Sled Island Survival Guide: Advice to navigate your way through Calgary’s annual festival of fantastic

It’s that time of year.

That glorious time of year when this city comes alive with the craziest, noisiest, most challenging, intense, insane, amazing and downright delicious sights and sounds.

Sled Island.

It’s ours.

Enjoy it.

And if you haven’t yet, embrace it. Fully embrace it. Take it all in — from the music, comedy, film and visual arts programming to even the atmosphere in downtown Calgary and surrounding neighbourhoods.

It really is one of those festivals where you can feel the energy and it takes over beyond the venues, and this city is a better, more diverse and eclectic place because of it.

Throughout the entirety of Sled, I’ll be offering you my picks for the day, as well as some features on acts who are part of the lineup. But before that, as a veteran (i.e. old as dirt) Sledder, perhaps I can offer some of the newbies or even those who’ve attended but want to fully immerse themselves in 2018 five pearls of hard-earned wisdom.

1. Take The Week Off

Seriously. Aside from the fact that you’ll likely wake up a little hazy, fuzzy and dehydrated each and every morning/early afternoon, there is also some great programming during the day at Sled including workshops and showcases. And even if you don’t take advantage of those, have a nap, wake up, eat something that will help power you through (and soak up) your evening ahead — get on it. If you didn’t have the foresight to already book the time off and you don’t have any vacation days, start coughing and complaining about being achy around your coworkers now. Sled fever is a thing.

2. Leave the Car at Home

With it being a fairly compact event, it is also one of the most environmentally friendly, transitable, cycleable, walkable festivals you’ll find— that’s a big part of the fun. You’re part of it. Gaggles of friends going from one gig to the other, the packed bike racks in front of every venue, it’s a huge reason why it’s the incredible communal experience it is. Yes, if you’re in the ’burbs, you may need a cab at the end of the evening, C-Train or bus dependent, but it’s more than worth it for what you get out of it and to make sure you’re able to do it again the next night. Speaking of which …

3. Pace Yourself

Yes, things start slowly on the Tuesday, with only a handful of kickoff shows, a film screening and some visual arts, with things ramping up slightly on Wednesday before the shenanigans truly get going. As they ease you into it, do the same. Thursday night is jam-packed — but so are Friday and Saturday, with a little Sunday funday. If you’re too tired, too hungover, too old, you’re going to miss out on some amazing, once-in-a-lifetime shows and experiences the next night. Don’t be afraid to tap out a little early if you’re not as excited about an act or artist, and are just taking up space and being seen. Tomorrow is a new day, new opportunity for awesome.

4. Plan Your Night

If you haven’t already, get a program guide — you’ll find them in the current issue of BeatRoute, although many of them have probably already had their midsection schedules ripped out by people who are already on it — or head to the Sled website here. On both you can see who’s playing, read all about them and, on the site, get a little sampling of what the acts sound like. Then circle who you want to see, plot your venue hopping and make sure the timing works. Also, if there’s one particular act you just can’t miss, think of planning your evening entirely around that one — get to the club for the openers and plant yourself, in case things fill up and you’re stuck in the lineup outside. That said …

5. Trust in Sled

Always attend Sled with a wishlist, but always be willing to pivot. If you can’t get in, move on. You may not recognize a name, but take a chance. No, it’s not all going to be your, as idiots say, “cup of tea,” but so what? Leave. Go somewhere else. Ask the person next to you, follow another group of people, pick a name that appeals or, hell, head back here and see what this chucklehead recommends. So many bands and venues, so many other festival elements, if you can’t find something that appeals to you then that’s on you, not on them.

(Flaming Lips photo courtesy George Salisbury.)

Sled Island runs June 20-24 at various venues around Calgary. For tickets, passes and more information, please click here.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.com. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at mike@theyyscene.com. He likes beer. Buy him one.