At 30 years old, Hillside isn’t showing its age

Photo by Heather Davidson
Photo by Heather Davidson

A little pouring rain, cold and almost complete lack of sun did nothing to deter the thousands of dancing people who came to Guelph Island to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Hillside festival.

Hillside is a three-day music, art and community festival held from July 26 to July 28 celebrating the ideals of environmentalism and community with some badass music acts as well.

Though some of the band names’ caused the reaction of “who are they?” every single act played amazingly.

But Hillside isn’t just about the music— though that is a great aspect of the festival —it’s really about the sense of community.

Hillside is a festival where children can run rampant with large noise-reducing headsets covering half of their heads, running in large gangs through the crowds. Here, people meet new friends and lovers and reconnect with past ones.

Musicians are easily accessible as swarms of people come to high five and congratulate them on a great show.

“[Hillside] is so different than any other festival, like those big European festivals or even the North American ones,” Damian Abraham of Canadian hardcore punk band F**ked Up said. “The vibe [at Hillside] is a lot more encompassing and family friendly.”

“And when you look around, you don’t see giant corporate ads for everything … it shouldn’t have to be corporate money that funds a festival. It is kind of cool to come here and see a cool festival here … that does not overwhelm you [with advertisements].”

Hillside, to some, is a giant ‘hippie’ festival. But Hilliside is damn proud of what it is.

Hillside’s booklet spends pages informing the festival go-ers on their environmental policies, such as the banning of plastic water bottles and the on-site composting area.

“[Hillside] is really geared towards the community aspect. There is a lot of thought put in to make it a great experience for people,” Folk singer Ruth Moody emphasized.

“It’s really diverse. There are families, older couples, kids, teenagers — all ages. There is something for everyone and everybody is getting along. It’s very much a welcoming feeling.”

similar feeling was felt at the performances. No audience member felt uncomfortable or unwelcome at any of the performances. Everyone was there for one reason: to dance to some incredible live music.

Hillside really brought it this year with their selection of artists. While it’s hard to pinpoint the best performance of the weekend, a few strong contenders come to mind.

Lindi Ortega’s Saturday performance on the main stage was intimidating. Ortega is a small woman in height, but when she begins to sing she grows five feet with her powerhouse voice. The best word to describe her performance would be beautiful.

Ending her set with a slowed down version of Johnny Cash’s immortal “Ring of Fire” was the best choice for her, as it gave her the chance to show off her vocal range while choosing a song that fits with her typical style.

The Darcy’s set was extremely catchy, with most of the audience grooving and dancing. Lead singer Jason Crouse came off as very intense as he sauntered and sang across the stage.

The Darcy’s are a moody band — blending creative lyrics with Crouse’s anguished voice. This combination makes for a great band and performance.

Red Wanting Blue is not a band that wants to look cool. They’d much rather have everyone dancing and thrashing around like lead singer Scott Terry does. Red Wanting Blue is a classic rock band that wants to make you move. The highlight of the performance was when the lead singer and another band member, carrying a washboard, performed what seemed like an improvised duet.

Young Benjamins’ graced the stage on the Sunday, bringing their unique blend of roots and folk infused rock to Guelph. Young Benjamins’ sound a bit like a harder Mumford and Sons which is an interesting, but surprisingly needed void to fill. They are violin and banjo heavy while also relying on some heavy guitar sounds to fill their sound up.

Despite the band’s calming name, Wintersleep is nothing but exciting. Wintersleep put on an amazing show, playing fan favourites such as “Archaeologists” and “Weighty Ghost.” While the band is fantastic live, the microphones were a little off, changing lead singer Paul Murphey’s voice to sound a little like Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum.

Husband and wife duo Whitehorse were the perfect choice to play the finale of Hillside, bringing a perfect close to a perfect weekend. They began each song with a percussion solo involving bass drums and frying pans as instruments. Melissa McCelland’s vocals were haunting and stunning while Luke Doucet ran around playing every single instrument, or frying pan, he could get his hand on.

For their encore, they brought their daughter Chloe, Ruth Moody, Miranda Mulholland and Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers on stage to end the night with “I’m on Fire” by Bruce Springsteen.

After thirty years of music, Hillside has turned into a s powerhouse.

“When you’re invited to play [Hillside], you come play,” Moody declared.

Hillside has grown a great reputation among musicians and people across North America.  If you get invited to play Hillside you do not say no.

Their reputation has grown so much that some bands have even made it a goal of theirs to play it.

Scott Terry, lead singer of Ohio band Red Wanting Blue, is one of those people.

“When we and [The Trews] discussed stuff to do, we said we’d like to come back and do some … summer festival stuff [and The Trews said they may play at] Hillside. I would imagine in the states, it’d be like ‘we’ll do some festivals, I don’t know, maybe Bonnaroo?’ It was thrown out in that way,” he said.

From the way things are going for Hillside, it’s easy to see that they’ll be around for another thirty years.

And as they say, Happy Hillside!


Best of the Best: Hillside Highlights

Best Performance: Lindi Ortega and Whitehorse

Honourable Mention: Red Wanting Blue and Wintersleep

Best Dressed Guest: The woman dressed head to toe in tye-dye

Best Food: Pulled pork and kettle chips from Studds and Spuds

Top 5 things seen at Hillside

5. Little children running around

4. People interpretative dancing to music

3. Ponchos — to keep dry from the rain and as a fashion choice

2. Badass facial hair

1. Tye-dye in all of its forms

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