B. A. Johnston prepares himself for performance with pinball at Tubby Dog during the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, Calgary on June 22, 2018.
© J. Ashley Nixon
Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, Friday, June 22, 2018
I was managing a minor hockey team the last time I went to Tubby Dog. We took the young players in for a snack to celebrate the end of their season. We shared a bench or two with a gang of bikers complete in their tats, leathers, and chains. Quite the eclectic mix in this character hot dog plus venue where you can dream up and buy all kinds of toppings to go with your wiener.
Scroll forward a few years and I was back in the popular 17th Avenue diner to photograph one of the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival gigs. Here are some culinary notes about the musical courses on last night’s menu:
Future Star: A colourful, cheerful set of short Indie-Pop songs from the left coast. Celina Kay is the front and centre of this duo, singing, telling stories and playing keyboards, accompanied by a drummer (actually there were two in action last night, taking turns on the skins). Her lyrics and melodies are catchy, fun yet reflective about overcoming broken relationships and life just as it happens. This is a nice fruity sorbet topping for your hot dog to get the musical taste-buds going in the right direction.
Verdict: Worth trying again for dessert.
Eyeballs: A stronger new wave topping from Toronto with hints of lemon and ginseng that offers edginess and energy. Nicely packaged eyeballs in front of scary dinosaurs (see photographs to make sense of that). Two of the band share in playing keyboards/synths, bass, drums and blasting out the lyrics. There’s also some improvised, jazzy saxophone that comes in for a couple of the numbers.
Verdict: A good topping to enjoy with a dinner and dance in that shaky, punky way. Also worth trying again.
Hugh Man: Listening to Hugh Man took me back to the Marquee Club and other clubs and pubs of London when the original punk era was happening in the late ‘70s. They manage to communicate pretty well over the telephone (an old receiver is used instead of a conventional microphone) and ended with a brilliant, ritualistic, thumping song that, from the repetitive lyrics is probably called Rocking in the Free World. Neil Young in his punkier persona would be delighted with it.
Verdict: This topping has a nice attitude: the players work hard but don’t take themselves too seriously. Another one to try again.
B.A. Johnston: The Tubby Dog show ended with a big wiener, a very funny guy from Hamilton called B. A. Johnston. His music/comedy/theatre performance begins with sparklers flaming and him dressed up with a captain’s hat and multiple layers underneath his Hamilton Tigers jacket. These don’t stay on, allegedly, through the performance (unfortunately I had to duck out before the end to photograph Josh Pan at the Hi-Fi Club).
B.A. engages “intimately” with his audience: telling jokes about Regina (I’m sure there are Calgary versions when he is in Saskatchewan); helping a young fellow to chug his Steam Whistle beer back quick; or parading through the punters like the Pied Piper of Hamilton (Hamelin, if you must). His technology is distinctly low-tech: a Sony Walkman CD player; and a Casio Keyboard with permanently pressed-in keys so he has to be selective with the chords. His acoustic guitar is a slammer, meaning it looks like it’s been slammed on the floor and repaired with duct tape. It reminded me of Joe Strummer’s battered 1966 Telecaster and its “Ignore Alien Orders” but the message is more direct: “Argos Suck!”
Verdict: Hot Dog, Jumping Frogs! Second helpings, please!
Please visit J. Ashley Nixon Photography for more images from the 2018 Sled Island Festival and other musical interludes.