Hillside is a music, food and arts festival that celebrates diversity and inclusion. 2018 marks the 35th birthday for Hillside and the festival planners made sure to celebrate with a great lineup featuring some of Canada’s best artists including U.S. Girls, who are up for the Polaris Prize!
As I walked up the long, winding road towards Hillside Festival, I felt the energy hit me. Smiles were on the faces of all the volunteers, musicians and festival goers, and the beautiful, 30-degree weather didn’t hurt.
The first show I went to on Friday was Adrian Underhill at 8 p.m. Underhill provided the perfect music to match the weather; a mix of R&B and popthat left me smiling and bobbing my head. Underhill released his first record, CU Again, earlier in the year, and he performed the album in its entirety.
One of the highlights was the song “Weather.” Underhill’s piano skills shined with his joyful keyboard melody. The mix of melody and his and inspiring lyrical messages were uplifting.
The pace of the set was great. Underhill started with slower songs like “Not Good Enough” before speeding up the tempo near the end. This technique seemed to work because although the crowd didn’t start large, it ended that way.
As a fan of Adrian Underhill, I was selfishly excited when he saved my favourite song for last. “Cruel” is one of those songs that I can’t keep out of my head this summer and for good reason. The rambling guitar is soulful and the chorus is as catchy as anything you hear on the radio these days. As catchy as the chorus is, it is the fact that it speaks to Hillside as a whole that’s so important: “Cause if the world has been cruel to you / I’ll try to understand / Ooh, because what good can I do / If I don’t try to understand?”
One of the most unique aspects about Hillside is how much the community is valued. Underhill has been a part of that community for years. He attended and volunteered at the festival for years, and now he came back as a performer. Underhill is just one of the many success stories of the nurturing community that Hillside cultivates.
“It’s our third time here and they finally decided to give us the main stage,” singer Menno Versteeg said to open their set. Hollerado have always been a crowd favourite at Hillside and that trend continued for their third trip on the island.
As they took the stage, I looked around and noticed the overall youth of the crowd. It seemed like it ranged from 14 to 30, but everyone was lively. Like usual, Hollerado got the crowd jumping early and often. They started the set by bringing back a crowd favourite in “Americanarama”; the noise could be heard at every stage of the festival!
Hollerado were the kind and genuine guys they always are. They joked around with each other and the crowd, and generally made everyone feel included in the party. Another thing they did was tell stories; stories about being poor, touring and drug dealers, all of which got the crowd laughing.
The band played their newer singles off of their 2017 record, Born Yesterday, but they made sure to sprinkle in some oldies to get the crowd going. One of those oldies was crowd favourite (and my favourite), “Got To Lose”. The gospel organ got everyone in the singing mood so they could belt out the chorus in unison.
Hollerado brought rock for all ages. They played with all of their energy and when they finished, they went to the merchant tent to hang out with people for even longer. Classy, classy band!
My last show of the night was Cadence Weapon, and unfortunately, it was so packed I couldn’t even get pictures! Cadence Weapon is a rapper and hip-hop artist who’s been around since 2005. Roland Pemberton is from Edmonton, Alberta and his rhymes are so good that his hometown named him the poet-laureate in 2009!
Cadence Weapon has great rhymes, but that may be rivalled by his stage presence. He spoke to the extremely young crowd, asked if they wanted to dance, and gave them what they wanted; a sweaty show with the energy cranked to full power.
The dancing started innocently with kids as young as 5 going to the front, but it didn’t take long for the innocent dancing to become full-on moshing. Everyone was jumping, pushing and sweaty, but luckily Cadence Weapon was cooling everyone down with water guns the whole time!
Unfortunately, day 2 of Hillside couldn’t start as beautifully as day 1, but despite the gloomy sky, the music shined. The first band of the day was a CJRU 30 classic, Destroyer. Dan Bejar has been heading Destroyer for over 20 years but he played many of the songs from the newest album from 2017, Ken.
The name Destroyer is a bit of a misnomer as Bejar’s voice was calm and soft. The softness of his voice allowed the intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics to come through. The acoustic guitar and soothing voice were relaxing, and it perfectly suited the tent stage it took place in. Bejar was at his introspective best with the song “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood”.
In the afternoon I was excited to get the chance to see Partner for the second time. I saw them a few years back and enjoyed their laid-back garage rock sound. Their sound could fit in the 90’s, but they make it relevant to today. They talk about growing up and dealing with mindless jobs, and they do so by making it feel relatable. Being stuck in a comfortable rut in your life is familiar to everyone, which made the song “Comfort Zone” a crowd favourite.
Josée Caron and Lucy Niles had a particularly humble demeanour; you knew they were grateful to be there without them saying it. They smiled, laughed and played around with the crowd, making sure to include everyone.
Niles rocked out in her solos, but many fell flat on the crowd. I thought Partner played great, but I’m not sure if they were at the right stage. Most of the crowd was sitting, but the music made me want to stand up at the front of the stage banging my head.
I know I was at a music festival, but the Mapleton Organic Dairy ice cream was heavenly. I’m a big fan of coffee, so I got the cappuccino flavour on a waffle cone. It was sweet, delicious and just like a 5-year-old child, I had it all over my face.
One of the best parts about Hillside is the focus on children. The whole weekend has programming for kids including music, workshops, games and a bunch more. So many of the Hillside attendees have been going since they were kids, and that’s because they learn to appreciate music at such a young age!
One band that has been teaching Hillside kids for years is The Funky Mamas. They were once a five-piece of mothers who brought their kids with them to their shows, but only three original Mamas are left, Tannis, Georgia and Chantal. They may be two Mamas down, but they’ve made up by adding a few members including Chantal’s son, Coulter. Coulter grew up being one of the kids singing and dancing at the front of the crowd, and now he’s at the very back drumming along.
After the show, Coulter described it as “a perfect mix of nostalgia and emotion. It was more than a blast to play all the songs that put such a big smile on my face when I was young, and it felt great knowing I was giving those smiles right back to a younger generation.”
And did that younger generation ever enjoy it! Kids were singing, dancing and doing their best dragon noises, while parents were smiling and taking pictures. The Mamas reminded us of why music is so special: it brings family, friends and strangers together.
One of the last shows of the night was one of the most anticipated. U.S. Girls took the stage just past 9:00 PM, but the Island Stage was crowded well before that. Meghan Remy’s newest album, In A Poem Unlimited has been a huge success and was recently named one of the finalists for the Polaris Prize.
Remy started the night with one of the highlights of her album, “Rage of Plastics.” She had her full band, so the saxophone really stood out in this song. The sax complimented the guitar’s drawl and they both had their moments to shine. Unfortunately, I couldn’t’ stay for the whole set, because I had to get going to my last show of the night.
In a time when a lot of live music is pre-produced, seeing a band with over eight members and even more instruments is refreshing. Michael Milosh led from the front with his beautifully androgynous voice, while the band played with precision.
Much of the newest album, Blood, has a slow tempo, which made the energy a little low. The crowd was still engaged, swaying with the music, but the energy could have been higher. One of the songs that brought up the energy was “The Fall”. A classic song from Rhye’s breakthrough debut album from 2013, “The Fall” tells the story of a fleeting love. The emotion was captivating, which made it hard to keep your eyes off the stage.