It’s no secret that I really like Hillside Festival. I’m not sure there’s any way I can do it justice. There are many reasons why I think it’s the best festival, and here are a few:
Location: The festival is on an island in the middle of Guelph Lake. Thankfully there is road access with a land bridge. This makes it a little bit more of a challenge for parking everyone (the majority of the patrons park a good kilometer away, but performers can park closer. They’ve got a drop-off point where bands can drop their backline, and bands with bigger setups can drive their vehicles to the stage (with careful golf-cart escorts through the crowd).
Site configuration: They’ve really figured out how to cram in a several stages into a small area, and yet they don’t really walk all over each other. When I was mixing Tokyo Police Club in 2009 on the main stage, I did get a text from my friend who was mixing monitors on the Lake Stage that I was blowing away an acoustic performance, but all in all most stages are their own environment.
Production: The production has vastly improved over the last few years. My friend Jon Halliwell is the technical director for the festival, and he is one of the best in the business. I’ve toured with him a couple of times: the Feist/Hayden tour in fall 2008, and the Metric/Arkells tour in spring 2010. There’s been notable improvements over the last few years – not only the main stage but the island and lake stage too. Better PA systems, digital consoles, and better lighting have all been put into place across the three stages since I did the festival back in 2005.
Camping: Who doesn’t love to camp? Every year I try to camp on site. A lot of bands can be seen in the volunteer camping zone. It should be noted that you won’t get to sleep before 3:00am if you do camp, but nothing makes being up that late more enjoyable than a late night swim. I swam twice this year, and should have swam more than that.
Waste Management: It astonishes me how ahead of the curve Hillside is when it comes to waste. The festival sells reusable mugs for $3. They have a tanker on site that patrons can go and get a FREE cup of water. There are also water stations all over the festival site. Every meal is served on a washable plate, and this year the festival bought a pant-load of stainless steel forks. They have a small army of volunteers that wash dishes. When it comes time to dispose of everything, you put your table scraps and napkins in a compost bin, your recyclables in another bin, your garbage in another bin (diapers mostly), and your plates/forks in yet another. The compost is buried on site, and the rest is dealt with accordingly. Brilliant. I understand why this would not work at other festivals – Hillside does cater to more mature/green minded folks, so trying this at a large festival with different demographic may not work. Thankfully though it does work at Hillside, and they are making the most of it.
The lineups: Every year there is a great lineup at the festival, and I usually try to take advantage of any clients/artists that are playing the festival so I can go. My Hillside history is:
2005: Cuff the Duke
2006: Cuff the Duke, Hylozoists
2008 (inside): Cuff the Duke, Wintersleep
2009: Tokyo Police Club, Gentleman Reg
2011 (inside): Arkells
2011: Mother Mother, Sweet Thing, Hollerado
I feel like I might be missing some in that list, but that more or less covers it; now onto my 2011 Hillside summary.
It simply wouldn’t be Hillside if it didn’t involve cramming a large amount of stuff into my car (friends included), and fighting the Friday afternoon traffic on the 401 to slowly make my way to Guelph. It especially wouldn’t be Hillside if I didn’t end up cramming 3 members from a French-Canadian band into the backseat of my car, along with two other friends who were already in my car (plus my camping gear). We managed to sneak by the Police Officer who was directing traffic despite having way too many people in the car, and after declaring to a few traffic people that we had to get the band to the stage asap, we got on site in a reasonable amount of time.
The next step of course was to claim my spot in the volunteer camping area. There are some crucial steps that need to be taken when you’re picking a spot. You want to make sure you’re in the QUIET zone, otherwise you may be up all night. Secondly, you want to make sure you don’t set up to any tents that may house some bluegrass jams all night, despite being in the quiet zone. Third, look out for any bizarre blue tent-trailers – the owner of this trailer loves to play his banjo at 8:00am. Lesson learned for me.
Once my tent was set up, I ran to go watch some music from Lights, Harlan Pepper, and Karkwa (all three were scheduled to play at the same time, which resulted in me running around between the three. My good friends PH and DF from SRB’s crew were working with Lights, and as usual were good to see.
Following the festivities Friday night, I kept a relatively low-profile and got a half-decent amount of sleep.
Saturday was a busy day. It was the day that I would work for three bands in the span of five hours. It was also insanely hot that day, so I was decked out in my Hillside outfit: straw hat, sunglasses, tank top (the first time in history that I would wear one), jean cut offs, and some chuck taylors. Sandals would have been a better call, but I survived. I proceeded to help set up Mother Mother on the Island stage as they did a workshop with fellow Vancouverites* Hannah Georgas and Dan Mangan.
Following the workshop we took the backline over to the main stage, and got details lined up for the performance that evening. Mother Mother’s set up is somewhat complex – especially Ryan’s guitar set up. He runs the biggest pedal board I’ve worked with.
I then went to the Lake stage to mix Sweet Thing. It’s so much fun mixing a band that has harmonies like Sweet Thing do. Off the top of the set Owen was jumping from picnic table to picnic table and got the entire crowd on their feet, and they stayed there until the set was over.
After that came Mother Mother main stage time. The one thing I don’t get is how festivals expect 15 minute change-overs to work. An extra 5 minutes per change over would have helped everyone out – it’s difficult changing over a full band and getting things set properly in a 15 minute window. I did have some difficulties getting Ryan’s guitar rig working correctly – it was a mixture of it being a complex set up and myself not being totally familiar with it. We did get it going though, and they powered through a great set.
After loading out Mother Mother, it was time to then go to the Island Stage and mix Hollerado. The Sheepdogs were playing right before, and the stage was at capacity, as the Island Stage usually is on a Saturday night. It’s almost cooler for bands to play the Island stage because it’s more intimate, much like a club show, but way more awesome. The crowds are always really attentive and like to participate.
The crowd was equally as crazy for Hollerado. It’s a good thing I had recently mixed them at Edgefest, so I knew who was singing/playing what, since I had absolutely no view of the stage whatsoever.
The Hollerado guys absolutely killed it. Lots of confetti, as usual, and some good rock out moments. So fun.
The best way of cooling off after a full day of Hillside is jumping into the Guelph lake at 2am, which is what happened. Thankfully on Sunday I didn’t have to do much, so I took in a few really great shows. The highlights for me were seeing Fred Penner and Shad. Two very different artists. Fred Penner make a comment at the top of his set: “Hello children! My, you’ve all grown up!”. This made me chuckle since I used to watch his show on TV when I was little. Shad, of course, was amazing. He had the entire crowd wrapped (rapped?) around his finger, and he absolutely killed it. The only shame here was that he couldn’t play any longer than he did.
I should also make mention of how when it came time to tear down my tent, a Hillside volunteer took not only all my camping gear, but some merch and my guitar teching case directly to my car using a trailer on his bicycle. First of all, the man must be in good shape, and secondly, what amazing service. This is just another reason why Hillside Festival is the best.
* Special thanks to Lara Farcasan for clarifying that people from Vancouver are indeed called Vancouverites