Sled Island Diaries 2012: Part 1

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Member of Saskatoon’s Haunted Souls gives sordid details of Calgary Festival

Editor’s Note – The following is Part 1 of our Sled Island Diaries. This particular passage was contributed by A. Soulz of the band Haunted Souls. Thanks bud! Be sure to check out Part 2 contributed by Dana “The Hulk” Durell.

By now, many of us know of what the Sled Island Festival in Calgary, AB contains, but if you don’t, here it is: 240+ musical artists, 21 visual art showcases, 11 standup comics, 10 documentary film events, and 9 workshops and seminars – all in 45 venues over five days. Whew!

My band, Haunted Souls, was fortunate enough to be offered two gigs during the festival. The following is scattered memories of my experiences at Sled Island.

Day 1 – Thursday, June 21

The management of Sled Island were crystal clear about all bands loading in two hours before each show began as a way to weed out late-comers which might hold up the schedule. So, since we wanted to be accommodating, we left Saskatoon at 4:00am and peeled into Calgary about 11:00am for a load-in. We arrived to find the venue completely empty of festival staff, so decided it a better idea to buy beer. The show we were to play was afternoon show housed at an art gallery/community garden and dubbed “B.A.’s BBQ”. Hosted by the Mammoth Cave Recording Co., the show featured an all-Canadian lineup, as well as a red-faced B.A. Johnston cooking up a storm, offering hot dogs and friendly chats.

Kicking off the afternoon was Vancouver’s NEEDS who kicked out a wild frenzy of post-hardcore, thrilling the small group of festival goers who had woken up before noon to attend the show. Up next were the Ketamines, who proved that a couple weeks of touring really tightens a band up. Their pogo-inducing tunes left those in attendance smiling and half-choking on veggie dogs.

Leaving the venue to wander in the hot weather, I became distracted by complimentary ounces of scotch served up by cowgirls and a few chatty friends. It wasn’t long before I remembered cans of beer were hiding in our van. I knew it would be irresponsible to allow the sun to scorch that wonderful liquid, so missing a few bands to savour the cold drink was a sacrifice I willingly made. Hours quickly passed and I soon found myself setting up on stage for the first Haunted Souls performance. We ripped through as many songs as we could with a half hour time slot, even daring to reveal a brand new cover of “Next To You” by The Police. After our set, we enjoyed B.A. Johnston’s boozey carnival performance and The Steve Adamyk Band’s harmony laden pop punk before noticing most of the crowd had left to attend evening events. Time to go!

We watched Hot Snakes rip through an hour’s worth of music, slamming memorable songs from all three of their studio albums

After loading the van, it was off to the Calgary Tower, which hid in its neck the esteemed artists’ lounge. Receiving wristbands for the festival also meant receiving two free beers at the top of the tower, which was enough to keep my buzz going while staring out at the busy cityscape. After lingering for a bit and listening to Jared’s threats of kidnapping the seven foot tall bear/beaver hybrid that stood guard at the entrance of the tower, we retreated to an apartment and enjoyed homemade vegetarian pizza served up by our host, Dave. After countless beers in the hot sun and a filling meal, fatigue began setting in. None of us had slept more than two or three hours and were fading fast. Jared and I took charge and began wandering toward Dicken’s Pub to see the highly-anticipated Hot Snakes, who were playing a one night only/wristband only concert. Combinations of coffee and more beer got us charged up enough to endure being called uglies by angry men and the shoving via jocks inside the venue.

Incidentally, sometimes it pays to be the shortest person in your band. The four of us gathered at Dicken’s, with my peers occupying prime real estate at the front of the stage while I was buying beer. They ushered me in front of them, which set me right in front of the stage monitors in time to see a grinning John Reis walk onstage. We watched Hot Snakes rip through an hour’s worth of music, slamming memorable songs from all three of their studio albums with barely a break in between.

Walking to the apartment in hazy bliss, we cheerfully giggled over newly-formed inside jokes and gushed about how great the Snakes were before falling asleep.

Day 2 – Friday, June 22

We awoke to disappointment. Will had brought his bicycle along in the van to Calgary so that he could cycle between shows instead of relying on the van. As we exited the apartment, his bike was nowhere to be seen. Nothing remained but his lock, hanging lonely and demented. The only thing we could do was make jokes about calling 911 and meet our friend Joey for a big breakfast at the Ship and Anchor.

This afternoon would be the second Haunted Souls gig at Sled Island. Saskatoon’s wonderful community radio station CFCR was hosting a Sask-featured show at the novelty hot dog shop Tubby Dog. We were good stewards of our time and loaded in our gear promptly so that we could drive up a couple blocks to find Broken City, a dank club where one of our favourite Canadian bands NEEDLES//PINS were playing. We managed to catch the last bit of their hyper power poppy set before Ketamines frontman/Mammoth Cave co-founder Paul Lawton jumped on the mic:

“So, if you haven’t heard, the secret guest playing after NEEDLES//PINS is Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet. Call your goddamn friends and tell them to get their asses down here!”

“Gawwwwwwwwwwwwwd,” we groaned. Our band was scheduled to play at Tubby Dog right away, which meant we were going to miss a surprise set by Canadian surf legends in a tiny, intimate club. We pushed our luck long enough to watch one song before we climbed into our van for the return to CFCR’s showcase. Upon our return to Tubby Dog, we witnessed a fuzzy rock ‘n roll set from Saskatoon’s Jeans Boots, who continually bring a higher level of noisy, raw energy as the group grows and changes. Watching bassist Tyson McShane playing a bass solo on top of the serving bar surrounded by nervous looking teens was one of many highlights of the Jeans Boots set.

Just follow the squealing sounds of suffering animals

Haunted Souls played our second set of the festival and then drank beer. Hours passed. We split up. Hours later, I’m wandering downtown trying to find The Palomino where my pals Stalwart Sons are playing. I stop a stranger to ask the location of the restaurant. “Just follow the squealing sounds of suffering animals,” he sneers.

The Palomino, for those who have not entered its doors, is heaven for those who indulge in the sinful delights of animal flesh. Go there if you need your appetite for meat satisfied. Not only did the Palomino house bacon-wrapped corn on the cob, but also Calgarian trio Stalwart Sons who are sounding more and more like the Constantines all the time, though far more gruff, and sounding like they just walked in off a chilly prairie desert.

Wandering out of the Palomino, I still had time to kill until one of my favourite bands, Terry Malts, were to play at the Legion down the street. Reaching into my jacket pocket, I found ticket stubs which granted me two free beers at the Hifi Club, which was a mere ten minute walk away. I arrived in time to get patted down for weapons by a security guard before making small talk with two gentlemen from Halifax band Bloodhouse. We discussed bands like The Plan and North of America while drinking cans of PBR. Realizing I might be late to make the lineup for Terry Malts, I waved goodbye to my new pals and scuttled off to the Legion and was soon bopping and swaying to my favourite Terry Malts songs. The band traded their sugary reverbed tones found on their album, Killing Time, for a snottier and more alienating live sound, even including a cover of Black Flag’s “Six Pack”.

The sweaty hall was beginning to make me feel suffocated. The smoking line outside was worse; a pile of gross humans slithering overtop of each other trying to get in the doors. The Legion, a two-storied venue, hosted Texas psych rock musicians Night Beats upstairs, which I raced to see. Three songs later, I could taste human sweat in the air and had to retreat from the muggy atmosphere, disappointed that I would miss most of their set. No matter, it gave me time to find a good spot at the front of the main floor stage where Reigning Sound were to soon play. Featuring Greg Cartwright of The Oblivians, Reigning Sound have established their status as high quality gospel-inspired garage rock. The band revealed themselves as a repugnant, yet suave looking group and boasted the fine rock ‘n roll they are known for. I knew I couldn’t stay for long, as a band member was beckoning me outside via text, as he was intimidated by the extremely long lineup spewing from the venue doors. After four songs from Reigning Sound, I gave up my spot at the front of the stage and squeezed my way through a wall of people until two gorilla hands clamped me on the shoulders, spinning me around to face a man of great size.

“Where are you going?” he demanded, spraying his spit onto my cheek.

“I…I gotta go. A friend is waiting on me.”

“FUCK THAT!” he screamed in my face, and spun me around to face the band, forcing me to dance with his hands still firmly on my shoulders like a drunken puppeteer. I managed to slither out of his grip after a second song and race for the exit.

After a return to the Palomino to see part of a Snailhouse performance, which was barely audible amongst the howls and laughter resounding throughout the tiny room, most of us enjoyed midnight snacks and a long wait outside the apartment which housed us before falling asleep.

Day 3 – Saturday, June 23

We rose, ate a poutine, did some record shopping, and hit the ol’ highway. A sure sign of aging is the body’s inability to continue doing exciting things despite a stomach full of beer and a lack of sleep. We were ready to return to Saskatoon after two days of seeing handfuls of great bands, playing two incredibly fun shows, and visiting with friends new and old.

Thanks to Sled Island, CFCR, Mammoth Cave Recording Co., Dave, and everyone else that was involved in hosting such a wonderful weekend.