Day 1: Music festivals in unfamiliar surroundings come with unique challenges: where to eat, where to drink, where to sleep, where to poop, etc. Fecal dumping, however, can quickly become the most urgent if it hits you in a crowded venue with a line-up to use a single toilet. That’s when you know it’s time to problem solve.
A wristband can get you into nearly every venue at a festival like Sled Island, meaning you usually aren’t very far from the next stage over. In my case, I was about a block and a half from the Commonwealth Bar – ‘An Uncommon Bar for Common People’ – so I went there and found their uncommonly large and empty bathroom in the basement.
A great bonus to practical missions like these is that you end up seeing stuff you didn’t mean to, like Oneida, a psych-rock drone band from Brooklyn that started playing upstairs shortly after I completed my stinky transaction. Nobody in attendance knew my real, secret reason for being there, and I blended into the crowd like I was just a regular tall bearded fan of the band.
Now I could head back to Broken City to watch Partner and Chastity Belt in comfort, crisis averted. The bathroom line was gone and I probably could have just waited it out but who likes waiting? Anyone? Not me. Further validation came a couple of days later when Chris Laramee (Shooting Guns / Radiation Flowers / Switching Yard) told me he had plugged the Broken City toilet the week prior.
“It wasn’t big or anything – there was something else going on,” said Laramee.
Day 2: Here is an invaluable turd tip if you ever land in a new city and you need to poop: find the nearest hotel lobby.
Especially if you’re there for an alternative music festival and they’ve set up their box office, artist lodgings, and blocked off a set of rooms for attendees in three of the fanciest hotels downtown. Hotel lobbies are typically very nice places to poop and it’s sort of their job to usher you into a comfort zone. In other words, post-plop coma.
If I had waited it out until a bit later in the day, too, I could have used the only gender neutral bathroom that I saw all weekend when I went to the Creating Safer Spaces Discussion Panel at the Theatre Grand Junction’s Studio. The room was at full-capacity and the conversation was super important. Kudos to Sled for hosting it.
Some of things that I took away from the panel: Scene safety ultimately falls to people that run venues to keep those venues safe – if someone is pointed out to them as being problematic and makes someone else feel unsafe, it is the venue manager’s responsibility to remove them.
Towards the end someone asked the panel if they considered Sled to be a safer space. This got a resounding “no” across the panel. Sled Island is a great festival, but they do have some work to do. Some things the panel pointed out: there was no mention of indigenous people or acknowledgement of treaty territory in the program (Treaty 7, signed in 1877), no rainbow on the program, many venues with accessibility issues, no sliding scale on the ticket price, no gender neutral washrooms, and no explicitly sober venues.
It’s a lot to think about and the bathroom reminder makes the context of my attempts to find comfortable places to poop important – I am a cisgendered white dude and it’s very easy for me to feel comfortable almost anywhere. It might might make this poop guide almost irrelevant, but maybe there are some good tips anyway.
Then I watched Aleem Khan, respectfulchild, and Julia Holter make many people swoon.
Day 3: A good bet for pooping at a busy, multi-venue music festival is to go to one of the venues a couple of hours before the show is actually supposed to start.
Enter: the CFCR showcase at Tubby Dog! The only people there when I arrived were CFCR and Tubby Dog employees, so the facilities were super free.
A bonus of being on 17th Ave with some free time is that there’s so much other stuff going on. Down the street I saw Pinner playing at Sloth Records and Darto at Local 510, where one of two stages was free to the public. The CFCR showcase is free too, every year. As if you didn’t already know.
When the upstairs room is full of dancers you can feel the floor flexing with the weight of their combined bowel mass.
A classic Sled Island problem is wondering “Will this sweet show fill up if I leave and come back?” If things are dire enough to even ask this question then the answer will probably be yes, but you can choose to risk it anyway. Thus begins the tale of how I missed Chicago post-rock band Tortoise but saw some weird comedy, including the hosts of the podcast Crimson Wave and Cheryl Hann from the band Heaven for Real / sketch comedy troupe Picnicface. Comedy in the middle of four day’s worth of music is a nice breather.
Missing a band because a venue hits capacity fills you with a weird fear that it will keep happening to you, so I went to the Legion after this and never left. It made me feel a bit apprehensive – being able to leave things is half the point and the freedom is addictive – but the Legion has stages upstairs and downstairs so it’s still fun. When the upstairs room is full of dancers you can feel the floor flexing with the weight of their combined bowel mass.
I ended up spending a lot of my time here waiting and feeling increasingly antsy, but also like if I left I would hit an at-capacity venue and then not be able to get back inside. Sixties garage rock band the Sonics were headlining and there was a lot of buzz. Switches, Dream Whip, Pale Lips, and the Betrayers all played first and were really great, so I don’t have a lot to complain about.
Day 4: I don’t want to brag, but I managed to maintain a one poop a day schedule for the whole festival. It probably helped that I only ate one Tubby Dog.
One quick and free Beatroute hangover breakfast poutine and a sad Nicolas Field set Saturday afternoon threatened to upset this equilibrium, but I think they possibly balanced each other out. Everything seemed fine after a short bike ride over to Olympic Plaza where I only got a little bit lost. I got turned around in downtown Calgary a lot this year.
Olympic Plaza is the main-est stage at Sled Island. It happens rain or shine and it’s the only show your wristband guarantees you entrance to because it’s huge and outside and always fills with water when it inevitably rains a lot. Saskatoon rock stars the Radiation Flowers played to the fiercest downpour I saw all weekend and the crowd stuck with them through to the end – years of rain endurance training have led to a very rain tolerant crowd.
This flash flood led to a festival dream guano scenario: the friend-hotel-bathroom poop.
CFCR pals Brendan Flaherty and AVL dashed over to their hotel to change out of drenched clothes, so I tagged along in my raincoat. The friend-hotel-bathroom poop isn’t easy to pull off and the trust involved extends both directions. Hotel rooms are purposefully quiet and space is at a premium – any sound could escape into the main room. I attempted to mitigate this by engaging said friends in frank and meaningful conversation, which I left them deeply engrossed in while I slipped into the water closet to leave my mark. This is also an excellent opportunity to see how your friends treat a space that isn’t theirs. Is it clean? Are they taking care of it and respecting the surfaces that they are merely renting? Are they good people?
When he found out what my article was going to be about and that his room would be a central feature, Brendan noted that “water pressure in Calgary is very high. It makes for very satisfying flushes.” Just so you know.
Saturday was also a very busy night for band watching: I saw Jay Arner play two songs at the Palomino and Speedy Ortiz, Suuns, Land of Talk, and Guided by Voices at Olympic Plaza.
I left the mainstage for a bit for Theatre Junction GRAND to watch a performance artist named Jeneen Frei Njootli as a project called ‘the language your tongue might find could be haunting’ wherein the artist created dissonant, drone-like soundscapes through a mic’ed antler. A mesmerizing set from minimal instrumental Brooklyn band Dawn of Midi, who played their new album from start to finish on a piano, stand-up bass, and drums followed that.
Lots of people were excited to see Peaches play at Flames Central – we biked past the enormous line-up – so we decided to go see a punk show at the Ship & Anchor instead, without knowing for sure what we were going to actually end up seeing. Advertisement from Lethbridge played a loud, slightly troubled set where the kick drum kept creeping forward on the drummer, who heroically dealt with it while maintaining the beat. Next we saw Portland’s Hurry Up, who’re made up of two members of the Thermals and Maggie Vail from Kill Rock Star records. They played a fast and super fun set, but they unfortunately hadn’t been able to get any merch across the border. I would have totally bought some.
Sled Island is very fun, you should go to it. Safe poops, everyone.