Published Jul 15, 2019Guelph's Hillside Festival kicked off this past weekend on Friday, July 12, and with it came the arrival of its expertly curated lineup of internationally recognized and local emerging artists alike. Here's what you might have missed at Hillside's 2019 edition.
Starting off the weekend was a workshop on the Lake Stage titled 'The Other Side of the Hill' featuring Rhiannon Giddens, Francesco Turrisi, The Sea The Sea and Richard Reed Parry. Each artist took turns revelling in each other's unique talents and leading the musical charge culminating in a folk-focused jam. As the sun set, sister duo Cartel Madras (recently transplanted in Toronto via Calgary), burst onto Hillside's Island Stage. The duo rapped viciously about gender, sexuality, racial identity and fuckboys while bouncing around stage in coordinated outfits and coaxing a crowd of mostly tweens to get absolutely "fucked up." Aided by the serious skill of DJ Yung Kamaji, Contra and Eboshi were dripping with swag — a perfect hype-up session for the Snotty Nose Rez Kids, whose set directly followed Cartel Madras's.
A few obligatory airhorns from DJ Yung Kamaji bookended the moments between Cartel Madras's and Snotty Nose Rez Kids' sets, before the Indigenous rapping duo made their way to the Lake Stage. In the months following the release of their Polaris long-listed album Trapline, Snotty Nose Rez Kids have been touring Canada, leaving a blazing trail of fire beats and identity-conscious rhymes in their wake. For their night-closing set, aided by the sonic energy of DJ Yung Kamaji, they riled up a densely packed crowd of attendees both young and old. A rousing pit formed toward the end of the set for "I Can't Remember My Name," which saw Yung Trybez and Young D squatting with festivalgoers chanting along with the song's signature "yah yah yahs." To close the night, Yung Trybez took his shot at one quick crowd-surf around the pit — with a crowd that large, it would be a misstep not to.
On Saturday (July 13), after Joyful Joyful capped off their tear-jerking set in the afternoon heat, Richard Reed Parry's peaceful songs provided welcome respite under the shade of the Lake Stage tent. Songs like "Long Way Back" relaxed the crowd to the point of near-napping. Looking around the crowd, a few individuals had obviously had their fair share of the July sun, and some opted to get horizontal on the grass. But despite the heat, the band persevered and delivered a classically Hillside and truly ethereal performance. Simultaneously, Yonatan Gat (flanked on stage by Rhode Island's Algonquin group, Eastern Medicine Singers), brought a driving performance to Hillside's Main Stage. Gat's double-necked electric guitar soared alongside the Eastern Medicine Singers' hypnotic chanting and drumming. The group were met by an equally diverse audience full of interpretive dancing hippies, bright-eyed stumbling toddlers and curious hipsters tapping along on the sidelines.
Following a break at the Main Stage, Colombia's Systema Solar arrived for a boogie-inducing, sun-drenched set. Later, offering reprieve from the heat, Hamilton's breakout dream-pop group Ellis shyly took to Hillside's shady Lake Stage. The quartet started late and delivered only a handful of songs, but were able to render a perfect synthesis of their discography nonetheless. They delivered meaty, sing-along worthy performances of "The Fuzz," "Something Blue" and "Frostbite," among other tunes, to a small but invested crowd. Neon Dreams closed out the evening with a pop-driven high-energy dance party at the Island Stage.
On Sunday (July 14) afternoon, Sook-Yin Lee graced the surprisingly well-shaded Sun Stage. Lee mostly spoke about the recent passing of her partner (and JOOJ band member), Adam Litovitz, telling the crowd about her struggle with his mental illness and its effect on their relationship. She also spoke about her near-cancellation of her Hillside appearance following his death. Thankfully, she decided to take the opportunity to speak at the festival in an attempt to process and heal. Lee delivered a heartbreaking eulogy alongside a reading of Litovitz's creative writing in order to honour both his legacy, and the lost legacy of his late poet mother, Malca Litovitz. The hour-long set was rounded out with a Tibetan prayer chant in honour of Litovitz. Few dry eyes were to be seen by the performance's end.
Later on Sunday evening, the mysterious, fringe-masked cowboy Orville Peck arrived to deliver a thoughtfully arranged set of country tunes to an unsuspecting crowd. The band donned summer-appropriate Southern garb and fittingly brought songs like "Queen of the Rodeo," "Buffalo Run," "Roses Are Falling" and "Hope to Die," as well as a crowd pleasing, whistle-along "Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)," to Hillside's final night of performances. To new fans, the band provided a hits-only set derived from their Polaris Prize long-listed debut album Pony.
Later, still sweaty from the midday heat (and DJ NDN's nostalgia-heavy bopfest), festivalgoers arrived to a mic-swingingly rabid Damian Abraham for Fucked Up's festival-closing set at the Island Stage. Despite the low attendance for their performance (some had already headed for home), the band brought out all the hits for an enthusiastic mosh pit of hardcore-fans and newbies alike. Forever the cool guy at the party, Abraham made sure to mention the recent legalization of his favourite green inebriant, and invited festivalgoers to join him for a round of pass the dutch following the band's set.
It was a nice offer, but after a hot, performance-packed weekend, most attendees were jonesing for a nice, cold shower.