Hillside Festival Review: Ifriqiyya Electrique, Myriam Gendron, Bedouine, Cat Clyde, Boy Golden, July 24

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At their best, music festivals are about discoveries and though a Sunday night storm would ultimately lead to an earlier than expected end to Guelph’s Hillside Festival, the performances which took place earlier in the day still provided several great musical discoveries within the final day’s varied and eclectic lineup.

And I do mean eclectic. Hillside has always been a fairly eclectic festival with performers from acrosss many genres, so this was nothing new, but it’s still worth noting. A glance at the main stage schedule alone would reveal a lineup that encompassed everything from the Danish klezmer group Mames Babeganush to bluegrass-meets-hip hop band Gangstagrass to Faroese singer Eivør to, most unexpectedly, the industrial sounds of Ifriqiyya Electrique, who delivered one of the best shows of the whole weekend. With their loud, bracing, and passionate performance, the Tunisian four-piece put on a show that was certainly hard to forget.

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Also delivering a unique and memorable performance was Montreal’s Myriam Gendron, whose latest album Ma délire – Songs of love, lost & found, finds her interpreting old traditional tunes sung in both French and English.

Gendron plays folk music in the truest sense – it’s music that draws on the songs and traditions of the past and builds on them, ultimately creating something new while still paying tribute to what came before. Gendron put on an absolutely beautiful performance during both of the sets she played during the day. I caught only part of her main set on the Lake stage earlier on in the afternoon before later taking in her second performance of the day as part of the “Before The Moon” workshop on the Sun Stage. For that set, she was backed up for two songs by Leela Gilday’s bassist and drummer, who provided some brilliant accompaniment. And on a side note, Gilday and her band probably deserve to be named Hillside MVPs for not only playing perhaps the most workshops of any performers but also being game for as much collaboration and jamming as possible on each occasion.

Speaking of workshops, as usual, some of the most memorable Hillside moments came from the workshop sessions, including the crowd favourite Sunday gospel session, which saw incredible performances from the likes of Kyshona, Julian Taylor and Nicolette & The Nobodies and which culminated in a group performance of the old spiritual “O Rocks Don’t Fall On Me.”

Another memorable workshop saw Bedouine, Cat Clyde, Boy Golden and their respective bandmates all collaborating together on the Sun Stage. Boy Golden (aka Liam Duncan) in particular took the ‘workshop’ aspect of the session to heart by playing songs that were not only new to the other performers joining him onstage, but ones he hadn’t even played live yet with his own band. That workshop was entitled “Afternoon Delight” and as Boy Golden noted at the end of the session, it was indeed a delight. As was the entire weekend. See you next year, Hillside.

Hillside Festival Review: Nicolette & the Nobodies, Habibi, Hyd, The Blue and Gold, Nathan Lawr, July 23

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“Happy Hillside!”

That’s a greeting you’re likely to hear around the grounds of Guelph’s Hillside Festival, which made its return to Guelph Lake Island this year after a three year absence, and as a motto, it really does capture the spirit of the festival. For those who’ve returned to the festival year after year (with the obvious exceptions of the last couple of years), Hillside really is a happy place.

There’s a certain feeling to this festival that many of the performers clearly also felt throughout the day, with Leela Gilday noting during her mainstage set that though she’d barely been there an hour, she already loved it. Montreal’s Wesli similarly commented on the good vibes amongst the crowd during his set and there really is a definite vibe to this fest. It’s the kind of festival where you can participate in a drum circle, attend workshops on subjects such as “A Crash Course in Permaculture” and “Acupressure for Everyday”, go for a swim in the nearby lake, or if you’re lucky, you might even see Chris Murphy bust out a killer Sex Pistols cover.


Yes, one of the most memorable aspects of Hillside are the workshop sessions wherein performers are thrown together to collaborate in some way, either through sharing songs in the round or just jamming together. And it was during such a session where I witnessed Murphy singing the aforementioned cover of The Sex Pistols’ “Problems” alongside Pink Mountaintops, Dean Baxter, and his Anyway Gang bandmate Menno Versteeg. When I made my way to the Island Stage for the “Supersonic 2” workshop, things had already gotten underway, with the makeshift band in the midst of a cosmic stoner rock jam that brought the spirit of Hawkwind to the Island Stage. It sounded fantastic, though notably, Murphy was nowhere to be found onstage. Then midway through, who should appear in front of the stage but the man himself, taking his acoustic guitar out and roaming through the audience like a wandering troubadour before taking to the stage, at first trying his hand at rapping over the band’s jams before switching gears a bit. It was a fun performance that also saw Murphy testing out some Dufferin Mall-inspired stage banter and culminated in a mashup of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and ABBA’s “Mamma Mia.”

Another memorable musical workshop came earlier in the day when The Blue and Gold’s Trish Klein and Ndidi O joined Nathan Lawr for a set of Rolling Stones tunes performed in a more acoustic-based format. Lawr started things off with a version of “Miss You” that worked quite well as a country-ish shuffle before turning things over to The Blue and Gold, who offered up the more obscure “Oh Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin’)” and also gave a bit of background on songwriter Barbara Lynn, who originally recorded it. Lawr would close out the brief five song set with what he called “a bit of a Hail Mary” – a cover of “Mixed Emotions” that had me thinking it might be time for a reevaluation of Steel Wheels.


Later in the day, I took in a set by New York’s Habibi. The band’s self-titled 2014 debut album was a favourite of mine at the time and their most recent, Anywhere But Here is a similarly solid collection of tunes. Playing Hillside’s Island Stage in support of that album, the band put on a late afternoon set that was a lot of fun and really got the crowd moving, despite the fact that the band had gone through a bit of an ordeal on their way to the festival.

“We went through hell to get here. Anyone been to an airport recently?” asked singer Rahill Jamalifard. “Wouldn’t recommend it.” Yes, like many touring musicians these days, the state of air travel caused a bit of a wrinkle in the band’s travel plans, but they made it there and were determined to put on a show despite the fact that they were generally exhausted. “We are so tired, but we’re enlivened by your energy” said Jamalifard and the band did indeed put on a great show, playing tunes from their latest album Anywhere But Here alongside some older tracks.


Hyd put on a show that was ultimately quite memorable even though they were just one person alone on the stage. I find that there’s often an inherent weirdness to watching a solo performer sing to a backing track in that even a really good performance has a bit of a karaoke vibe. The best performers, however, will either lean into that weirdness or put on a show that’s so compelling you forget that it’s just one person and a mic up there. Hyd did a bit of both, making it as big and dramatic as possible while also definitely bringing a touch of the weird to the proceedings. The highlight of their set was a cover of Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms,” which had a bit of a Caroline Polachek vibe.

Locals Nicolette & the Nobodies also impressed with their twangy, old school country sound and hipster-meets-honky tonk aesthetic. Singer Nicolette Hoang has a powerful voice that brought to mind the likes of Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Neko Case and the eight-piece band sounded great as they ran through a set full of tracks off their 2019 debut Devil’s Run.

While I may have missed out on the first day of Hillside, Saturday’s lineup was ultimately an impressive one that made for a good return to the festival after three years’ absence. Happy Hillside? Yes, I’d say so.

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’ …