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Concert Photography, Concert Reviews, Sled Island 2019

Photos + Recap: Sled Island 2019 – Julien Baker, Japanese Breakfast, JPEGMAFIA, Hop Along

By: Curtis Sindrey –

CALGARY, AB – JUNE 22: Julien Baker performs at Sled Island Festival at Palace Theatre in Calgary on June 22, 2019. (Photo: Curtis Sindrey/Aesthetic Magazine)

Visiting Calgary is an experience not like any other. At first glance, it looks like your typical bustling western Canadian city. But with a booming economy and a thriving arts scene, Calgary has cemented itself as a go-to destination.

Every June, music fans descend on Calgary for the city’s annual Sled Island Music Festival, which launched in 2007 and has since played host to over 300 artists and over 40,000 fans every year.

Thanks in part to both Grandstand Media, and the Calgary Tourism Board, I was able to see more of Calgary than just the late night concerts and early afternoon parties Sled Island offered.

On June 20, we checked out the Tea House (1213 1st ST SW) for an evening of cocktails and snacks. With a cocktail menu that featured clever song titles as drink names, I was already a big fan of the place. Everything from the “Reeling in the Years” (cachaca, pear, cantaloupe, dill, and bubbles), to the “So Fresh, So Clean” (gin, aquavit, snap pea, lemon, egg whites, and lime leaf bitters), to the “Post Water-Malone” (tequila, watermelon liqueur, lemon) to my drink of choice, the Bob Segar-inspired “Night Moves #2” (cognac, amaro nonino, dry curacao, and Chinese bitters), there was something for any music (and cocktail) fan.

June 21st had an early start at 11am for a private coffee tasting at Phil & Sebastian (618 Confluence Way SE) where we sampled several different roasts from around the world and later compared notes as to which flavours we preferred, etc. It’s experiences like this that allow you to appreciate the art of making a really great cup of coffee.

Next up was a fascinating tour of the National Music Centre (850 4 St SE) where we learned just about everything about the history of electronic instruments (Fun Fact: the first ever programmable synth was made in 1958), and had a first-hand look at some of the coolest musical memorabilia you can imagine (think Elton John’s songwriting piano, one of Neil Peart’s drumkits, and The Rolling Stones’ mobile recording studio). Humblebrag side note: if you notice a photo of the iconic inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq in the museum, the photo was taken by yours truly.

On the final day of the trip, we enjoyed a fancy brunch at the Hawthorn Dining Room of the Fairmont Palliser where I indulged in a delicious stack of pancakes drizzled in hazelnut syrup and an amazing burnt cinnamon whip that was paired with a delectable glass of Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne.

With just four days to see hundreds of bands at dozens of venues across Calgary, there was no shortage of new sounds to take in and enjoy. Kicking off any festival with Screaming Females is never a bad decision as I stood front row is a darken pub called Dickens Pub (1000 9 Av SW). Clearly able to throw any crowd big or small into a frenzy, the New Jersey-based trio played tracks from their newest record, All At Once (out now via Don Giovanni), and thrashed through a hard-hitting set-list that left all attendees in a sweaty mess of musical bliss. Finishing off night one with dream pop band Japanese Breakfast was a joy. Being a fan of both Michelle Zauner’s debut album (2016’s Psychopomp) and her latest effort (2017’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet), it’s fascinating to see how Zauner has developed as a songwriter and becoming decidedly more open and lyrically vulnerable. Plus, Zauner’s backing band, who was on the same NMC tour as our group, sounded as tight as ever as they seamlessly transitioned from indie rock to shoegaze to dream pop and beyond.

One of the major highlights of this year’s festival was New York rapper JEPGMAFIA whose performance was nothing if not energetic (and incredibly sweaty). Having released his second album, Veteran, last January via Deathbomb Arc, Peggy (as his fans affectionately have nicknamed him) jumped across the Commonwealth’s stage with an intense fervor that instantly made the packed crowd go wild. From his impromptu freestyle where he declared himself to be the “OG man in black” to his intense renditions of tracks like “How To Build A Relationship”, and “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies”, it made for one of the best performances of the festival.

While festivals like Sled Island might be overshadowed for the likes of NXNE, Osheaga, and Canadian Music Week, it’s not a festival to be slept on due to its excellent curation of artists, and overall good vibes.

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