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

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


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

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


“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.

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

Posted on by Paul in Hillside | Leave a comment

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.