I am riding to the festival grounds in a big yellow school bus. It is Friday July 22nd and I am on my way to Hillside, a music festival hosted in Guelph, ON that boasts incredible live music, spoken word, food, local artisans, community and fun.
As I walk into the festival, I am greeted by volunteers, vendors and other festival goers with a simple “Happy Hillside.” This is by far one of the friendliest festivals I have attended. Artists on the MainStage are unconcerned leaving the backstage area to mingle with their fans. I order a fresh tamale from the people at Chocosol Traders and eat off of reusable plates and drink coffee and water from a reusable mug. There is a sacred fire circle in the centre of it all, hosting workshops, drum circles and teachings. In addition to all of these offerings are three stages packed with incredible musical line-ups all weekend long, and the overall vibe of the space is chill and happy.
At around 7PM, the sun is still brightly shining. Although this is an evening performance, it definitely still feels like a hot afternoon. I’ve arrived early, just so that I could catch the entirely of Andy Shauf’s set. The Saskatchewan-based artist has just released his newest album “The Party” through Arts & Crafts that has been playing on repeat in my home for weeks. This is the follow up to his eleven track 2015 album “Bearer of Bad News” and it is exquisite. Shauf hits the stage wearing a red baseball cap and accompanied by three players: electric guitar, keys and drums. The Milk Carton Kids emerge from the backstage area to watch his set with the crowd.
The audience is smitten.
Shauf’s live sound is pure magic. Lyrically, he has the ability to transport entire crowds across cities and into the delicate scenes he’s constructed within each song. The mix is perfect, clear vocals sung quietly wash over the crowd guided by a dreamy arrangement of synth and the acoustic guitar strummed by Shauf himself. This is the perfect music for sitting back and relaxing in the sunshine, as it slowly fades into evening.
Highlights of his performance include “Early to the Party” and “The Worst in You”
During the changeover at the MainStage of Hillside, I dip over to The Lake Stage to catch a bit of VALLEY, a Toronto-based indie-pop outfit whose recently released 9 track album “This Room is White” has already received over 50,000 listens on Soundcloud since May. While I was only able to catch a few songs from their set, you only need to listen for a moment to realize that this band is going places. Consider me a fan!
Next to hit the MainStage at Hillside are crowd favourites, Son Little. Hailing from NYC, this artist, accompanied by a killer rhythm section offered a change of pace for the MainStage this evening. I find myself a spot near the front to take photos, weaving my way through a crowd that is already on their feet and dancing.
Son Little sings with passion, and his band is tight. It is blues music, but it is much more than that- blending a variety of genres to create something that can only be described as a party onstage. While the genre might be hard to pin down, it is evident on the smiles of the faces in the audience, that he is making music that is fun. Halfway through the set, the tiniest little girl runs to the edge of the stage and begins to dance. Son Little tips his white cowboy hat to her and says hello, before diving right into the next tune.
If you haven’t checked out Son Little yet, this is definitely worth a listen.
The Milk Carton Kids
I have been waiting to see The Milk Carton Kids live forever, and it is everything I’d hoped it would be and more. Two men, two guitars, a suitcase and a microphone. The stage is dark except for a spotlight on the two artists- who begin in a whisper but whose music rises from the stage like a birdsong. They are in grey suits and they sing in perfect harmony. Kenneth Pattengale’s picking is lightning fast. The sun sets as the intricate guitar lines and gorgeous harmonies ring out across the lake. As the MainStage MC would later state “This, is a Hillside moment”.
“We usually get daytime slots at folk festivals” says Joey Ryan, one half of the contemporary folk duo, midway through the show. They’re as wonderfully charming in their banter as they are in song. “Do you guys hear that?” Joey says, as bleed from the heavier concerts held at the two nearby stages can be heard in the distance. But there is little competition. Once they start playing the rest of everything fades away.
Highlights of their performance include the song “Charlie” written for the daughter Kenneth wish he had, and their closer- a rendition of “Wish You Were Here” that rose from the crowd in a swell of sound and feeling.