Dispatches from the Hillside Festival – Day 2 (Saturday)
The second day of our Hillside Festival 2019 weekend was a 12-hour day filled with awesome live music, hilarious stories and a huge soaker.
We started our day at 11 a.m. with a workshop entitled Let Your Soul and Spirit Fly at the Lake Stage. It featured Rhiannon Giddens, Francesco Turrisi, and Birds of Chicago with Steve Dawson. The artists already knew each other, having met at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival over a decade ago. This familiarity easily translated into incredible jams and improvisation. Hearing Birds of Chicago’s Allison Russell and Rhiannon Giddens singing together was a truly transformative experience. Mixed with Allison’s clarinet, Rhiannon’s fiddle and banjo, Francesco’s accordion, Steve’s guitar and Jason’s stand-up bass, the entire workshop was absolutely magical.
At noon we made our way across the festival grounds to the Island Stage for a workshop entitled Smell The Sea and Feel the Sky, which featured Alan Doyle, Jenn Grant and friends. While no friends showed up to join Alan and Jenn, she did invite her husband, producer and singer-songwriter Daniel Ledwell, on stage for what turned into a hilarious seductive dance off by Jenn. The whole crowd was in stitches watching Daniel try to keep a straight face while continuing to perform their duet. Alan was surprisingly in fine form for the early performance and sang one song a cappella that was just fantastic.
At 1 p.m. we were at the Sun Stage for the Songwriters Circle featuring Alysha Brilla with her father on bass and Jojo from her band The Brilltones on sax. It also featured Andrew Craig and Janice Jo Lee. It was Alysha’s Hillside debut, and while Andrew had hosted several times, it was also his performance debut. He played a one-of-a-kind dual keyboard that was strapped to his body. Andrew explained that he designed and built his “mighty board” himself. Even the other artists were impressed. Janice Jo Lee surprised us with her performance as we were only aware of her spoken word and acting projects.
We remained at the Sun Stage for the With the Sunshine In Our Eyes workshop that featured The Pairs, Amanda Rheaume, and Corwin Fox. Each artist worked very well together. The Pairs sounded even better than the day before, and they easily sang backup vocals for Amanda and Corwin. We were happy to have a chance to see Amanda Rheaume perform as we missed her on opening night. Her powerful vocals and thought-provoking lyrics left us wanting to see her again very soon. Corwin told a story then sang a hilarious song about cheese rolling and eavesdropping on a couple having a huge fight on a beach. I don’t think my retelling would do it justice but he had the crowd roaring with laughter.
At 3:15 p.m. Birds of Chicago, with Steve Dawson from Nashville via Vancouver on guitar, took to the mainstage. We’re big fans of this husband and wife duo, having seen them perform at Hillside Inside with Whitehorse. They were excellent! Their soulful and heartfelt music is not to be missed.
Then it started to rain. Then it started to downpour. Everyone ran for cover while the stage crew scrambled to cover up all the equipment. Fortunately it only lasted ten minutes and the sun was back out to eventually dry everyone off.
Yonatan Gat & The Eastern Medicine Singers were next up on the mainstage. The combination of Yonatan’s double neck guitar and traditional Indigenous drumming and singing was a very unique experience.
At 5:20 p.m. we headed back to the Island Stage to see The Burning Hell. They hadn’t performed at Hillside in over a decade and were thrilled to be back. We hadn’t seen them before, and they were awesome! The band put on a wicked show, and the combination of bass clarinet and bouzouki was simply amazing! At one point they performed a killer duet at the end of a song, and the crowd went absolutely wild! During their set Ariel Sharrat played the bass clarinet, bass guitar and finally the drums, which she did with wild abandon and a huge smile the whole time she was behind the kit. It was awesome! The finale included former members Jenny from Bird City on vocals, along with her two children, and Vish Khanna on drums. The band earned the first real standing ovation we’d seen that day.
We caught some of Systema Solar’s mainstage set that started at 6:35 p.m. The quintet’s energetic performance resulted in a huge group of dancers at the front of the stage moving to the rhythm of their Afro-Caribbean beat. The timing of their set couldn’t have been more perfect, as the sun lowering in the sky reflected off their vivid costumes.
At 6:50 p.m. we took in some of Front Country’s set at the Lake Stage. The California-based band featured a strong female lead singer with soaring vocals accompanied by a stand-up bass, mandolin and guitar.
After grabbing some fantastic takeaway from the food pavilion, we returned to the mainstage for Songhoy Blues’s 8 p.m. set. The quartet came all the way from Timbuktu. Their bluesy African beats had the crowd near the front of the stage on their feet dancing and grooving throughout their entire set.
At 9:05 p.m. we popped into the Lake Stage to see a bit of Ellis’ set. It was the Hamilton group’s Hillside debut. Lead singer Linnea Siggelkow’s ethereal sounding vocals and indie rock guitar riffs worked well with her full band lineup. I expect to hear more from this group.
At 9:30 p.m. Steve Earle & The Dukes took to the mainstage and performed an hour-and-a-half-long set that included several originals as well as covers of Guy Clark songs. Steve Earle has been on my “must see” list for years, and I always kept missing him. It was a huge thrill to finally see such a veteran of the American music scene. Steve’s band was so tight, and you could tell that he was still loving performing for an audience after all this time. Steve closed the night with a beautiful and fitting rendition of Guy Clark’s song “Old Friends.”
It was a long and busy day, but we still missed seeing so many performances, workshops and other activities. There truly is something for everyone at Hillside. You could never run out of things to do or get bored. We had a fantastic time and can’t wait to do it all over again on closing day.