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Monday, July 25, 2011
Hillside Is A State Of Mind
I keep making the same mistake. I make plenty of mistakes, but in this instance I'm referring to my oft repeated blunder of assuming that having more time to write will actually enable me to do so. As if my blogs were more time sensitive than content influenced. I'm no super machine that can pull something out of my hat on a whim, and I'm not a fantasy guru that can spin a tale out of the crevices of my mind in the heat of a inspirational brainwave. I am experience driven. The things I write have always been based on situational material; emotional fuel from the good and bad of my day to day.
I've had a couple ideas, even considered making an attempt at another illustrated blog, such as the one titled Guilty from all the way back in December of last year. Nothing struck me though, nothing that really made me say "woah", I can put this in words. The internet is bogged down extensively with copious tripe and superficial content that the last thing I need to do is drip into the pond as I try and write about the trivial highs and lows of my every day. I can be happy keeping things to myself every now and again. If I find the need to write another thing that no one is going to read, I need it to be for me.
So if I must be event driven, an event that has come to drive me greatly in such a short span of a couple years is the music festival of Hillside. I am sitting in the twisting early morning air of my softly humming fan, nursing a bruise from a puck to the face and listening to the intensely powerful and penetrating banjo picking of a talented artist named Old Man Luedecke; finally the words to a blog that has for so long eluded me finally begin to flood into my head.
(Obviously not from Hillside)
I'm trying to find a way to describe the feel of Hillside without sounding like I'm just emitting random psychobabble. The truth is that the title of the blog really does explain it all. Hillside is a mindset, it is the feeling you get when you are surrounded by tens of thousands of people that are all exuding positive emotions. It is a mob mentality of overwhelming goodwill. Hillside is a feeling, an emotion and definitely a state of mind. The success of the festival lies in the talented artists and its impeccable organization, but the spirit of the festival is driven by the kindness and enthusiasm of its attendees, volunteers and performers.
For the second year in a row my attendance was serendipitously made possible through the kind actions of friends with extra tickets. The truth of my existence is that I no longer have the where with all to accurately predict if I will be around for any given July in Canada, and thus lack the justification to buy a pricy weekend pass the many months ahead of time that is required in order for them to not be sold out. This years heroine was Clare, who was a last year hillside acquaintance. I don't know why she bought an extra one, but I love her for it. Hillside friends are special friends.
I always do a poor job when I attempt an exact recount of a series of events, so I guess I'll break it down into the things that I feel are worth mentioning and still try to give a sort of overall guideline. The hillside I went to last year was in many ways amazing, so it is truly incredible to say without hesitation that this years' was by far better. I feel like my first hillside was keynoted by several really good bands that were bridged by copious forgettable, if not undoubtedly talent people, such that the time between the performances that stuck was enabled more by the high of the festival than the content on stage. The contrast this year was striking; bands I had never heard of, or that were something on the peripheral of my consciousness all came to play, and play really well. The down time between sets that I wanted to attend was basically non-existant, and really troubling conflicts of interest arose when faced with a tough decision on who to see.
Much to my embarrassment, but post-festival elation, I could often be seen marching off to the merch tent post set to try and track down an album by the artist I had just seen. When I plaintively told the man at the cash register that hillside was draining my money he was quick to point to the reusable beer mugs in my hand. I think it was only after the third time that the same guy saw me passing through with more albums that he finally realized the depth of my problem. I couldn't be happier now though, as I find new music often feels like a depleteable resource. The battle to keep a play list on my computer or ipod that is fresh and new is always a harrowing task, and I think I may have just gained a multi month advantage.
The friday night of hillside has come to feel like a warm up, where you slowly ease yourself into the feel of the festival. The bands that play, with exception, are usually listed on the friday night for a reason, and the time can be used to get your feet wet and have some beers. I'll post pictures from the program and circle what I saw. If I circle two in a set it means I bailed on one to see another, or just sampled both.
The Saturday is when the festival really comes together in my mind, and I don't think that's just my opinion alone, as it was the only day of the three that was completely sold out. Maybe it is the fact that it is the busiest day that give it the feel of being really high energy, but the bands started playing at 11 in the morning and before I knew it I was slightly drunk and in the home stretch for sets.
Saturday opened up with me listening to Dala playing with Doug Paisley, and then flipping to the main stage to watch some Graveyard Train followed up by Dala again with their own set. Graveyard Train is a band all the way from Melbourne, Australia, and they came prepared to play. With a list of songs that all seemed to be about some sort of ghoul or ghostie and a group of band members that includes a harmonica/hammer and chain player, these guys put on a performance that was pretty much unforgettable. Since Hillside is so big on workshops and mashing different artists together to jam, I believe I must have seen these guys three times by weekends' end and was never disappointed. My sister Jessica, who was fortunate enough to make it out for Saturday, even went and saw them again on the Monday night in Toronto. I couldn't work up the energy after my exhausting weekend, I must be getting old.
Dala, which played right after Graveyard Train, didn't quite bring the high energy music of their predecessors, but still managed to pull off a performance no less amazing. This is a group that consist of two admittedly good looking ladies, that I actually know best through my parents having played them in their house. They have a way of harmonizing their voices that is no trick of studio magic. I would wager that after seeing them preform, they sound better live then they ever do mixed on a cd. The natural back and forth banter, and the ease with which they sing and have fun is infectious. I'm not always in the mood to listen to their kind of music, but I will admit that they have a good thing going.
Aside from the surprising Sweet Thing in the midday, the true highlight of the Saturday came at sundown. Starting with Hooded fang at 8 and finishing with Hollerado, the final acts on the island stage made the day. With the beer in hand, and the good times rolling, Saturday evening started with the catchy pop beats of the lesser known Hooded Fang, flipped to the groove infused melodies of the up and coming Sheepdogs and finally was capped off with the fun and energetic set of the ever enjoyable Hollerado. Huge numbers of people were crowded under the tent at the island stage, sweating in the sweltering summer heat and grooving in place while standing on the picnic tables, enthralled by the energy and quality of the performances.
Sunday starts fairly tame, with the highlight being the Gosspel session for two hours starting at eleven. I suppose this is supposed to be hillsides version of church, to make all the Godly feel better about missing a sermon to listen to sick beats. Understandably then it may make you raise an eyebrow and wonder why the professionally unreligious such as myself would find this to be the best thing in the morning. The truth is that even though the workshop is often orchestrated and run by one of the artists that is sufficiently Jesus-enthused, the rest of the jam is comprised of really good, often folky artists, that aren't necessarily heaven bound, but fit the sound that the session was going for. The long and short of it is that if you're willing to put up with one or two drawn out songs about Heaven and the like, you get to listen to artists like Dala and Old Man Luedecke play entirely session-unrelated tunes.
With the morning Gosspel being my first chance to have a look at the banjo playing dynamo Old Man, it was fortunate that his whole set was later on that day, and he didn't fail to disappoint. There were two Albums that I got signed at hillside, and one of them was his. The other was by a band named Paper Lions, who's CD I had actually bought on a whim hoping that they'd be amazing and actually making a really accurate prediction. While I was walking into the merch tent to track down Paper Lions to sign my CD, is when one of the more memorable moments of the festival happened for me.
If you have browsed over the schedule of Sunday that I posted, you'll notice that playing on the lake stage in the early evening was one anomaly of a performer: Fred Penner. Yes, the legend of a man from my childhood played at hillside this year, and although he didn't bring any new age guitar-shredding Freddy P to the stage, he did manage to pull of a set that was by far one of my favourites.
(This is not my video, just took it off the youtubes)
Partially by the virtue of his charisma alone, and then coupled with his energetic, funny and generational gapping music, Fred brought such an energy to the stage that the whole fenced area was alight with smiles, laughter and singing along. Furthermore, Mr. Penner wasn't afraid to collaborate either, and invited both Serena Ryder and Dan Mangan up during his set to sing along with him. When I was a kid, Ghost Riders in the Sky was by far and away my favourite song of his, and I can remember clearly lying in bed with my rewind-button-less sony walkman, flipping the tape over and fast forwarding so that I could listen to it over and over after my parents had gone to sleep. The point is that I'm not entirely sold on Serena based on her own music alone, but she definitely won some points with me after pulling out all the stops to help Fred belt out one of my favourite childhood hits. Good beer and a childhood icon was a little overwhelming.
Back to the memorable moment, as I was walking into the merch tent after Paper Lions' set to get my CD signed, completely by surprise I bumped into none other than Fred Penner himself. This, unfortunately, set off a very awesome and embarrassing series of events. I didn't want to do the cliche thing and tell the man how I grew up with his music, but as a result had no idea what to say to him and started babbling like an idiot while shaking his hand for an awkwardly long time. Eventually, sensing that I had seized in the head, he took the initiative and asked me my name and said he was happy to meet me, jump starting my facilities back to working order.
The festival concluded with a very off sounding Sloan and me losing my car. I feel bad that my only words for the prolific 90's Canadian pop sensation is that they were 'off', but that is all I can muster. I was never really a huge Sloan fan, they just happen to be one of those bands that had so many hits that I can't help but know all their music. Unfortunately their voices haven't aged well, or they were just having a bad night, but either way they failed to put on a performance that had me enthused. Don't worry about my car either, it was just the next lot over.
If there is one last thing I can say, it is that after a festival like that, I am truly proud of the state of the Canadian music industry. As a person that spends too much time on the internet, I'm not a stranger to the complaining that occurs in regards to the state of the world's music scene. I walked away with seven new albums from Hillside, and every one of them was a Canadian band or artist. The truth is that if you ever feel that there is no good music being produced anymore, you're just not listening hard enough.
A big thanks again to Claire for having that extra ticket, and to Her, Gabe, and Sarah for putting up with me all weekend. Hillside friends really are special friends.
Thanks for reading,