I always figured if there was a musicfest that would bring me back to Calgary, it would be Noctis Valkyries, the annual extreme metal festival that took form a couple years after I left town. Its organizers have done a great job bringing some big-name bands to Calgary for the first time, often for exclusive Canadian performances. As it so happens, I am headed back to Calgary in three weeks’ time, for an exclusive Canadian performance–but it’s not the event that I envisioned.
Sled Island, a four-day, multi-venue fest, has been Calgary’s answer to NXNE since 2007. Seeing as the actual NXNE takes place the week beforehand, I’ve never had much interest in a lineup that often features many of the same bands as the Toronto event. But this year, while my initial impressions of the NXNE lineup are a little underwhelming, the Cowtown organizers have scored a major coup: they’re bringing Sleep to town for an exclusive Canadian performance, and just one of three gigs on the Weedians’ calendar this year.
Ride the dragon to the Sled Island!
Upon hearing the news, I immediately purchased a plane ticket. Nevermind that the festival lineup hadn’t been fully revealed, and there was no word yet as to a venue–I was not gonna miss Sleep on my ol’ stompin’ grounds! As it turns out, they’re headlining an outdoor gig downtown at Olympic Plaza, with support from The Sword, Bison B.C., T.O. heavy rockers C’Mon… and UK punk legends The Buzzcocks. I’m awfully curious as to how many of the latter’s aging supporters will shell out 75 smackers to be subjected to some amplified stoner sounds, all for a mere 60-minute set, smack-dab in the middle of the bill.
Yes, you read that right. It’s a 75-dollar ticket, which comes out to about 80 after taxes and service charges. Considering that I saw Sleep, YOB and Scott Kelly in Portland last year for 35–travel and accommodations not included, obviously–it’s a pretty steep price. Not to mention that the marijuananauts are playing NYC with a reunited Winter for roughly the same price as that Portland gig, albeit on a Wednesday nite. But Calgary’s a big-oil, big-money town, and if the hipsters can’t afford it, they’ll just do what hipsters do best: ask their parents for cash.
It’s worth noting that while a five-day wristband for NXNE will set you back $56.50, a one-day Sled Island wristband for either Friday or Saturday costs a whopping 90 bucks. Want access to the whole event? 199 dollars, please. And it’s not like you can be in more than one place at a time…
That being said, there are a few other gigs worth checking out at Sled Island, if you can afford it. Though Sleep prompted me to buy a plane ticket, I immediately called and changed my flight when I found out that L.A. psych rockers Dead Meadow were playing an early gig on Friday afternoon, from 1:30 to 2:30 pm at a pub called Local 510. Not only does this show get the festival off to a great start, it also answers the question of what to do for lunch!
After the outdoor gig at Olympic Plaza, which runs from 4 to 10:30, there’s some more heavy rock bands playing right down the street at The Palomino. Toronto’s own Quest For Fire are slated to take the stage at 11, following by Edmontonians Black Mastiff and Earache heavy rockers Red Fang, who were a man short when I caught ’em in Cleveland, but should be back at full strength.
Saturday doesn’t offer much in the way of afternoon entertainment as far as I’m concerned. Granted, there are bands playing the Plaza from 1:30 onwards, but they’re all of the indie/garage rock variety. Not worth another 80 bucks to me.
The Sword gets its chance to shine on Saturday nite, however, with a headlining gig at The Distillery, a place I used to go to for “Punk vs. Metal” nites back in the day. Support from the aforementioned Red Fang, Black Mastiff, a band from Toronto called Biblical that I know surprisingly little about (though the lone tune on their Spamspace page sounds pretty decent) and locals WAKE, “the sludgy grindcore quintet that could.” While I’m not particularly enamoured with The Sword, the openers are pretty solid, so I went ahead and bought a 30-dollar ticket. If anything, it allows me to pass on the Friday nite Palomino gig, since two of the three bands are playing both shows, and I can always catch QFF at home. Because, let’s face it, there’s no one at this festival who can top Sleep. I might as well go to bed afterwards.
P.S.: For more info on Sled Island, check out their website.