Hillside Music Festival 2009: Final Recap

It’s been a couple of days now since Hillside. We’ve dried off, had some time to reflect, think about what we saw, and come to some conclusions. Here are the acts we enjoyed most (or least) in a number of categories we just made up.

Best Rock ‘n’ Roll Singing Face: The lead singer of Attack in Black.


Just look at that scowl! Top notch. Attack in Black were pretty good. They quite clearly listened to an unhealthy amount of grunge music at a young age, but have a pretty bright future ahead of them if they can catch a few breaks.

Best Crowd Reaction: I think after all was said and done, Buffy Sainte-Marie got the most applause from the Hillside crowd, which was a funny little mix of indie kids, older hippies, and families.


We came in late after taking a quick fest break, but still managed to catch her sing “Universal Soldier.” She played another couple of songs and left the stage, but the crowd wasn’t satisfied, and cheered over the voice of an MC who was trying to tell everyone she couldn’t come on for an encore because of the schedule. Basically the fans forced an encore. It was pretty cool.

Most Adorable Group: Toss-up between Ohbijou and Dancehall Free for All.


Just look at them! They’re all so damn CUTE. Ohbijou (on the right) plays some of the prettiest music in Canada right now, I’d wager, and the Mecija sisters are just delightful. On the other hand, look at all those fresh-faced Guelph boys in Dancehall! Don’t you just want to eat them up with a spoon?

Best Workshop We Took: To be fair to the other workshops, it was the only workshop we took (though we did watch the drumming circle workshop for a bit), but “The Silly Sublime Art of Balancing Stones” was a blast.


This is Doug, the workshop organizer. Funny guy, and who am I to say if he’s maybe a bit crazy? His workshop is near the big garbage bins, so every time some of the hard working waste disposal volunteers came by to dump something Doug had us applaud them. Here’s the stone stack Trina did after about 20 minutes of instruction from Doug:


The less said about the stack of stones I did, the better.

Bands I enjoyed way more than I thought I would: Definitely Tokyo Police Club and David Francey.


Tokyo Police Club just rocked the shit out of the main stage. They were fun, they were loud, they didn’t tone things down to appeal to the hippies who’d just seen Buffy Sainte-Marie before them, and they were just too damn young and enthusiastic to care that the festival schedule guy onstage messed up their setlist by telling them they had ten minutes left, then ten minutes later telling them they had another ten minutes. Right to the end of ‘Cheer it On’, their last song that inexplicably has the band’s name in the chorus, they had me rather entranced, too entranced even to notice I was in a crowd near the front of the stage with a bunch of kids nearly ten years my junior. If I came away from Hillside wanting to hear more from one band I didn’t know too well before seeing them, this band was it.


As for David Francey, in all honesty I’m not at all sure if I saw Francey play again that I’d like him nearly as much. I think the magic of Francey’s set came from the circumstances as much as anything else; we’d planned to see Dave Bidini in that 3 PM time slot, but when we emerged from the thunderstorm around quarter after three, we wandered to the main stage instead to sort of catch our bearings. And once Francey started, he just sucked us in. A storeyteller with a folksy, self-effacing charm, Francey and his bandmate Craig Worth put on an excellent folk singer-songwriter performance, in pretty much exactly the circumstances you’d most like to see an excellent folk singer-songwriter performance. We were a bit shaky from the storm, slightly dazed and in need of someone to calm everyone down and perhaps sing songs of the human condition of which we were all suddenly all too aware of. Francey did exactly that.

Biggest Disappointment: I suppose Eccodek or Patrick Watson.


My expectations for Eccodek were probably too high. From their MySpace page I was excited for what I thought would be an interesting dub/electronica act, mostly because I love a lot of the bands in their list of influences on that page, like Massive Attack, Portishead, Tosca, those kinds of acts, and I was excited that there might be a band like that from Canada I could see, since most of those other guys are European and tour North America sparingly. What I got was a set that sounded, well, the best descriptor I can think of is derivative. Rather than sounding fresh at all, Eccodek sounded like re-heated Thievery Corporation, or maybe what Richard Dorfmeister comes up with on a really bad day. I was prepared to ignore the fact they were nominated for a 2009 Juno in the ‘World’ category, but I’m afraid now my predjudice against bands nominated for a Juno – because I think the Junos, for the most part, have TERRIBLE taste in music – continues. As for Patrick Watson (pictured above), well, as much fun as it was to watch him giggle incessantly on stage, screw up the beginning of a couple of songs, and ask the stage crew to bring him more beer, I was pretty glad I’d seen him a couple of months previously in Toronto, when he was, well, sober. I’m not going to say he and most or all of his band were high as kites, mostly because I can’t exactly verify that (I didn’t SEE them take anything, after all…) and because I still think they’re a terrific band who I would go see again in a heartbeat, but it sure seemed like he was pretty far gone during his set.

Funniest Act (but not in a mean or ironic way): Los Misioneros del Norte. Six Hispanic guys in white cowboy hats playing Mexican standards on the main stage? What’s not to love?

Best Large Group: Rock Plaza Central (7 pieces), but only by a hair over Bruce Peninsula (10 members). Rock Plaza Central was the highlight of our Friday night, partly because we got there at 8:30, missing the first bands entirely and arriving most of the way through Coeur de Pirate’s set, then didn’t see a band at 10 because we didn’t know where the media entrance to the Island Stage was and there was a lineup at the main entrance to see USS and weren’t drawn in by Loreena McKennitt on the main stage at all. That’s not to diminish RPC; they were a lot of fun that had the whole tent dancing. Bruce Peninsula were very good in the early afternoon on Saturday but didn’t catch my eye to quite the same degree as RPC did.

Best Hillside Foot Fashion: Bare feet or patterned rubber boots.


As I may have mentioned, it rained a significant amount during Hillside weekend, first a brief yet powerful downpour on Saturday, then off and on all day on Sunday. This meant that by the midway point of Sunday, anyone who wore flip flops (like Trina) or a similarly loose shoe were losing them in the mud, so a lot of people just took their shoes off and went barefoot. But a lot of people probably would’ve done that anyway, rain or not, including a number of band members; pictured above on left are some of the collective feet of Bruce Peninsula, with hardly a shoe among them. Meanwhile, as I tweeted on Saturday, I believe I may have discovered something about myself: a previously unknown fetish for women in rubber boots. A little weird, maybe, a little out there, but it’s just part of who I am, all right? Don’t judge me.

Best Accent: Toss-up between David Francey’s Scottish and the lead singer of FRED’s Irish. Francey’s accent made the line “Holy Jesus, it’s Jesus” pretty funny when he was telling a story about seeing a guy who looked like Jesus in a Denmark train station. Then again, FRED’s frontman had quite the Irish brogue going on, and it was pretty entertaining during the latter part of their set that we caught. I guess it’s a matter of preference, but maybe I’ll give the edge to Francey.

Sets that ended way too quickly for my taste: The Sunparlour Players, with Great Lake Swimmers close behind.


I could listen to Sunparlour Players play for hours, but their set seemed a lot shorter than it should’ve been. Because of delays during the day on Saturday everyone was running 5-10 minutes behind, but the 11 PM noise curfew was a hard deadline for the closers like SPP. Luckily enough, though, the Sunparlour Players are playing a set at Summerworks on August 14th, which is a festival I’ve also got a media pass for, and their MySpace page says they’ve got a show in Nathan Phillips Square in September as well. If you’ve never seen these guys before, do yourselves a favour and check them out sometime; their live shows are legendary. Hopefully the Great Lake Swimmers will be back in town sometime soon too; they’re just so smooth, their set seemed practically effortless, and I’d love to see them again sometime.

Best Food: Probably the pulled pork sandwich topped with sauteed onions, with kettle chips and baked beans on the side from Studd’s with Spuds (only $7!).


The italian sausage from Sausage Brothers and chipotle chicken burger from Alex and Dan Catering were very good, but the pulled pork was the only meal I had twice, though the second time was late Sunday and they’d run out of kettle chips and beans, and I did have the roasted corn on the cob from Sausage Brothers, who were the busiest vendor all weekend, twice. Overall, though, I’d say Hillside outdid themselves with the local food vendors they brought in. Nearly everything we had was great, the variety was tremendous, and the prices were more than reasonable. Really, for someone who’s spent way too much money on way too much bad concert and music festival food in the past, the tasty, inexpensive grub at Hillside was an extremely pleasant surprise.

Best Dessert: Definitely the Mapleton’s Organic ice cream. Trina’s favourite flavour was pumpkin; I liked the raspberry best, I think, though the mint chocolate was really good too. I also took home some great chocolate from ChocoSol Traders, who are based here in Toronto. Check them out at the Dufferin Grove Farmer’s Market sometime.

Despite the rain, it was quite a weekend. Hillside is just a terrific festival, one you should definitely check out if you have any interest in the Canadian music scene. Thanks to the festival for the media passes, Trina and I had a blast.

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Hillside