Sappyness = Happiness

“Created things have their particular place in space, and their particular place in time… They embrace each other… the whole of each is in every part of the other.” – Thomas Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785)

This weekend (July 30th – August 1st) was the fifth Sappyfest, an annual music festival held in the small town of Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada.

Sackville has been my hometown for the past 8 years, although I’ve lived in Montreal for some of that time, and I’ve grown to love it — but, as with many long-term loves, I love it more when I’m not actually living here. Since I moved back to live in Sackville (population 5,000 or so) for a couple of months, I’ve had ample opportunity to appreciate its myriad charms, and the “swamp magic” promoted by this year’s Sappyfest slogan feels all the more potent when enjoyed in small doses. Seeing hundreds of indie-as-fuck kids flooding into my town for the weekend, and knowing that, for many of them, Sackville only exists for these 3 days a year, made me reconsider that unique sense of ‘placeness’ one feels in certain situations, when the circumstances of time, geography, and sense of self align in just the right way. 

Sackville becomes a temporary Mecca for indie kids during this 72-hour span. People flock from as far away as Edmonton, or even Vancouver, and they shape their vacation time and summer travel plans around the all-important weekend. Graduates from Mount Allison (the university in Sackville) return every year to reunite with other alumni, get the updates on old friends’ lives, and revisit the handful of places that comprise the ‘ultimate’ Sackville experience and weigh the town down with memories.

Others journeyed to Sackville for the first time, having never heard of the place prior to Sappy but eager to see what all of the fuss is about. They pitch tents in public parks and the backyards of friends of friends, initiate tailgate parties on the backs of shiny pickup trucks by the side of the road, raid the grocery store’s hygiene aisle for toothbrushes they’ve forgotten to pack in their excitement.

Whatever the case, Sappyfest makes Sackville the omphalos (“navel of of the world”).

I always experience the strange sensation of different periods of my life folding in upon each other when I am in Sackville — people from high school, university friends and siblings are all in the same place (maybe even in the same bar), and these encounters force me to continually wrack my brain for names and circumstances. Sappyfest compounded this feeling, since I’d graduated from Mount A and left town a couple of years ago and have quite a few friends who did the same. Every other person I bumped into was a friend who’d just come back from England, or a sibling’s friend, or an old summer fling, or a classmate I hadn’t talked to since graduation. I even saw a random girl I used to see literally every time I was on the McGill campus, although we never spoke. The ‘constant-encounter’ phenomenon of Sappy makes for an interestingly nostalgia-driven awareness of other people. 

A music festival is a strangely organic creature. It feeds off of the energy that every person brings to it, somehow seeming to grow with every passing day even as its individual components grow ever more sleep-deprived and hung over. Thus, by Sunday night we were all exhausted and traces of beer and whiskey were still seeping from our pores even as we drank more, danced more, yelled more, fueling the beast. Many had left by this point, but an enthusiastic group of dancers remained for the last concert of the weekend, Diamond Rings.

(Sidebar: Diamond Rings is from Toronto, and he is amazing. At 1 a.m., decked out in gold leggings, massive amounts of eye shadow, and a Raptors jersey and dancing like his soul was on fire, he was the perfect end to my Sappy experience. I’d scan the autograph he gave me but I don’t have those kinds of skills. Or a scanner.)

When we were finally kicked out of the venue — which just so happens to be the scuzziest bar in Sackville, and right on the main drag — a strange quietness permeated the air. One lone man, Fred Squire (formerly the Jaybird half of the band Shotgun & Jaybird, but pretty awesome in his solo stuff and other collaborations as well) was unhooking cables. The two big white tents, which had been filled with beer-drinking, ironically-tattooed, jean-jacket-and-large-glasses-wearing indie kids for three days, were deserted. Cigarette butts and plastic cups discarded haphazardly. Tattered programs melded into pavement. Lopsided strings of Christmas lights looping down to touch the ground. And in the darkness, Fred Squire, local celebrity, calmly dismantling Sappyfest.  

Our voices echoed in an empty street that had so recently been filled by bodies celebrating varying degrees of hygiene, and the remnants of the festival’s swamp magic were softly seeping away into the corners of the early morning darkness. The physical space looked the same, more or less, but it felt entirely different. And now, two days later, the tents are gone and the last traces of the weekend revelries have been swept away, except for the black circles under the eyes of those who remained after yesterday’s exodus.

Is it possible for a whole town have a hangover? Sackville seems to have that slightly slower pace that trails a truly epic weekend. 

As we all return to real life — life after Sappy — I’m even more intrigued by the ways in which a place is changed by circumstance, by the people who occupy it, and by the memories we create while in it and that reciprocally shape our sense of a place.


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