by Jaron James
Sled Island is a music and arts festival that has become a popular yearly pilgrimage for indie, punk and experimental music fans alike. It’s a festival that hopes to dispel the myth of Calgary’s cowboy culture and show the world that Calgary is a dynamic and diverse place. Now heading into its 6th year, the festival shows no sign of slowing down with over 200 bands set to appear in a multitude of venues between June 20 - 23.
This year’s event is headlined by former Calgarian Feist and co-curated by Danny Vacon, singer of beloved Calgary band The Dudes, which only hints at the festival’s commitment to showcasing local talent. Internationally, we will see the likes of Japan’s Boris, Northern Ireland’s And So I Watch You From Afar, plus an overwhelming number of bands from Los Angeles, New York and across the United States.
With all the internationally acclaimed artists playing in so many venues, how will you manage it all? If you’re new to the festival, you’ll want to use Olympic Plaza as a home base. The presence of food trucks and other vendors will make it a good place to fuel up and get your bearings.
Cycling and public transit are your best bets for getting around. The C-Train runs late and is free in the downtown core, so it's a good alternative to cycling if you’re less adept on two wheels. The City of Calgary is providing extra bicycle parking this year, so there’s even more reason to go green on pedal power.
Still scratching your head? Worried that you’re going to miss out on something? Went last year and spent more time running from venue to venue than you did listening to music? I’ve put together some tips to help you make the most out of Sled Island.
First, before you make your MUST-SEE band list and start mapping out routes between venues for optimal show-hopping, STOP. Stop yourself from getting too excited and realize that it’s going to be near impossible to see all the bands you want. If your expectations are too high, you’re bound to be let down (that is, unless your must-see bands are all playing Olympic Plaza).
Second, remember that Sled Island is not Pokémon. You’re not going to win anything for seeing more bands than everyone else. Music festivals are supposed to be a fun way to experience music, and a good way to kill that fun is to turn it into a chore where you feel obligated to race all over town trying to see every band that ever made a top 10 list. Once you’re able to let go of “FOMO” (fear of missing out), you can focus on having fun instead of just seeing bands.
Once you’ve chilled out a bit, start making that MUST-SEE list and compare with your friends. Legendary indie rocker and Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne once told me that the music is secondary to the experience. Yes, a musician himself revealed that his time hanging outside trying to get Led Zeppelin tickets with his buddies was more fun and memorable than the show itself. My suggestion is to stick with your friends! If you don’t agree on a band, make a compromise. I guarantee you’ll have more fun seeing one band with a good buddy than 10 bands on your lonesome.
Stay fit and have fun. I’m not going to say “stay healthy” because I know a few of you are going to be taking advantage of the beer gardens, but over-indulgence is the best way to ruin a festival experience. Staying fit also means wearing sunscreen at outdoor events, drinking plenty of water and eating regularly. Luckily, Sled Island is an urban music festival and not in the middle of the desert like Coachella, but it will still get hot and staying at the top of your game is key.
Take a look around. It’s easy to put all of your focus on the music - it’s why you bought your pass - but it’s not the only thing your pass gets you. In addition to the shops, restaurants and bars that give discounts to wristband holders, the festival is literally surrounded by Calgary’s finest attractions. Stephen Ave. (8th Ave. SW) is a historic outdoor pedestrian mall that connects Olympic Plaza to The Distillery and hosts a number of shops and restaurants not found anywhere else.
Additionally, you can stop by inner-city neighbourhoods like the Beltline, Mission, Sunnyside/Hillhurst and Inglewood. All of these communities are vibrant places to live, work and shop and have a range of activities to explore beyond Sled Island festivities.
Finally, go with the flow! Whether you’re more “YOLO” (you only live once) than “carpe diem,” it doesn’t matter. Go with the cute girl or boy you just met who’s off to see a band you’ve never heard of. Stick around and watch the rest of the bands, even if you only wanted to see the opener. Stop thinking about what’s next or what you’re missing at another venue and enjoy!
Sled Island runs June 20 - 23 at a variety of venues. For more information and to purchase tickets or passes, visit SledIsland.com.
Jaron James is a writer, musician, social media studmuffin and Calgary 2012 Cultural Ambassador. You can read more of his ramblings at @Bonnaventure.