Song Of The Day: The Huntress and Holder of Hands – Creatures In Flight

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This past weekend’s Hillside Festival in Guelph saw many great performances across the festival’s stages from the likes of Partner, Lilly Hiatt, US Girls, The Messthetics and more. At its core though, Hillside has always been about the discovery of new music, that special “Hillside moment” where you hear something that blows you away. Of the acts I saw that were new to me over the weekend, one of the best and most unique was Providence, Rhode Island based band The Huntress and Holder of Hands.

Initially started as a solo project and an outlet for her grief after the loss of her husband Dave Lamb to leukemia, bandleader MorganEve Swain has expanded The Huntress and Holder of Hands into a full band. The band’s debut album Avalon offers up a beautiful blend of folk, classical, and post-rock sounds that are still running through my head nearly a week after seeing them. Check out the video for “Creatures In Flight” below:

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’ …

Hillside Review Day 3: Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, Sarah Neufeld, Colin Stetson, July 28, Guelph

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While introducing Copenhagen’s Indians, the emcee mentioned that this year’s Hillside was the coolest one ever. he was speaking, of course, of the temperature, but he could have also meant it in the other sense of the word, as there was a lot of cool stuff going on over the weekend.

One of the most enjoyable performances I saw at Hillside was also the first thing I saw on Sunday, a noontime performance by India’s Jaipur Kawa Brass Band. The band put on an immensely entertaining set of traditional folk, Indian classical and Bollywood music, all played on brass instruments and also including a female dancer for one song and a performance from one fellow who juggled knives, swallowed swords, and balanced a spinning top on top of his head amongst other tricks. It was pretty much the perfect way to start off a Sunday afternoon and boded well for the rest of the day.


After checking out the Mumfords-y folk rock of The Dunwells and a set of classic sounding country from the always entertaining Daniel Romano & The Trilliums, it was time to finally see what Colin Stetson was all about. I had heard the saxophonist’s music before, but hadn’t spent that much time with it and had yet to see him live. After finally seeing him perform, I have to say I was impressed. I noticed a few people in the crowd closing their eyes and just listening during his set and while there’s something to be said for that, if you don’t actually see him play with your own eyes, then you’re missing out on a good part of the fun of watching him play. What Stetson does both sonically and physically during the course of his set is absolutely impressive. If one can be said to “shred” on the sax, then Stetson totally shreds.


Because of the short turnaround time between bands and the amount of acts playing the festival, there’s not a lot of time for soundchecking beforehand and so it has to be done on the go. However, other than a lengthy delay on Eight And A Half’s set the day before, there was little in the way of snafus over the weekend and besides that, watching the performers’ soundchecks was often rather illuminating. For example, did you know that Sarah Neufeld not only mics her foot stomps but also asks for lots of reverb on her foot? Just thought you should know, folks. During her set, the Arcade Fire/Bell Orchestre violinist was joined by both Colin Stetson and her bandmate Richard Reed Parry, who had played a set on the same stage earlier that day.

One of the sets I had been most looking forward to was Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet.  The instrumental rock trio are Canadian indie rock pioneers, probably best known for “Having An Average Weekend,” also known as the theme to Kids In The Hall.  Originally in operation from 1984 -1996. the band recently reunited to mark the occasion of the rerelease of their albums with Dallas Good of The Sadies replacing original bassist Reid Diamond, who passed away in 2001.  The rest of The Sadies would join Shadowy Men onstage immediately after this for a special set wherein they covered Alice Cooper’s 1971 album Love It To Death in it’s entirety.  Apparently Diamond was a big fan of Cooper and so they were performing it as a tribute to him.  And it sounded fantastic.  This was one of the highlights of the entire festival, and in case you’re curious, someone captured the whole thing on video.  To borrow a bit of a phrase from Shadowy Men, the 30th edition of the Hillside Festival was much more than just an “average weekend.”

Hillside Review Day 2: Pokey LaFarge, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, AroarA, July 27, Guelph

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“That’s some good time music, if I do say so myself.” So said Pokey LaFarge at the end of his song, “Central Time,” and while it may be a bit bold to praise one of your own songs, he was probably praising the abilities of his bandmates as much as the song itself, and furthermore, he wasn’t wrong. Hillside is all about good time music in whatever form it may take and LaFarge and his band certainly brought the good times. The St. Louis based musician seemed to be a crowd favourite, with many in attendance spotted hitting the merch tent to snatch up his album, some even before he had finished his set on the main stage. LaFarge plays a catchy brand of old timey music that blends together Western swing, ragtime and old time jazz.  With a top notch band that included clarinet, cornet, and washboard, and a voice that was at times reminiscent of Blind Willie McTell, LaFarge sounded great.  He’s a pretty snappy dresser too.

Preceding LaFarge on the mainstage were Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, who began playing just as the rain was starting to come down for the afternoon. And yes, in case you didn’t know, Sarah Lee is part of that Guthrie family, daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of Woody. She and Irion took to the stage (along with another guitarist) to play songs off of their upcoming Jeff Tweedy/Pat Sansone produced album, Wassaic Way for a small but dedicated crowd up front. You’ve got to be dedicated to stand in the wind and rain. “If that setlist blows away, could someone just read the names off the list please?” joked Irion. While those up front braved the rainfall, the rest of us hung back from the stage watching from afar under the shelter of some tents. The duo didn’t let that faze them as they played a number of the new songs, some for the first time ever live.


Cutting out before the end of Guthrie & Irion’s set as the rain died down, I made my way to the Island stage to catch the tail end of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan’s performance. Seeing a band like them in a tent at 2:00 in the afternoon seemed somewhat incongruous, but I will admit that this was also part of the appeal. Though a darkened club late at night might seem more appropriate, the band still managed to impress, especially when Ange Loft invaded the crowd and walked around, completely straight-faced, playing the tambourine. And while I didn’t see much of their main set, I was lucky enough to witness their workshop later that afternoon. Ruby Kato Attwood and Alaska B collaborated with Andrew Whiteman and Ariel Engle  of AroarA, and while it was a bit odd seeing them without their makeup (I imagine KISS fans must have felt the same way back in the day), it was great to hear the fruits of their collaboration. As they prepared to jam on a YT//ST number, Whiteman asked drummer Alaska B, “So, heavy?”

“Yeah, heavy … druggy,” she replied. The noises Whitman then went on to produce proved that the man is probably capable of playing just about anything and making it sound like gold. Heavy, druggy gold.