Hillside goes indoors

The Hillside Festival kicked off its yearly festivities this weekend with Hillside Inside – weekend of concerts functioning to provide local music fans with some entertainment during the winter months.

The Hillside Festival is an annual three-day, five-stage summer music festival in Guelph, Ontario. Drawing huge crowds from across the country, Hillside hosts musicians, spoken word artists, workshops and more.

Hillside began in 1984 as a small, not for profit festival featuring local artists and musicians.

A second instalment of the festival, Hillside Inside, was introduced in 2008 and features acts that generally appear again at the larger festival in June.

This year, performances at Hillside Inside included musical acts Matt Andersen, the Arkells, Jim Bryson and the Weakerthans Band, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Sarah Harmer and Shane Koczyan.

Saturday night’s performance by Jim Bryson and the Weakerthans Band and headliners the Arkells was held at Saint George’s Church in downtown Guelph.

A small but enthusiastic crowd braved the treacherous weather outside and gathered in the church auditorium to watch the bands perform.

The evening got off to a slow start with Jim Bryson and the Weakerthans Band who delivered a humorous, though somewhat lacklustre performance.

Juno Award winning band The Arkells followed and delivered an explosive, high-energy performance that had the crowd dancing from start to finish.

The Arkells set list drew primarily from their 2008 album Jackson Square, but also included several new tracks that the band has been working on during their recent two-month hiatus from touring.

Making no secret about their affection for Guelph, singer and front-man Max Kerman announced to the receptive crowd, “We get asked a lot what our favourite festival in Canada is. We always say Hillside is the cream of the crop.”

According to its vision statement, the Hillside Festival hopes to “create a more vibrant and caring world by promoting altruism, equality, environmentalism and peacemaking in every aspect of its work, especially as it offers music, food and festivities that honour the magic of creativity and the power of collective joy.”

What continues to draw audiences to Hillside is the unique, grassroots, community-based nature of the event. In keeping with the bohemian vibe of years passed, Hillside Inside 2011 featured such events and workshops as Hand Drumming, Belly-dancing, Laughter Yoga and Love Potions.

The weekend’s events may have satisfied fans for the time being, but the count down to Hillside 2011 has certainly begun.

Notable performers from years past include Gord Downie, Ani DiFranco, Arcade Fire and Sam Roberts.