Review: Hillside Festival, July 14-16, Guelph Lake Conservation Area

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During Montreal trio Big Brave’s Saturday evening set at the Island Stage, singer/guitarist Robin Wattie thanked the audience for listening and took a moment to comment on the general vibe at Guelph’s Hillside Festival. “People are so nice here. Like, genuinely so,” she said, adding that the band considered apologizing to the crowd before they even started playing since their heavy, expansive sound didn’t quite fit in with anything else that was happening that weekend and thus might not sound all that nice to everyone, but she acknowledged that people seemed to be enjoying it regardless. In fact, their beautifully heavy set stood out for me as one of the highlights of the entire weekend.

While Big Brave may have differed stylistically from the other performers, Hillside has long been a fairly eclectic and adventurous festival in it’s programming, willing to challenge the audience and this year (the 34th edition) was no different. The lineup encompassed everything from the indie rock sounds of Weaves and The Luyas (who shared the stage for a workshop/jam session on Saturday afternoon) to the animated Congolese band Mbongwana Star to the electronic sounds of DJ Shub to the East coast indie rock meets Chinese pop of Halifax’s Century Egg.

One common thread among many of the performers this year was a theme of resistance and protest music with artists such as Las Cafeteras, Billy Bragg and Leonard Sumner singing and speaking out on several important issues. Sumner in particular stood out with his powerful spoken word pieces and songs during a workshop where he shared the stage with Bragg, Sarah Harmer and recent Polaris Prize shortlister Lisa Leblanc. Leblanc may have felt a bit out of place, joking that her “stupid love songs” contrasted with the others’ more political lyrics, but she definitely held her own and absolutely blew the crowd away during her high energy main set on the Island Stage later that night.

While this year’s lineup may have featured less big name acts than years past, that just gave some of the lesser known performers more opportunity to shine and really, aside from the boom period a few years back when practically every big Canadian indie band was playing there, Hillside never really relied on big name acts to draw in a crowd anyways. And while Hillside moved itself one weekend earlier this year so as to avoid the competition with WayHome, something tells me Hillside will be the one to last and might even be able to move back to its original weekend dates for next year. Just sayin’ …

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Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Hillside

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