Artist Tribune

Shotgun Jimmie on small festivals and what it means to create swamp magic

"The festival has always felt like a family reunion where I’m reacquainted with the many members of my chosen family."

August 2, 2019

I’m a Canadian indie rock musician, and for the past ten years, I’ve been releasing albums on You’ve Changed Records. My friends are my team and my team are my friends. It’s a pretty small operation. I have no booking agent and no manager, but I’ve played tonnes of shows. I’ve performed in 17 countries and have a fanbase that covers the globe. Mostly, I tour in Canada and Germany. Occasionally, I play in the US, Switzerland, and Austria. I play clubs, theatres, basements, living rooms and beer gardens. I’ll play anywhere. I even played on a tall ship once. It literally rocked. 

The arrival of summertime means the arrival of festival season. Usually I play at festivals that attract audiences of 500 – 2,000 people. They are tiny in comparison to major music festivals, which can accommodate audiences in the tens of thousands. I don’t have a booking agent, so almost all of my engagements are set up by invitation. Small festivals are typically terrific at welcoming and caring for their artists. I end up working closely with the people that put them on. Often, the organizers are the ones who pick me up from the airport or make up a spare bedroom for accommodations. Over the years, I’ve developed some great friendships with festival organizers and volunteers. 

River and Sky is a great little festival in Field, Ontario. I’ve been playing R&S intermittently for the past ten years. They always have an outstanding line-up. I played last summer, as did Chad VanGaalen. Did you know that he is incredible at slack-lining?  It really feels like rock and roll summer camp. It’s a festival where there is very little division between performer and audience. Everyone stands in the same meal lines and everyone floats in the same river. Harvest Sun Music Festival in Kelwood, Manitoba is an oasis in the summer prairie. It’s the best festival to bring your kids to. It’s the best festival to bring your parents to. It’s a festival where the artists and volunteers work so closely together that it feels like a family. It’s really beautiful. The Dawson City Music Festival has all the small festival perks. There is usually a welcome BBQ for performers featuring freshly-caught salmon from the Yukon river and a legendary after-party on the last night. So many businesses and groups in town are involved making that happen. It feels as if the festival is put on by the entire community.

SappyFest in Sackville, New Brunswick is dearest and nearest to my heart. Since its inception, it’s been a source of creative inspiration for me. I’ve enjoyed watching the festival develop over the years. It was started by my friends Julie Doiron, Jon Claytor, and Paul Henderson. Fred Squire and I were at the first few meetings because at the time we were in a band with Julie and Paul. Jon Claytor dubbed me the spiritual advisor of SappyFest. I may have passed the torch, but I am still always available for pro bono spiritual consultations. The festival has always felt like a family reunion where I’m reacquainted with the many members of my chosen family. 

I’ve written a few songs about SappyFest and I’ve written songs at SappyFest. If you’ve never been, the main stage is set up in the middle of one of the main streets in this small New Brunswick town – Bridge Street. I played that stage when I was touring my album Transistor Sister (2011). The record I released two years later, Everything, Everything (2013) features a song called “Bridge Street Stage.” I wrote it about playing on that stage and thinking of loved ones that weren’t there to see it. 


Perhaps my most notable Sappy song is “Swamp Magic,” a song about all the stuff that surrounds the small festival experience. It’s about trying to find your friends in a pre-smart phone era. It’s about after-parties that last all night. Its title is taken directly from one of the festivals slogans. SappyFest is a festival notorious for its unique slogans. Start a Family,” “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere,” “Win the Battle of Love” and – of course – “Swamp Magic,” are some of my favourites. 

On my upcoming record, Transistor Sister 2, I have a song calledSappy Slogans. It’s not completely about SappyFest. It’s actually a song I wrote for John K. Samson. It’s essentially my version of a J.K.S. song. Specifically, it’s in response to a couple of his songs: “When I Write My Master’s Thesis (Provincial, 2012) and “Post Doc Blues (Winter Wheat, 2016). It’s a song about my experiences with undergrad and art school. “Sappy slogans all come true” is a Weakerthans lyric from their song “Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist (Fallow, 1997). That lyric has always meant a lot to me despite the fact that it predates the festival and their infamous slogans. I love the sentiment of it. I also believe that one day all of SappyFest’s slogans will come true. Who knows – maybe it will be this year. Let’s win the battle of love!

You can catch Shotgun Jimmie at the following dates:

October 09 – Winnipeg, MB @ The Garrick Centre

October 10 – Saskatoon, SK @ Amigos Cantina

October 11 – Edmonton, AB @ The Starlite Room

October 12 – Calgary, AB @ The Palace Theatre

October 14 – Vancouver, BC @ Imperial

October 15 – Victoria, BC @ Capital Ballroom

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