A Hillside to remember
For 27 years, one weekend in July has been set aside for hippies and non-hippies alike to gather together near Guelph for the Hillside Festival.
Held at the Guelph Lake island, Hillside has become one of the most notable and heavily anticipated festivals of the summer, attracting diverse Canadian and international talent along with dedicated swarms of fans intent on extracting the absolute most from their weekend – whether in sunshine or monsoon rain.
The muddy road leading to the festival grounds first passes the hundreds of tents of Hillside faithful, continues to the word ‘ANTICIPATION’ spelled out on a massive sign, and finally emerges from the woods, descending toward the lake and the surreal, hedonistic atmosphere only outdoor music festivals offer.
“It’s one of my favourite of the festivals that I’ve played,” London, Ontario rapper Shad explained after his set Sunday evening. “It’s very fun and down to earth … it’s just pretty ‘hippie’ in general, and I guess compared to a lot of countries we are sort of on the hippie side of things.”
Musicians and audience alike embraced the convenience of bare feet onstage and off. Litter or even the need for garbage cans was almost nonexistent due to reusable plates and beer mugs and the number of bikes parked rivalled the number of cars. Yes, the word ‘hippie’ was thrown around a lot. Everyone was also incredibly, incredibly nice and helpful.
Photo by Nick Lachance
Gord Downie plays Hillside
While many performances reflected the folksy atmosphere, there were sets representing a variety of genres. Whether it was Shad’s brand of incessantly witty hip hop word play, the electronic pounding of Holy Fuck or Japandroids’ beautifully deafening explosion of noise rock, there were many different sounds on the island over the course of the weekend.
The Japandroids show in particular lacked any laid back characteristics and whipped the crowd into a frenzied, thrashing mass of humanity, the band apologizing to delicate ears. “I’m sorry for all the hippies here, this is a bit loud for you I know,” bellowed singer-guitarist Brian King.
“It’s the opportunity to make new fans, to build an audience in a sense,” King commented on the festival environment, especially with regards to an emerging working band. “A lot of people come in to festivals with no expectations whatsoever, so you have a chance to win them over.”
The Vancouver band is coming off a year of non-stop touring after the release of and hype surrounding their debut album Post-Nothing, and played their first Canadian date in some time at Hillside after a stint in Europe.
“Once bands like us get going and build the momentum that we have, you don’t have downtime,” King continued, explaining the rigorous touring experience the band has been through and expects to continue.
“[You don’t have downtime] until you get so famous that you don’t have to work as hard to make music or you break up.”
“It’s a good thing,” he added, stepping beneath a tent to avoid the suddenly baking sun after torrential rains Saturday, “If you love what you do, you don’t need downtime.”
Like Japandroids, Shad tends to play more bars than outdoor stages. After his third album, TSOL, launched at the beginning of the summer, the Laurier graduate has garnered considerable acclaim at home and beyond.
After one more festival show in Kingston, Shad will begin a tour co-headlining with K’naan.
The densely-packed crowd at his Hillside appearance made it clear that his appeal is not limited to his records but also his live show, a performance made most notable by the genuine joy in his grin through each song.
“Sometimes in a club,” Shad pointed out, “people want to be cool, but at festivals people generally aren’t interested in being cool, they just really want to have a good time. They’ve been in the sun all day and they just want to enjoy music.”
As Sunday drew to a close, Stars singer Torquil Campbell summed up the essence of Hillside, first by expressing his uneasiness with playing the final show of what he called his favourite festival, taking the stage after Gord Downie’s set.
“This is the way festivals should be done,” he said. “This is when people are at their absolute best.”
Walking back along the dark, muddy road being wished good night by each and every festival volunteer preventing people from wandering into traffic, if anyone disagreed with Campbell’s statement, they kept their mouth shut.
Ten questions with Shad
Video shot by Mike Lakusiak