Documenting a young music fest

Sackville, NB’s annual SappyFest music gathering launches a book with a concert in Montreal tonight.

Lucas Hicks fr SappyForever Book

Have you heard of SappyFest? The little festival with a big heart that takes place every August in Sackville, New Brunswick has evolved over the past eight years from what was essentially a backyard barbecue for 250 friends and friends-of-friends of founders Julie Doiron, Jon Claytor and Paul Henderson in 2006, into what is now a major hub of music, arts and culture on the terrifically lively East Coast scene.

Over the years, the festival has drawn acts like 2013 headliner Colin Stetson, YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN, Holy Fuck, the Sadies, Rich Aucoin, Chad VanGaalen, Grimes, P.S. I Love You and a little band called Arcade Fire (who played a secret show as Shark Attack in 2011), plus perennial favourites like Shotgun Jimmie, Mike Feuerstack (Snailhouse) and Doiron, who has frequently reunited for special Sappy sets with her ’90s Moncton grunge band Eric’s Trip. SappyFest has earned a reputation for bringing out phenomenal talent while keeping a  friendly, small-town community vibe for the 2,000 or so who come out to the big tent on Bridge Street.

It was surprising to learn that at the close of SappyFest 8 in 2013, the organization was facing a hefty deficit of $15,000, and without any obvious income potential until next year’s edition, suddenly the future of the festival was in doubt. In an effort to keep the ship afloat, the creative minds behind the festival decided to solicit submissions of photos and memories to create a commemorative coffee table book documenting the first eight years of the festival. An Indiegogo campaign was launched to raise the funds to both pay off the debt and to produce the book. After going well over their $25,000 goal and completing the SappyForever book, Team Sappy is on the road this week to personally deliver the books to those who supported the campaign, and to celebrate in the best way they know how — with live music.

The SappyForever book launch tour is stopping in Montreal tonight. Earlier this week, organizer and performer Lucas Hicks took some time out to chat about the festival and the book project.

10153027_10152202629214678_2367325017827724582_nLisa Sproull: So I’m a Maritimer myself, and I’ve gone to SappyFest several times. It’s a really fantastic festival! I was hoping you might be able to start by telling our readers a little about what SappyFest is.

Lucas Hicks: Sure, well SappyFest is a non-profit organization that started in 2006, and it was spawned by Sappy Records out of Moncton back in the ’90s with Julie Doiron and Jon Claytor. After ’96, the label just sort of lay dormant until Shotgun & Jaybird, in 2004 I believe, sort of helped to relaunch that record label and do a couple of releases on it, and that basically brought about the idea of the festival for Jon Claytor and Paul Henderson to do here in Sackville.

LS: I understand there have been some changes in the SappyFest organization and I know there were some problems last year, hence the Indiegogo campaign. Can you talk a little bit about that, what led to the crowd funding campaign and what the changes are this year?

LH: Sure yeah, so last year we basically just didn’t sell as many passes as we usually do. We usually get upwards of 1,000 people coming out buying full weekend passes, and last year there might have been 700 or 750, which was something we couldn’t really predict ever, and we realized after the fact that we were about $15,000 short, and immediately started brainstorming ideas.

Jon Claytor is a genius, and he said, “Let’s do a book,” and Paul’s got the design skills to do it, and was really interested in producing such a thing, and so we just launched this campaign and started spreading it around, and very quickly people started picking up on it. I mean, we gave ourselves 30 days, all or nothing, and raised about $28,000 to produce this book.

LS: Wow, so that was almost twice your goal, was it not?

LH: Exactly. $15,000 was our deficit, and then we needed about $8,000 to $10,000 to produce the book, so we basically needed $25,000, got about $28,000, and are now on this tour selling the excess books, and they’re flying. As for plans for this year, we’re going to scale things back a bit. Sometimes we get upwards of 50 bands, and this year there’ll probably be 30 to 35.

It’ll be a little more intimate, back to the roots of the festival. The look and feel of it, you know, I hope will be the same. It’s still going to be on Bridge Street, we’re still going to have a great tent, it’s going to be really fun, but we’re just trying to cut costs in some ways so we don’t face that again.

Some of those things like the production costs and all this stuff that we’re spending money on, that we’re starting to realize that, you know what? Maybe we don’t need that. We need the people to come out, and we need this community to support it to feel like SappyFest, and that essentially costs no money. So we can charge less for tickets and still bring the same talent out, and I think it’ll be just as good.

LS: In my experience of going to SappyFest, one of my favourite things about it is that community feeling.

LH: Yeah exactly. We live in a university town, and we’re lucky enough to be in a community where there’s huge support, but you know there are those people who want to go to those bigger festivals. We have a lot of similar talent, it’s just the feeling that’s different. This thing’s dropped in the centre of our town, and that’s amazing you know, and I think that’s why people come from everywhere, to get away and experience that for awhile. I think it’s good for everyone.

LS: And how did it feel for you and your team to see so much support and so many people rallying around the festival during the Indiegogo campaign?

LH: It was absolutely amazing! I mean going into it, I think we all knew in the back of our heads that we have the support of everybody who comes out here, and everybody who cares about what we do, and we know that! But it’s tough to assume that people are just going to be willing to help you out in times of need, so we all kind of went into it a little afraid.

But instantly, within the first five hours, we raised three or four thousand dollars, and it was just at that moment we all knew, you know, this is something worth doing and we’ve got to keep making this happen, because this is the message that people are sending us: that they want it and they want us to keep going. That’s why, you know unfortunately Paul and John still had to resign, but that left me in the position to help keep it going, and I’m extremely excited about that.

It just goes to show it’s not us, Team Sappy, who does it. Team Sappy is literally everybody who comes out here and makes it happen, we couldn’t do it without everybody, so it’s great! Everybody should feel like they played their part and have done something to help this thing survive.

LS: And the book that was produced, can you tell me a little bit about that?

LH: We’ve been fortunate enough to have some really amazing photographers come out over the last eight years. Jeremy Jansen came out one year, Colin Medley as well, and so many local folks who take wonderful photos, you know, and just tons of content online. It took Paul Henderson many many months to sift through it. And there’s lots of writing in the book that we all sort of helped provide, and come up with the ideas of who should write what. There are introductions to each year, and the Sappy Times [zine], which we do every year, is in there as well, and a short from Sean Michaels, who’s a Montrealer as well.

LS: And what should people expect to see at the show in Montreal?

LH: I think it’s going to be really exciting. We’ve been setting up the stage to give it that sort of SappyFest feel, you know, maybe not even consciously, but it feels like that!  Myself and Jon Claytor, the current director and past director, will be there working the merch table, so you can get a chance to say hello and chat about anything you want, and there’s tons of amazing bands. ■

The launch for SappyForever, with live music by Mike Feuerstack, Alden Penner, Cat Pontoon, Misha Bower, Lucas Hicks, Ian Roy and MC Shotgun Jimmie happens at la Vitrola (4602 St-Laurent) tonight, Friday, May 16, 8 p.m., $10