Sappyfest 2011, Day 2:

The Night Of The Screaming Eagle

Fair readers, I must admit, yesterday I was lead astray. I did not see all there was to see. But I swear, it's not entirely my fault. Weekends such as this make itineraries entirely foolhardy. Either way, I do still feel like I got a full day of festival and then some, but I did not get to see all I had hoped. Herein lay the gruesome details...

I awake to hot tea and blueberry pancakes cooked by the charming Gianna Lauren, fulfill my honorable duty to this here blog, and head downtown around 11am. Wandering towards the Zine Fair at The Royal Canadian Legion, it is grey and everyone is moving at a snail's pace. Inside, people hold their foreheads though there are plenty of smiles and pleasant exchanges. After minding a friends table and having a quick smoke, I head to the downstairs for the reading.

Originally planned as a community garden reading, the spitting rain inspired planners to lug plants into the legion to do their best to recreate the proposed site. Up first is Lindsay Bird who reads from her collection of poems based in and around Fort McMurray. Her hands tremble slightly and her words are a little uneasy. The tone suits the subject matter: there is a deep sense of alienation, shadowy moments and intense images of physical boundaries, sexual tensions and bleak lives. The sound of the soundsystem buzzing hangs heavily between her poems.

Misha Bower (of Bruce Peninsula) calmly sharing her words.
  • Misha Bower (of Bruce Peninsula) calmly sharing her words.

The second reader is Misha Bower (who sings with Daniel Romano). Her presence is casual and alluring. Her tone is natural and her honest, pointed story is marked with rye humour. Her words build casually to moments of transcendence, where the mundane details of a woman re-watching Jurassic Park transform into absolute truths. The event closes with Spencer Burton of Attack In Black performing solo as Grey Kingdom. He is the perfect musician to compliment the readers. His banter is very, very funny. His songs are touching and rich with hard feelings. He introduces one song with: "This song is about my ex-fiancée. She's an asshole."

With hunger pangs, I duck out early to grab a sandwich at Pickles on Bridge Street. The skies open up and it begins to really poor. People huddle under doorways and umbrellas and smoke billows out of the back of vans in the main parking lot.

The second reading of the day, held upstairs at the Legion amid the Zine Fair, is a peculiar event. There are more people than the first, and less chairs. Everyone is standing and soaked, shuffling uncomfortably on their feet. The readers stand on a chair in the corner of the stuffy room to share their work. Sean Michaels reads first, orating excerpts from his Sappy Times of years past. Having attended the many of the moments described, it fills me with nostalgia and I forget the somewhat uncomfortable circumstances I am currently in.

Secondly, Jeff Miller reads from his book Ghost Pine and charms the whole room. His short stories are saturated with reality and it becomes hard to separate the reader from the narrator. The information passed on in his work seem reduced to bare essentials for maximum effect.

Thirdly, occasional Coast contributor and founder of The Allan Street Reading Series, Jenner Brooke-Berger reads excerpts from her novel in progress. Her plotting is more complex and her themes more intense than the previous readers. In her second piece, about a woman who lives in the shadows of her mother's fame, her lips become a levee for the powerful words bursting out of her. She ends the reading on a lighter note, sharing her micro-fiction erotic postcards. Before ducking out early once again, I snatch up some beautiful, screen printed birthday cards from Sackville's own Fishbone Prints.

After a poorly timed trip to the liquor store, I dash to Uncle Larry's to catch Jon McKiel and Klarka Weinwurm. There crowd is surprisingly big for an afternoon show and I manage to catch just enough of one song to hook me, only to hear Jon say 'Thanks a lot' and begin packing up. The crowd roars with applause and coerce the threesome (with Cousins/Duzheknew's Aaron Mangle on drums) to perform And they knock that one out of the park. McKiel songs have never sounded so exciting to these ears as they did today. I am grateful for the song and a half I got to see.

Jon McKiel and co. reveling in a triumphant encore.
  • Jon McKiel and co. reveling in a triumphant encore.

I decide not to cut it so close again and head immediately to the Vogue Theatre to catch Sandro Perri. There is a crowd milling about and I am told that the theatre is at capacity and no one else will be getting in. Oh Well. The sun breaks through the clouds and a rainbow forms briefly over the Mainstage Tent. I take this as a sign to go grab some drier clothes and food. On the way to a Chinese restaurant, I grab a pack of free stationary from City Mail to make some fan mail while I await my Almond Guy Ding.

It feels good to eat something green, but I must admit to not feeling entirely enthused for the two hours that follow. I saunter through the wonderful marshlands and take a seat on the sidelines of the main tent. I can't seem to get interested in Apollo Ghosts (save for their cover of 'Molly's Lips') or Bonjay (including their cover of 'Staring At The Sun').

The effects of the MSG dissipate and I see a small pocket of pals forming near the front of the tent in preparation for one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend, Charles Bradley. The show opens with a few instrumental numbers played by his backing band The Menahan Street Band and then The Screaming Eagle Of Soul bursts on the stage in full flight. Honestly, a show has never passed more quickly, and I have rarely been so moved. I cried twice and my cheeks were soar from smiling. It was, without a doubt, the most pitch perfect show I've seen. The band was beyond reproach, crafting perfect grooves and punchy horn hooks. Mr. Bradley screamed and wailed and gyrated to massive effect. He jumped in the crowd and hugged people, he repeated "I love you!!!" between songs. Finally, after a fiery encore he left the stage weeping and continued to hug adoring fans on the street corner for the next few hours. Sappy head honcho Paul Henderson took the mic after the set and informed the still-reeling audience that he'd never felt happier at Sappyfest. I've never witnessed more bona fide love amongst strangers. It bled into the rest of the evening.

Try as I might, I just can't care about another show tonight. I am entirely bowled over by Charles Bradley, under his spell and filled with his love. I catch a few numbers by Wooden Wives at the Legion, who are absolutely stellar, and return to the outdoors. I bike around and people blow kisses at each other. Fireworks shoot up from parking lots. People sing Whitney Houston songs arm in arm. The stars are out, and everyone is mad with excitement. It's hard to believe there is a whole other day ahead of us.

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