotgun Jimmie shot on the wall at Mel’s.
Matt Williams seems really prone to “floating” during concerts. Follow him on Twitter.