SAPPYFOREVER VOL. 1: “Nowhere” is where it’s at

Sappy Forever Sappy Forever

Article Alastair Mackay

SAPPYFOREVER VOL. 1/ SACKVILLE, NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA/ 2006-2013 shows the genesis of something wonderful against a backdrop of small town Canadiana at its finest.

“THIS IS NOWHERE” proclaims a banner in the first photograph.

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I’ve been saying it for years: If I had to live in a small town anywhere in Canada, it’d be Sackville, New Brunswick. I first got to know the town through periodic childhood visits to my great aunt, Isabel, a retired professor of Mount A. Later, many of my friends, as well as my twin sister (Alison), attended Mount Allison, and I got to know Sackville from another angle outside of my aunt’s lovely home on Fawcett Avenue. On these trips, I got to know Mel’s Diner, The Vogue Cinema, and, of course, a taste of campus life there while visiting Alison at university.

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Now, with SAPPYFOREVER VOL. 1, a sublime collection of photos and musings — but mostly photos, really nice ones — commemorating the inaugural and subsequent seven years of The Sappy Records Music Festival (or SappyFest). I’ve now seen another side of Sackville and it only bolsters the romantic view I take of this “strange, little town.”

“If you were at SappyFest, you are in this book. If you don’t see yourself in any of the photos… You are reflected in the smiles of others… the atmosphere… If you were at SappyFest, you created it…” declares an unsigned piece. Perhaps it is the spirit of SappyFest speaking directly to us. It finishes simply, “Thank you, forever again.” This spirit is alive and kicking it throughout VOL. 1.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, you should just stop counting. A toddler watches from the curb as ladders and tents begin to transform the streets of her hometown, her world. A rear view of a Sappy Softball bench flanked by mismatched players calls to mind a hot day in a “Peanuts” strip rendered in cool watercolors. The Legion is there. I love going to things that happen at The Legion. An impassioned young girl in a purple shirt stands boldly in the center of a street, wailing on a bright red guitar. A man-sized squirrel… a man-sized squirrel? Naomi Shelton, Joel Plaskett, and Chain & the Gang vibrate with color and music, as does much of the performance photography in this stunning assembly. “I’m struck by how a photograph taken very recently can make something appear like it happened long ago,” Steve Lambke observes, and there is indeed something idyllic, almost Rockwellian, and distant about the charm of VOL. 1’s photography.

I think of a Festival as a Godzilla-like creature that rises from the earth to dominate whatever society, big or small, it occupies. The Festival possesses people’s minds and behavior and can transform the smallest of towns into an extended, otherworldly experience, another dimension. SAPPYFEST VOL. 1 captures its subjects’ Sappy transformation beautifully. I asked fellow East Coaster and writer Issaac Thompson about his time at SappyFest and he replied, “There were no ratty shitheads being assholes and the music was good too.”

After enjoying the volume, I know exactly what he means. These photos and writings are always welcoming and warm and wicked. Contributor Sarah Evans lists the festival among her top reasons for moving to Sackville. It is to the tremendous credit of Paul Henderson, once creative director of SappyFest and the person who put this all together, along with the many writers, photographers, and subjects featured in VOL. 1, that this wonderful spirit has been so vividly brought to life. It’s one of the greatest things about the book.

So is its earnestness. The term “sappy” never carries a measure of self-reproach here. At Sappyfest, they shout it loud and proud, “SappyForever!” Whether you’ve been to the Fest or not, SAPPYFEST VOL. 1 emboldens and embraces the sap in all of us… in a cool way.

Nowhere sure looks like some place wicked.

Sappy Forever book launch takes place on May 16 at La Vitrola (4602 St. Laurent) at 8 p.m. $8. Guests include: Shotgun Jimmie, Mike Feuerstack, Cat Pontoon, Alden Penner, Misha Bower, Lucas Hicks, and Ian Roy (doing readings)

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