Hillside Festival Review Day 1: Kopecky Family Band, Bonnie “Prince” Billy & Dawn McCarthy, World Party, July 26, Guelph

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Hillside | Leave a comment


Guelph’s Hillside Festival has been a longstanding tradition within the community, going on for 30 years to be exact. And so, to mark the occasion of the festival’s 30th edition, the organizers put together a rather strong lineup of performers both local and international to help bring about that certain Hillside vibe. Oh, and there were drum circles. Lots of drum circles. Also, shout out to whoever’s idea it was to serve mac and cheese with pulled pork on top of it in the food tent. That certainly hit the spot on Friday night.

Speaking of the Hillside vibe, attendees of the festival often find themselves looking for that special “Hillside moment,” something so memorable that it will stick with you. There would be a few of these over the course of the weekend, but the first of them came during the “Misfits” workshop session that started things off on the Island Stage. Daniel Romano, Bry Webb, Tamara Lindeman, and World Party had been brought together to collaborate alongside host Vish Khanna on a number of covers they had placed into a hat to be chosen by audience members.  At one point,  a man named Glen approached, convinced Khanna that they should play some Stones, and then bumrushed the stage to live out his live karaoke dreams. No matter what they thought about his performance, those in attendance will likely remember it.

Also memorable was San Francisco bluegrass band Poor Man’s Whiskey, who performed a full set of their Pink Floyd album tribute, Dark Side Of The Moonshine. Taking to the stage in costume as characters from The Wizard Of Oz, the band ran through a few cute reimaginings of classic Floyd tunes such as “Money,” slightly rewritten by the band as “Whiskey,” complete with opening of beer cans and clinking of bottles to replace the opening cash register sounds of the original. On opposite them on the main stage was Nashville’s Kopecky Family Band, who are not actually related, but are actually a band. And one of them is named Kopecky. Playing songs off their debut, Kids Raising Kids, the band put on a high energy set of indie-ish pop/rock tunes.


Following them on the mainstage was a rather unique show from some rather unique performers, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Dawn McCarthy. With the band gathered around one mic and sitting down as they played songs performed by The Everly Brothers over the course of their career, it made for something of an intimate experience. Or at least it did as long as you were close to the stage. The further one got from the stage, the less distinct the sound was, which was a shame for those who may have had to strain to hear things, because up close it sounded gorgeous.  Before seeing this concert, I had yet to delve into their album, What The Brothers Sang.  I will definitely be rectifying that soon.


Closing things out on the mainstage were London’s World Party, led by Karl Wallinger.  Running through a set of Beatlesque pop/alternative rock tunes like “Is It Like Today?” and “She’s The One” (a cover of which you may recall was a massive hit for Robbie Williams a few years back), the trio kept thing largely stripped down with a setup of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and fiddle, with Wallinger switching to piano for a couple of numbers, most notably the aforementioned “She’s The One.”    Wallinger addressed the crowd at one point, noting that it felt like he was just coming out of a dream.  “I dreamt I played a gig in a place called Guelph.  There was water and lots of people and it was a beautiful day.”  It certainly was.

Review: Hillside Festival, July 22 – 24

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Etran Finatawa

Guelph – “That’s a pretty good way to start off a folk festival.”  So said Old Man Luedecke after hearing a song by Lowlands, his partners in the “That Lucky Old Sun” workshop on the Lake Stage.  Of course the Hillside Festival hasn’t really been a folk festival for some time now, but it has held on to the general folky, hippie-ish vibe and has continued to book folk performers even as some of the festival’s emphasis has shifted towards hot new indie rock acts. 

The lineup for the festival was generally pretty eclectic, with a focus  on the overall vibe rather than booking a lot of big name acts.  This makes for a good opportunity to discover some brand new acts.  One of the more unique ones I caught was Australia’s Graveyard Train, who augment their country-ish sound with male chorus style group vocals, lyrics about witches, mummies, and monsters and most impressively, a guy playing hammer and chain as a percussion instrument.  A frickin’ hammer and chain!   Amazing. 

Graveyard Train – Dead Folk Dance by FBi Radio

Over the past few years, Hillside has partnered with Pop Montreal, giving them a couple hours time in the schedule to do with as they will.  As usual, the Pop Montreal folks did a good job of showing off some up and comers from the Montreal scene, including Grimes, who impressed with her so called “weird pop.”  Also impressive were fellow Montrealers Pat Jordache, who played right before Grimes on the Island Stage.  The highlight of their set came early on as they were joined onstage by a member of Niger’s Etran Finatawa, his desert blues guitar leads blending effortlessly with their sound.  Everyone onstage seemed to be having a lot of fun jamming together on that one song and I’ve got to admit I was a little diappointed that he didn’t stick around for the whole set.  Now Magazine has a video of the song here

Etran Finatawa’s mainstage set on Saturday night was really something to see.  Until fairly recently, I was largely unfamiliar with their style of music, but after seeing them at Hillside, I would consider myself a fan.  They were definitely one of the highlights of the festival.  Another highlight was Lost In The Trees.  Songwriter and composer Ari Picker has crafted a collection of beautiful, lush, epic sounding songs that were expertly executed by his bandmates on a variety of instruments including cello, violin, accordion, and tuba.  They further demonstrated their instrumental prowess in a Sunday afternoon workshop with Braids, meshing their orchestral folk sound with the Montreal band’s art rock.  It was one of those unique Hillside moments that you won’t see anywhere else. 

Etran Finatawa – Daim Walla by DawsonCityMusicFestival

While a lot of fairly big names like Sloan, Kevin Drew, and The Rural Alberta Advantage played this weekend, perhaps the most enthusiastic reaction of the weekend was directed towards an unlikely performer – Fred Penner.  That’s right, the children’s performer was playing before a devoted crowd largely made up of adults and it was kind of the closest thing I saw to a rock star experience all weekend.  “Hi kids,” said Penner as he took the stage, “You got older.”  It was a bit of a weird scene, but in a way it makes sense – kids who grew up watching Penner on TV, going to his concerts and listening to his albums are looking back with nostalgia and kind of reliving their childhoods.  Heck, even those who didn’t grow up watching Penner were enthusiastically singing along.  He had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand and for a brief time a beer tent was somehow transformed into Fred Penner’s Place.

Festival Review: Hillside 2010, July 23-25

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Everything, Hillside | 7 Comments

Guelph – The 27th annual Hillside Festival is in the books, and for the second year in a row the Panic Manual was there amidst the natural beauty of Guelph Lake Island (pictured above), covering the fest from Friday night mainstage opener Beardyman to Sunday night closer Stars. Punctuated with pictures, here are our picks for best, worst, and everything in between from Hillside 2010.

Most Danceable: Alex Cuba

We were a bit lukewarm about seeing Alex Cuba just because it seems like he’s playing Toronto all the time (something not uncommon at the Hillside Festival, which has no exclusivity agreement preventing bands from playing the area around the fest dates like a lot of festivals do), but in the end we were glad we did. Alex Cuba makes me think of what I imagine Carlos Santana was like in the early 70’s, with Latin rhythms behind some great guitar work making for some eminently danceable rock music. With all due respect to the Tabla Guy, who was laying down some great dance tunes late on Sunday night that had the masses moving before switching to something a lot quieter, Cuba even had me doing some booty-shaking near the main stage, and that just doesn’t happen very often.

(after the jump: best country, best hip-hop, and more, with lots more pictures)

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Hillside 2010: Friday/Saturday Recap

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Everything, Hillside | 1 Comment

As we get ready for the final day of Hillside 2010, here are some of the highlights of the festival so far, aside from the spectacular sunset on Friday night pictured above:

- On Friday night, my favourite set was from self-styled “acid folk” band Lee Harvey Osmond. Despite having looked them up online a month ago, by the time the festival rolled around I’d completely forgotten that this was Tom Wilson’s new band. Lee Harvey Osmond even played a rendition of Wilson’s old band’s big radio hit, the Junkhouse tune “Shine,” which brought me right back to high school. Wilson is also t had fellow Blackie and the Rodeo Kings member Stephen Fearing sit in on this set. The result was an energetic and loud set that will have me looking studiously for Lee Harvey Osmond’s name on concert listings from now on.

- Speaking of Stephen Fearing, his solo set on Saturday was one of the best I saw on that day. Comparatively quiet and contemplative, Fearing played alone with his guitar, accompanied on a few songs by Irish singer-songwriter Andy White. Fearing played tracks from his new best of album called The Man Who Married Music, including the title track, and was low-key and charming throughout. He strongly hinted that he’ll be sitting in on White’s set today, so we’ll likely check that out.

- Getting back to Friday, aside from Lee Harvey Osmond’s set I wandered the grounds quite a bit, hearing little bits of most of the performer’s sets until I left to drive back to Toronto a little after 9. Laura Marling impressed me a little; my intial impression was that she was something of a poor man’s Beth Orton, but her voice is distinctive enough and she’s a good songwriter. The Warped 45s were ok, and I really dug a couple of the Hidden Cameras tunes.

- And yes, I did arrive early enough to see Beardyman, who instantly became the best beatboxer I’ve ever seen live. However, once the novelty of “wow, he’s making all this music with just his own voice and a sampler” wears off, well, it turns into nondescript Eurobeat dance music pretty quickly. It’s fun to see for a little while, but I can’t imagine sitting through a whole set from this guy.

- Other than Fearing, some of my other Saturday highlights were My Son the Hurricane, Michou and Grand Analog. My Son the Hurricane sounds like what you’d get if Dancehall Free For All were the backing band for Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha, if de la Rocha were from Guelph. I think that’s kind of the idea. Lots of horns, lots of volume, and lots of fun. I was making Twitter jokes about the age of Michou’s band members, but they put together a solid set that was thoroughly enjoyable. And Grand Analog turned out to be a great ending to the night after I found both Los Lobos and Japandroids’ sets a bit lacking. Fronted by MC Odario Williams, Grand Analog had the whole Lake Stage tent moving to their brash hip hop.

- Meanwhile, Trina particularly enjoyed The Acorn and The Good Lovelies, sets I saw little or none of, and Basia Bulat. The Acorn had a few technical difficulties but recovered well, and like many bands they loudly proclaimed their love for and longtime patronage of the Hillside Festival. The Good Lovelies told some entertaining stories, both in song and through their between-song anecdotes, singing pretty harmonies and telling stories like playing with Fred Penner at another festival. Basia overcame a brief rain delay to really put on a beautiful, if slightly rushed, set. Her voice and charm quickly had the crowd swooning.

We’re minutes away from heading out for Hillside’s Sunday lineup, and hoping that the rain holds off today. Friday and Saturday were good, but Sunday should be even better.