GrilledCheesaPolooza: Review

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Small town festival proves grilled cheese and music is winning recipe

Nearly all of my friends who have grown up in rural Saskatchewan tell the same story about a strange-albeit-hilarious prairies rite of passage: You get a pick-up, some friends and a sixer and you go steal the town highway sign. Or else you just pump it full of buckshot from a 12 gauge.

This typically explains why those signs are missing. However, there is a trick to quickly figure out where you are: if the name of the town isn’t on the grain elevator it’s probably on the water tower. Welcome to Saskatchewan.

kindersley water tower

Kindersley, however, seems to have its shit together more than most towns I’ve been to. Located between Calgary and Saskatoon, near the province’s oil fields, there is a CO-OP gas station on one end of town while a 7-11 sits on the other side; the Humpty’s restaurant is one of the last few left in the area. And with a population of nearly 5,000 according to Wikipedia, Kindersley usually isn’t too hard to miss – the town has one of the best water towers in Saskatchewan.

This typical-looking prairie town, however, harbours a strange secret.

Already in its third year, this dusty community is the site of GrilledCheesaPolooza, a festival that celebrates all things to do with small town music, Wonder Bread and single serving slices of pre-wrapped congealed yellow dairy.

It’s a cool idea – I am secretly jealous I didn’t think of it first – but the fact that it seems to be doing well boggles the mind. Most people don’t typically associate Kindersley as being anything other than a place to pee on the way to Alberta.

We are informed that we missed the grilled cheese-eating contest. I am so sad.

Also of note: Calgary’s Sled Island Festival is happening at the same time. Boasting some of the biggest names in indie rock, most of whom I have seen several times over already, I opt for the weird and delicious. I’m going to GrilledCheesaPolooza.

Even weirder, the festival line-up is a mass of band names that I have never heard of. But, with names such as Quetzacoatl and The Dirty Sauce on the bill, they are intriguing.

But there is one band I have heard of. The Young Benjamins are a Saskatoon indie rock band that I have seen many times. They rule even if they don’t know it yet. I send a few texts and scam my way into their Suburban amidst guitar amps and violin bows.

I watch a girl cover another girl in a bathing suit from head to toe in what looks like house paint

After a two hour trek through canola fields and cow pastures, the band and I roll into town and turn left at the A&W – GrilledCheesaPolooza is located in a field a few blocks away, with pick-up trucks already lining the parking lot. A BBQ is pumping out $2 grilled cheese – for $5 you can get a hamburger patty combo, dubbed “The Legendary” surrounded by two such sandwiches. We are informed that we missed the grilled cheese-eating contest. I am so sad.

grilled cheese burger

I immediately purchase a grilled cheese and head to the beer gardens, which are already jammed. As I guzzle my first Pil of the day I get to watch a girl cover another girl in a bathing suit from head to toe in what looks like house paint.

A few minutes later I am goaded into playing hacky-sack – something I haven’t done in over a decade-and-a-half – with several members of the band. Suddenly a lanky dude sprints across the field to join us. He nods and proceeds to school my ass in hack. This is my introduction to Kellan, the promoter of the festival.

We chat a bit before I finally get a chance to ask him what I came here to find out.

“What ever gave you the idea to start this festival?” I ask.

He looks slightly annoyed but obliges.

“Cheese,” he says. “And metal.”

This may be the most honest answer anyone has ever given me.

cheese beer

He runs off and we are left to enjoy the remainder of the festival, which includes a dude playing guitar while simultaneously attempting to hit a cymbal with a drumstick attached to his guitar, a girl who beatboxes and an acoustic duo who looks like they are still in high school. Everyone who plays is amazing at what they do.

There is even some dudes wearing a homemade grilled cheese costume – ignore the fact that it is blatantly made out of bed foam and spray-painted carpet underlay.

grilled cheese costume

I ask around and several people tell me that the festival started as an excuse to watch local bands, eat copious amounts of Kraft singles and get drunk and hit each other. This year, however, GrilledCheesaPolooza appears to be a family friendly event. Children tear around and throw sand at one another. Two RCMP officers pull in and immediately start downing some grilled cheese burgers. This is almost disappointing.

I eat three grilled cheese sandwiches and only have to poop in the outhouses once

The Young Benjamins take the stage mid-afternoon. I stretch out on the lawn in a shady spot. Several locals quickly join me. The band is merely sound checking and already people are losing their shit.

“This is probably going to be one of my favourite bands of the day,” says one dude.

girl painting girl

The band plays well despite a few technical demerits. Afterwards we all celebrate with more beer and, of course, grilled cheese. Kuba, the drummer of the Benjamins, attempts one of the signature burgers.

“I guess I’m not very legendary,” he admits, pushing the remnants away.

We chat with several locals, all of whom are extraordinarily friendly, smoke cigarettes and quaff several more beers. I have misjudged Kindersley, I think.

Eventually the day is deemed a success – I eat three grilled cheese sandwiches and only have to poop in the outhouses once.