Artists return to Hillside

Once again, The Cord was lucky enough to attend the 28th annual Hillside festival at the Guelph Lake Island this July, for three days of music, communal living and praying for overnight rain so the fire ban would be lifted.

There’s something about Hillside that keeps people coming back year after year, like the man dubbed “King of the Hillside” who had camped since Wednesday in the volunteer area with an elaborate arrangement of tarps and tiki torches in anticipation of the drum circles, very polite people and music to come.

“The people that come here come here every year,” said Torquil Campbell of Memphis, who was playing the festival with bandmate Chris Dumont. “Some of them have come for 20 or 30 years and they bring their families and kids and that, to me, is the spirit of a festival.”

Last year’s Hillside was capped off by a performance by Campbell’s other band, Stars, and he explained his connection to the festival. “I basically have bands so I can have an excuse to come hang out at Hillside in the summertime,” he said, counting off appearances with Stars and Broken Social Scene at the festival.

“Summer isn’t complete for me without
playing a show here.”

Campbell and Dumont are touring on their recent release of Here Comes a City and played their own set on Saturday, in addition to Campbell appearing with young Toronto band Hooded Fang earlier in the day. That performance was one of many workshop collaborations that matched different artists together on a single stage just to see what might happen.

Michael Wrycraft has been the main stage MC at the festival for 17 years and explained that the workshop arrangement that is employed at Hillside is a purely Canadian invention. “It’s not even in Europe, it’s not in America,” he said. “In most festivals in the world there is a main stage and numerous side stages – that’s it.”

During the course of this year’s Hillside, workshops featured Vancouver’s Mother Mother, Hannah Georgas and Dan Mangan on a single stage, as well as Sloan with Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene and one of the more interesting workshops of the weekend featured Australian roots rockers Graveyard Train alongside Quebec’s Karkwa, who walked away with this year’s Polaris Prize a few months back.

“What it creates is all the music you expect at a festival but also music that never existed before in the history of the universe and will never exist again in 45 minutes,” Wrycraft explained, “It creates a sense of community among musicians who don’t know each other like you can’t possibly imagine.” Seeing Graveyard Train and Karkwa perform Friday night, two bands that were neither familiar with each others’ music nor language, together making beautiful, bearable noise and smiling all the while seemed to prove Wrycraft’s point.

Making his first appearance at Hillside was Vancouver’s Dan Mangan, whose 2009 album Nice, Nice, Very Nice earned him a spot on the 2010 Polaris short list and accolades from across Canada and beyond. Mangan was present for most of the weekend, spending time between his own shows – which included a surprise appearance onstage with Fred Penner on Sunday – taking in other shows and talking to people, be it some of the many volunteers that make Hillside run smoothly or fellow musicians.

“Even though it’s my first time here the place is swarming with bands that I know and then aside from that there’s a lot of people in bands from Toronto that end up here that aren’t even playing,” he said. “It’s a great place to run into everybody and reconnect with folks you haven’t seen in awhile.”

He talked about the continuous touring and recording since his last album and the new songs he played at the festival off his upcoming album Oh Fortune which comes out in late September.

“I feel like we’ve never been busier and yet we have this new album that people haven’t heard yet,” he said, adding, “It’s complicated in that it was hard to make, it was exhausting and emotionally tormenting to put together, which is usually the sign that you’re on to something interesting.”

During his appearance on the main stage, Mangan climbed over the monitors and down into the crowd for the close of “Robots” and took time to roll his jeans into shorts as the heat proved pants to be a poor choice.

Similarly, Mangan was at ease wandering around and being approached by anyone that would talk to him. Asked about being less incognito after the success he’s experienced in the last few years, he explained his perspective.

“Being at a festival like this and being recognized all the time is still a really bizarre thing,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, if people are taking the time to say hello and express a story of a show they saw of ours, it could have been a year ago, it could have been yesterday, and they want to take the time to express that, you have to honour that, you have to respect that.”

“That’s amazing, that someone was moved by something you did. Honestly, any musician gets into music because they’ve been moved by music and that’s what they want to do. So to be in a position where people are telling you that you moved them, that’s fruition, it’s gratifying.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated since its original publishing date.