Storytime: Arctic Sarah

October 14, 2014
David Wexler

Arctic SarahTORONTO – There are three hours until showtime and Arctic Sarah’s excitement and anticipation is building every second. But the 33-year-old Ontario native is surprisingly calm, which is pretty remarkable considering her journey to get here — to her first Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros concert.

For the past seven months, Sarah Moumblow has dreamed about this day and could only imagine what it would feel like. Now, her dreams were about to come true in ways she never imagined.

“Clearly something magical is about to happen,” Arctic Sarah said. “Gearing up for what I’m about to experience, the only way that I’ve been able to do that is by not really expecting anything. The best thing I can do for myself is not really have any expectations. I want to go into this with open and fresh eyes. I want to experience everything and process it later.”

For Moumblow, known by many as “Arctic Sarah,” getting to this point hasn’t been easy, but as Clark Griswold once said, “Getting there is half the fun.” Consider the fact that for the past year and a half, she has been living in the community of Gjoa Haven, located about 150 miles above the Arctic Circle, where the average temperature for the warmest month of the year is 50°F.

She grew up in Huntsville, Ontario, but after leaving teacher’s college and with no teaching prospects, she ended up taking a job at a grocery store chain and hotel in Gjoa Haven. For Moumblow, the biggest drawback to living in the Arctic Circle is not the subzero temperatures in the winter months, the incredibly slow postal system or the complete darkness in the winter.

No. For Arctic Sarah, it meant that getting to see her favorite band — Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros — would be virtually impossible. But that didn’t stop her from dreaming.

Last fall, when ESMZ announced they were organizing a 4-day music festival under a Big Top tent, Arctic Sarah began constructing her “Paper Band Project,” which eventually evolved into a video to the ESMZ song “In the Lion.” She had spent countless hours making sketches of every band member out of watercolor and cut out to look like paper dolls. Then she created the storyboards, and using Windows Movie Maker for the animation, the video slowly came to life.

“It’s fun, and I live in the Arctic, so there really isn’t much else to do up there,” Moumblow joked. “I make things. That’s what I do; that’s what I’ve always done. So if I have a spare moment, I’m not watching TV, I’m painting. That’s just kind of what I do.”

When Moumblow finally finished the project, she thought about entering the video into ESMZ’s video contest. But because many of the band members had already seen it (which could be viewed as biased), she was asked not to submit the video into the contest. Instead, the band had another idea: Free ESMZ concert tickets to any show close to where she lives.

“So I said, ‘Well, I’m in the Arctic, and they’re probably not coming up here anytime soon,’” Moumblow said. “So I decided I would just tuck that away and think about that later.”

This spring, the music gods were looking out for Moumblow. Her contract at work was soon coming to an end, which meant a long vacation was in order. As soon as she started planning her vacation, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros announced their spring tour dates, including just one stop in Canada on May 28. The Zeros would be opening for Jack Johnson at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre.

“It was serendipitous,” Moumblow said. “Suddenly, this was my break. If it was last month, I couldn’t be there because my contract wasn’t up. If was next month, I’d have to be back there by now. So it’s literally this window of time, and everything aligns. That’s the universe juice — that’s really cool stuff to me, and stuff that happens to me a lot, so I’m really lucky.”

On April 29, Moumblow left the Arctic Circle for Newfoundland, where she visited family and friends. On May 20, she arrived in Toronto, where she was staying with many of her friends for the next 2 ½ weeks. It was all happening.

As Moumblow began to finalize her plans in the days leading up to the concert, she ended up chatting online with a few fellow ESMZ fans whom she had never met. One offered up her spare room: “It’s kind of like this extra room. We have with a bunch of mattresses. LOL. We play ego with them sometimes.” A few minutes later, after joking about wanting to play with real Legos, Moumblow began sketching her first ESMZ Lego – Lego Crash. A few days later, she had created Lego characters for each member of the band.

On May 28, the wait was finally over. Not only was Arctic Sarah finally going to see the Zeros perform, but she also had backstage passes.

Moumblow insisted that she did not care what songs ESMZ were going to play (Afterward, she admitted was hoping to hear Alexander Ebert’s Truth). She was just happy to be there and go along for the ride.

“I’m so stoked and so excited,” she said shortly before the beginning of the concert. “But I’m trying not to really think about the specifics. I just want to go and let stuff unfold. Be in the moment.”

Moumblow found her spot in the front row and even had a brief conversation with ESMZ trumpet player Stewart Cole minutes before the rest of the Zeros took the stage for their opening set. ESMZ opened the show with Man On Fire, and Moumblow soon began dancing with Ebert. It was magical. The Zeros performed a total of nine songs, and to Moumblow’s surprise and joy, they played Truth.

After the concert, Moumblow made her way backstage where she met the band and presented them with her “Paper Band” project (and real ESMZ Lego figures that the founders of Janglin Souls assembled). Suddenly, the room grew quiet and all eyes were on Arctic Sarah.

“Well, this would have been much easier if you were only three of you in the band,” she joked.

Sarah explained the process of creating the Paper Band figures, and how she needed three or four versions of Alex because “he is so bouncy.”

Moumblow asked each band member to write a personal message to her in her journal. It was a dream come true for Arctic Sarah (although the journal was later partially torn up to pieces by her dog Mika, who she rescued in the Arctic).

What’s next for Arctic Sarah? For starters, she has aspirations of one day opening her own art center. She would like to create a place where children and adults can express their creativity. She believes that everyone has creative potential and that’s it’s a shame not everyone is given the opportunity to explore it.”

In the meantime — while she awaits her next Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros experience — Moumblow continues to make art that makes her feel good and touches others.

“Creating the Paper Band was great and making the video was so much fun, but I found myself still working with images from Big Top,” Moumblow said. “I started series of watercolor paintings where I took elements from people’s Instagram photos and arranged them into my own image — imagining what Big Top would have been like. One person was looking at my painting and commented, ‘It was like you were there.’ That was probably one of the best comments I could’ve ever received.”

ESMZ Legos – By Sarah Moumblow

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