From Sled Island to the Calgary Folk Music Festival to Garbage Daze to Afrikadey! and more there’s no shortage of diverse musical festivals in Calgary. One area where we’re definitely lacking however is a festival devoted entirely to psychedelic music. Calgary Psych Fest certainly isn’t the first to dabble in the weird arts — there was no shortage of psych at the handful of Wyrd Fests that hit the Legion and more recently some youngsters came together for the Noise Daze Music Festival which showcased some up-and-coming psych and shoegaze acts. Still few gatherings feel as definitive or potentially lasting as the forthcoming Calgary Psych Fest.
Organizers Barnaby Bennett and Benson Simbirski may have familiar sounding names. That’s because this is actually their second crack at an annual out-there music festival. In 2012 they hosted Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom Can’s Damo Suzuki and many others for the first annual MTT Fest.
Unfortunately the ill-fated second edition of the festival was ultimately cancelled. “We had some pretty cool things lined up for the second edition of the festival but lost two of our headliners and couldn’t really seem to line up suitable replacements which was a concern to us” says Bennett. “We also had some agreements with sponsors change at the last minute and a few of the bands suddenly started asking for way larger guarantees than were agreed upon to the point the festival didn’t seem to be financially viable and we had to cancel.”
Bouncing back from the loss was actually easier than expected. “We refunded everyone’s passes pretty quick after cancelling and I’m pretty sure we’re square” says Bennett. “No one is that annoyed I don’t think although the dudes from Krang still won’t talk to us because they are pissed someone broke their snare skin at MTT 2012’s Legion show.”
Rather than try to pick up the pieces and keep going with MTT the two used it as an excuse to move on. After all MTT was originally a music blog that transitioned into a music booking concern. “It gave us an out on the whole MTT thing which had started to become too different of an entity from what we had originally envisioned” says Bennett. “So in a sense it was actually a relief to be able to go back to basics as Calgary Psych and focus solely on our mandate of bringing quality international psychedelic music to Calgary.”
The two continued to book shows after MTT Fest fell through bringing the contemporary Chinese indie rock bands Carsick Cars and White+ through Western Canada earlier this year. That was when local music fan Chad Cameron offered to help finance Calgary Psych Fest.
“Chad offered us some support that really made the idea possible and luckily the schedules for Sun Araw and Hamish Kilgour’s tours lined up pretty nicely and we were able to build a solid lineup around them being in town” says Bennett. “Safe to say that if it wasn’t for Chad you probably wouldn’t be seeing a Calgary Psych Fest happening.”
In addition to Los Angeles act Sun Araw and The Clean’s Hamish Kilgour who will perform with Theo Angell the one-day festival has a respectable mix of both familiar and peculiar artists. There’s Jean Sebastian Audet’s new psych punk project Un Blonde local drone freaks Sleep Kit ethereal French performer Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier art pop perfomer Tigerwing and local ambient performer Griic. A touring musician himself Bennett will team up with Sun Araw’s Alex Gray for a one-off collaborative performance.
“The idea of a festival was still appealing” Bennett says. “It’s just tricky finding the right balance between those big acts that will anchor a festival and sell tickets and the more niche acts who will probably be everyone’s new favourite band after they see them play live but haven’t been exposed to yet and probably won’t sell many tickets on their first time through town.”
In addition to financier Chad Cameron the two were greatly aided by their friend AJ Cameron (no relation). “He came up here from Arizona for work. He deals with rental cars and pipelines and got transferred up here” says Simbirski. “He was rocking out at Sled Island in 2012 and noticed one of our buddies had a super trippy Grateful Dead iPhone case and since AJ is a huge ‘dead head’ he was all over that. Imagine that hey buddy comes up from Arizona goes to some music festival and bonds with the locals over a Grateful Dead iPhone case. Now he’s rolling deep with the Calgary Psych.”
Once Calgary Psych Fest is done the group has more plans for the fall including more international touring artists. “We’ve got another Chinese band called Alpine Decline coming up here in August with a band from Italy called Japanese Gum” says Simbirski. “Keep an eye out for that one you won’t want to miss it.”
Then if all goes according to plan Calgary Psych Fest will return for years to come. “We’d love to make this an annual thing for sure” says Simbirski. “If I can say one thing it’s that we’ll definitely be doing this again next year.”
“We’ve got a long-term vision for Calgary Psych Fest to grow in the way Austin Psych Fest and Liverpool Psych Fest — two festivals we’re modelling ours after — have been growing” adds Bennett. “We want it to be an organic thing and only really have it expand naturally.”