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‘Happy Hillside!’: Ted Ferris previews one of his favourite festivals

“Happy Hillside!” says the smiling volunteer helping my wife and I apply our wristbands. “Well, she was very friendly,” I say to my wife as we leave the Gate Tent and start walking to the Welcome Gate. “Happy Hillside!” says another smiling volunteer while checking our wristbands, permitting us access to the site of the 2018 Hillside Summer Festival. “I guess this is a thing?” I say to my wife as we exchange surprised glances and walk along the Entrance Causeway then Anticipation Alley to the island located in Guelph Lake Conservation Area on the outskirts of Guelph, ON. Clearly, this was our first time attending Hillside. We’d hear “Happy Hillside” several more times that weekend, and it helped set the tone for an amazing weekend of awesome music and delicious food. 

The Hillside Summer Festival has been held annually since 1984. While it started as a one-day event held in the band shell in Guelph’s Riverside Park, within a few years it was relocated to the Guelph Lake Conservation Area and expanded to three days and five stages. Hillside’s website describes the summer festival as a “three-day, multi-stage event with a broad artistic vision that emphasizes diversity:  of culture, of musical heritage and style, of age, geography and influence.” 

We’ve attended a number of single-day to multi-day festivals over the years (Canterbury, Mill Race, Kitchener Blues Festival, Eaglewood, Home County, Kingsville, Mariposa, Summerfolk), and it’s not easy to avoid comparing them. Admittedly, there was a lot going on at the 2018 Hillside Summer Festival, but it never felt like the organizers were just throwing anything together in an attempt to be all things to all people. Everything we experienced was very well organized and presented in a professional, meaningful and fun way. Hillside successfully created a real community on the island that weekend, and like any vibrant and sustainable community, the intent was to reflect the interests of its people. Excluding the Eaglewood Folk Festival, as it sadly came to an end a number of years ago, the 2018 Hillside Summer Festival has been our absolute favourite festival to date.

So, what can one expect from this year’s Hillside Summer Festival? 

How about an Indigenous Circle, spoken word, poetry slam, drum circles, performing arts, dancing, yoga, children’s stage – including workshops and crafts – youth showcase, girl’s and guitars showcase, food & artisan vendors, and even live music!

Speaking of music, Hillside prides itself in presenting diverse performers, and considering their performance lineup, this year’s festival will be no exception. Where else could you see a six-piece band from Amsterdam consisting of members with Turkish, Indonesian and Dutch roots (Altin Gun), a Colombian dance music group (Systema Solar), Indigenous singers paired with a Middle-Eastern guitarist (Yonatan Gat and the Eastern Medicine Singers), South Indian born, Calgary based rapping sisters (Cartel Madras), and Steve Earle & The Dukes all in one weekend?

You’ll also observe, or take advantage of,  their impressive accessibility initiatives with programs operated by a dedicated and attentive group of volunteers known as the Access Support Krew (ASK). Hillside endeavours to remove barriers and facilitate access to all. The Oasis, an elevated shade tent located in the mainstage area, was the first one we’d ever seen at a festival.

You’ll witness one of the greenest festivals in the country. Hillside’s environmental initiatives are award-winning and include a green-roofed main stage, free water fill station, zero single-use products in the food and beverage areas, a dishwashing operation run by volunteers with a solar-powered water heater, extensive recycling and composting, the use of people-powered trikes instead of golf carts to haul gear, and the promotion and facilitation of cycling to the event. The 2018 Hillside Summer Festival’s greening programs were very impressive and should act as a model for any progressive festival.

You’ll experience the positive vibes we felt throughout the whole weekend and find the atmosphere of the entire festival environment to be absolutely infectious. We quickly found ourselves eagerly wishing anyone we walked past to have a Happy Hillside. 

You’ll be inspired by the diversity of the crowd and an attitude of total acceptance. Clearly, Hillside has no desire to target any single demographic and welcomes anyone and everyone to the event. 

The 2019 Hillside Summer Festival takes place Friday, July 12 through Sunday, July 14 and features an impressively diverse lineup that remains faithful to its truly inspiring vision. Headlining this year is Alan Doyle on Friday, Steve Earle & The Dukes on Saturday and my personal favourite, Bruce Cockburn, on Sunday.

Hope to see you on the island this month and, of course, Happy Hillside!

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