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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Meet Me in the Middle / The Middle of the Town

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SACKVILLE – Last weekend saw Sappy Fest Six energize the otherwise quiet summer streets of beautiful Sackville, New Brunswick. The festival features a diversity of musical acts, workshops and art installations that take place in a variety of venues, including Uncle Larry’s Billiards Hall, the Royal Canadian Legion and a Main Stage Tent that closes down Bridge Street, downtown Sackville’s main commercial thoroughfare.

The effect is a unique experience of urban space, where otherwise ordinary features of the town become the backdrops of incredible musical experiences. The festival is an opportunity for Sackville to showcase itself, and submit its streets, structures and parks to transformation and reconsideration by visiting festival-goers and resident Sackvillers alike.

A special buzz preceded the first night of Sappy Fest this year, as a mysterious final act, “Shark Attack!” was billed to play after Owen Pallet, the scheduled headliner. And the rumours were all but confirmed until the Arcade Fire took the stage to an electrified crowd of 1500, screaming and singing along with equal intensity to the stadium-sized crowds this band is now used to playing for.

During the opening refrains of the anthemic “Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)” the crowd and band sang together, “Meet me in the middle/ the middle of the town!” There, in the middle Sackville, in a tent on a street intimately framed by 19th and 20th century store fronts, the Arcade Fire played in an exceptionally appropriate setting, in light of this lyric and the subject matter of their music in general.

The Arcade Fire’s surprise concert in the streets of Sackville is a good opportunity to acknowledge this band’s contribution to our collective project of understanding and relating to the complexities of contemporary urban space. Their most recent album, “The Suburbs,” is a thoughtful reflection on what it has meant for a generation to grow up in a country characterized by immense suburban sprawl. The album’s popularity is testament to the importance and ability of exploring concepts of urban space familiar to Spacing readers in a broader context, outside of the immediate planning/urban enthusiast community. Arcade Fire’s reflections on our built environment come at a critical moment when issues of urban planning and design have become central to the public eye. Their songs offer philosophical comfort as we make sense of, and come up with solutions to, the environmental, social and psychological consequences of the sprawl that defines much of the Canadian urban landscape.