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.

Preview: Hillside Music Festival 2010

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Everything, Hillside | 2 Comments

Guelph – The 2010 Hillside Festival is upon us, and just like last year, the Panic Manual will be there all weekend long taking photos, drinking inexpensive beer, and eating reasonably priced food. We’ll also be tweeting from the grounds again this year, and who knows, we might even find the time for a review or three.

Once again, I only know a handful of bands heading into the festival, but on the eve of my second Hillside, this is rapidly becoming one of my favourite events of the year. Certainly it might be the best run festival I’ve been to, and I wasn’t kidding about the reasonably priced food and beer (Sausage Brothers are back as a vendor this year! Yay!). It’s the kind of festival where people take workshops on things like drum circles, hula hooping, and “pleasure skills,” all the dishes are hand washed by volunteers, and if it rains everyone walks in the mud in bare feet. That’s a festival vibe you won’t see at too many other places.

As far as the music goes, if you’re like me there’s a couple of bands in this lineup you like, there’s a few more who have names you recognize that you might like to check out for the first time, and the rest is just guesswork. Unlike last year, when I wrote this preview, I didn’t consult Wade on who to see and only got a couple of recommendations from Trina, my partner-in-coverage again this year. But if you’re among the lucky people who’ll be attending Hillside this year (by last count, weekend and Saturday passes were sold out, but Friday night and Sunday passes are still available), you may have come here looking for some ideas about who to see, and I’d hate to disappoint. So after the jump are my suggestions for who to go see at Hillside. Call them marginally-educated guesses.

Read more

Hillside Music Festival 2009: Final Recap

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Hillside | 1 Comment

It’s been a couple of days now since Hillside. We’ve dried off, had some time to reflect, think about what we saw, and come to some conclusions. Here are the acts we enjoyed most (or least) in a number of categories we just made up.

Best Rock ‘n’ Roll Singing Face: The lead singer of Attack in Black.


Just look at that scowl! Top notch. Attack in Black were pretty good. They quite clearly listened to an unhealthy amount of grunge music at a young age, but have a pretty bright future ahead of them if they can catch a few breaks. Read more

Hillside Day 3 Recap: Hoedowns, Rock Stacking, and Rain Soaked Everything

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Hillside | 2 Comments


A full Hillside Music Festival recap is forthcoming, but since Day 2 got a quick recap with highlights from the festival and from my on-site Tweeting, I thought I’d give Day 3 the same treatment.

Day 3 at Hillside was most notably marked by rain. A lot of it. A whole ton of rain and thunderstorms that threw the scheduling completely out of whack for a while, caused huge puddles at the mainstage, and caused several people to feel a mild electric shock from a lightning strike that was just a little ways away and made the ground shake from where we were sitting. One guy got good video of it, along with some people playing in the mud and rain. If you haven’t seen this video, the lightning strike is at 0:35, take a look.


That view is from just off the main stage, you can see the tents that were in the background to the right of the stage in the picture I took above. We were actually hiding over near the spoken word stage when that happened, sharing my big green umbrella with some dude named Daniel. He seemed like a nice enough guy. We did get soaked, but I mostly got soaked because I went to go to the bathroom just before the hard rain hit, and I stepped out just as it started really coming down. True story, let no one ever say I’ve never used a portapotty in a thunderstorm. I even started to wash my hands in the portable outdoor sink before realizing the absurdity of it. Hey, washing my hands after going to the bathroom’s always been automatic for me, what can I say…

Anyway, our pre-thunderstorm highlight was definitely Dancehall Free For All, a fun six-piece from Guelph who managed to rival Ohbijou for the most adorable act of the festival, despite being much louder with occasional screaming vocals. I also caught the last part of Los Misioneros del Norte, who (and I swear this is true) had people doing an impromptu hoedown in front of the stage during their set. Post-thunderstorm, the biggest surprise was maybe David Francey, who played immediately after the storm on the main stage and proved to be the perfectly mellow, charming folk artist to calm the nerves after getting soaked. Later on, the Great Lake Swimmers put on a very tight set and generally making this whole ‘indie rock’ thing look easy. Patrick Watson…well, I like Patrick Watson and his band a lot, and I hate to say bad things about him, but Patrick and most (if not all) of his band were somewhat intoxicated. Patrick was giggling incessantly, which was kind of fun and kind of disconcerting at the same time. We stayed for the beginning of Final Fantasy but left after a couple of songs once the rain picked up again. We were lucky to be in the VIP parking area near the grounds, because reportedly the main parking area was a complete swamp. Someone else took a great video of Final Fantasy playing in the rain; we left just as he was starting this song, and I really don’t know if he even got back on the stage, or if the Skydiggers, who were supposed to play after him, ever got going.

Once again, some select highlights from my tweets from the grounds:

If a rock band can be labelled as adorable, thats dancehall free for all all over. Fun sound1:31 PM Jul 26th from mobile web

Los misionares are now covering ‘la bamba’. Impromptu hoedown in front of main stage, too funny #hillside1:37 PM Jul 26th from mobile web

Well that was fun. Huge dump of rain, lightning. Everything stopped for a bit and everyones soaked. Programming now restarting #hillside3:14 PM Jul 26th from mobile web

Best line of #hillside by david francey on seeing a man who looked like jesus: ‘holy jesus, it’s jesus’ (say it with scottish accent)3:58 PM Jul 26th from mobile web

Save us from this gaggle of idiot 20 year old girls who won’t shut up during great lakes swimmers #hillside7:33 PM Jul 26th from mobile web

Strong suspicion that patrick watson was not exactly sober during his set. He was giggling and slightly glazed. Funny tho #hillside8:52 PM Jul 26th from mobile web

Final fantasy is cool but the sky is angry again. Positioning ourselves for a dash to the car #hillside9:17 PM Jul 26th from mobile web

I’ll have a final recap of the fest tomorrow.