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Naomi Shelton, Plaskett and more Ready For SappyFest This Weekend

It’s time for SappyFest, one of the province’s most respected music festivals, this year celebrating its eighth edition. Held each year on the August long weekend, the festival was started by a couple of fans of independent music in Sackville, and takes over the town for a weekend of outdoor and indoor shows featuring some of the best under-the-radar talent across North America. It is very highly regarded, with a top national reputation for finding the next big thing on the critical radar, performers that are about to break through to wider audiences.

Take a look at the past names on the festival wall, and you’ll see how good a job they do. These are the acts that go on to top critics’ polls, get nominated for awards such as the Polaris Prize, and create huge excitement at future festivals. People like NYC soul singer Charles Bradley, who first played this province at Sappy, and then last year tore up the stage at Harvest Jazz and Blues. Owen Pallett, Metz, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial, Yamantaka/Sonic Titan, Daniel Romano, Chad Van Gaalen, Grimes, Rich Aucoin, Braids, it’s the alternative who’s who of the past few years. The weekend also features a fanzine fair, connections with the art and spoken word scene of Sackville community, and for the first time this year, a music conference to help inspire the region’s indie music crowd.

The festival was co-founded by local music hero Julie Doiron, and she’s been at every one, although this year might be difficult, as she just had a baby girl on Tuesday. The other co-founder is Paul Henderson, now the creative director. Looking over the lineup for this year, it was, well, even Henderson admits it’s not exactly a big-name event: “It is probably more obscure than ever. I don’t think it was intentional, it’s just the people we got excited about earlier in the year. Not that Naomi Shelton is obscure, but definitely not a household name.”

Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens are out of New York, and on the same label, Daptone Records, as Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones. Then there are names that might ring a bell, but not immediately. “Not many people are going to recognize Sarah Neufeld’s name from the poster,” says Henderson. “But they will know her as a violinist for Arcade Fire, and she’s put out an amazing solo album.” Then there’s Colin Stetson, an internationally-acclaimed sax player, and a touring member of Arcade Fire and Bon Iver.

Each year there’s a slogan, and this time it’s Don’t Get Your Hopes Up. Henderson says, “We bounced around a bunch of slogans, and that one just kind of popped into our heads almost as a joke. I think because it’s tongue in cheek we liked it, part of our self-deprecating humour. We then took it as positive, reminding people it’s not about big names, to keep an open mind, come and you’ll be blown away by somebody you’ve never heard of.”

In true SappyFest style, they did things backwards with the schedule. They announced the full lineup some time ago, but then just a few days ago, added two more bands, and of course, they are the biggest names on the bill: The Joel Plaskett Emergency, and Chad Van Gaalen. “It was kind of a weird chain of events,” explains Henderson. “I was waiting around, making a few inquiries here or there, I was kinda panicked about the obscurity of it all, but then I’d listen to the music, and say, no this is the best lineup ever. But then a couple of bands cancelled, and that freed up some money in the budget and I said, let’s try a couple of things, and then Chad and Joel both came through. Joel’s camp was concerned about doing a late show on Friday, and making it back for a Halifax gig the next day, so we said hey, if you want to go first no problem! The music industry is built backwards you know, so maybe if he’s on first, lots of people will show up for that and stick around and see more great music.”

SappyFest opens Friday, August 2, at 7 PM, and is packed full of music all day Saturday and Sunday, finishing up around midnight thanks to the holiday Monday.

by Bob Mersereau, CBC East Coast Music