Sappy Saturday begins with the Bridge Street Farmer’s Market. Espresso, Sappy sandwiches, apple fritters and fresh green beans. There is a bit of rain, but also a big tent to keep us dry, and love and music to keep us warm. Love is a recurring theme of Sappy Saturday.
Montreal’s Hidden Words sing songs of infinite love and peace to a crowd of young parents and younger children. Alden Penner requests dimmer lights, to connect with the audience better. We sit in chairs, lulled by music, admiring the red and yellow full-body rain suits worn by these kids.
Pat LePoidevin is a young hometown hero. A local introduces him, brimming with Sackville pride. LePoidevin is modest and woodsy looking. He sings about dancing in forest fires and raspberry pies, and howls like a wolf. His “golden business boy tied up in the fire” foreshadows a later show. He brings the tears with Highway Houses, when he puts his guitar down and calms us all to stillness with just his voice and a loop pedal, layering harmonies with incredible control and boundless feeling. The harmonies go higher and higher, the rain falls softly on top of the tent, we are in a silent trance. Then, he stops the pedals, and we all sing, over and over, filling the tent with this shared song.
Later, Little Scream illuminates the Vogue theatre. Living room lamps surround Laurel Sprengelmeyer and her five-piece band, casting shadows that dance on the movie screen. She tells whale jokes, dedicates a song or two to the whales. Her songs are expansive, soft and rolling, moaning sorrowfully and soaring often.
John K. Samson is Sappy’s first gift to us on Saturday evening. Up on the mainstage, surrounded by potted plants and flowers, he sings about Winnipeg’s golden business boy in his opening song, One Great City. Two more favourites follow – Plea from a Cat Named Virtue and Night Windows. Samson plays Weakerthans songs and his solo stuff, and premieres his song about the graduate student struggling to write his thesis, which receives supportive hoots from the academics in the crowd. He is earnest, sweet and true. He dedicates The Reasons to SappyFest, and together we sing, “I’m so glad that you exist!”
The Burning Hell make love sound terrible—“it’s like a marmoset: it may be small and cute, but sometimes it eats its young.” Still, they have us shouting love loud and long in Uncle Larry’s bar. Toronto’s Bonjay rock the mainstage tent with their poppy, dancehall beats, and belting R&B vocals, sending everyone into a dance frenzy.
We’re short of breath and fired up when the evening’s headliner, Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band take the stage. At first it’s just the band but then the “screaming eagle of soul” appears in a red sequined jacket, majestic and impassioned, awestruck by the crowd in front of him. His voice is rich and glorious, and he sings of struggle, fear, and love, love, love. “I can feel the LOVE!” he shouts, holding up his hands to make a heart. He dives into the crowd and starts hugging everyone. Eventually he returns to the stage, apologizing that he can’t hug each and every one of us. Someone says to me, “He’s been crying this whole time!” Has he? His face is shiny with sweat and tears.
We are in the presence of an icon, witnesses to one of the last men standing of an era gone by. The crowd is appreciative and so full of love for Bradley, who pours out his soul to us in exchange for our hands in the air, our cheers, our presence. It is true Sappy magic.
Photo by Patrick Callbeck