Dispatches from the Hillside Festival day two (Saturday)
1:17 p.m.: Wow! What a day! And it’s not even 2 pm.
We’re off to a rolling (and muddy) start. Fear not, I’m a child of a parent who was at Woodstock, so rain and mud won’t sway this gal.
This morning at the Island stage, we started the day with Ariel Posan from Winnipeg joined by Golden Feather from Hamilton – offering serious jams in the style of the Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead. Awesome three-part harmonies complimented heavy guitar fills. I flashed back to my old Phish days, but with much more clarity and sobriety today. I was swaying and swooning to all the solos – guitar, keys, sultry sax – held down by two bass players and two full drum kits. Stellar. I’m still vibrating.
I waltzed over to the Sun Stage to listen to Carlos Morgan’s spoken word performance. He bared his heart in his truth-telling prose regarding colonialism and his plight as a Black man today.
On the main stage, I heard a couple of the Hillside songwriting students, Julie Tripp, Julian Vam Kester and Jey Plourde. From love ballads to more traditional protest songs, these folks already have got some solid songwriting chops and are on their way to becoming mature writers.
5:48 p.m.: We caught Adrian Sutherland at the Lake Stage after lunch. This Indigenous artist from Attiwapiskat procured a standing ovation after his set, which included some originals from the Midnight Shine days including “Northern Man.” He also did their cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” with the third verse in his Mushkegowuk Cree. It was a real treat, replete with harmonica and the crowd singing in unison. Adrian’s connection to nature and the Creator, reminded us life is sacred.
Leyla McCalla hit the Main Stage early afternoon and brought in the sun. Her parents are from Haiti, though she now calls New Orleans home, and she steeped us in history of the revolution there. She sings in Cajun Creole and English and posed a particularly moving question in one song: “How much does a memory say?” She closed her set with a tune inviting us to “Listen for the voice of liberty that lives in your heart.” Inspiring indeed.
I was stoked to see Moontricks from the Kootenays in BC. I played a festival with them years ago when I was based in Nelson, and they just keep getting better as they refine their sound and skills. Nathan Gurley was on the decks and blew a mean harmonica while Sean Rodman sang his smooth blend of bluegrass and soul-inspired tunes and played a mean banjo and guitar. The dance floor was hopping with this fusion of electronica, folk (with a cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice”) and bluegrass riffs. Amazing.
10:30 p.m.: I had the opportunity to interview Izzie Walsh(hailing from Manchester, England) before the festival and was so excited to hear her set. And I was not disappointed. Her stylings are reminiscent of Neko Case, but a bit darker. It’s a bit of Americana blended with bluegrass but less folk/more modern with her powerful grounded vocals. A standing ovation proved she’s won over the audience across the pond.
Priyanka, fab drag queen extraordinaire, had the whole Main Stage audience bopping and jumping to her polished set. Pink satin, bling, back up dancers and a whole lot of sass were a sweet surprise for me. Again, Hillside shows its values with diverse acts. I loved that I could saunter over to one stage for traditional bluegrass then hit another for slick upbeat glitz.
Willie Nile and his band brought some grit from NYC to the Main Stage early evening with his rocker protest tunes and reflections on today’s society. They were kind of like a folkie band meets The Ramones with heavy guitars, solid drums, conscious lyrics, and uber anthemic with their choruses sung in unison.
Will Butler (of Arcade Fire) and the Sister Squares rocked the Island Stage at night. They were super interesting with their theatrical electronic catchy tunes, key changes, lots of vocals, various synths and four to the floor beats.
Oh yeah…. And Earth and City provided a nutritious vegan and gluten-free dinner of kale salad and a bean burger to fuel us for the night. Deelish!
We shut down the night with a true artistic spectacle provided by DakhaBrakah, the unique quartet from Ukraine. Amazing avant-guard visuals accompanied their set of folk fusion. Ranging from deep tenor to a fantastic falsetto, Vladyslav Troitskyi had me mesmerized. The trio of women were compelling with their strong and sometimes chaotic harmonies. I forgot to breathe once or twice.
Sipping on an herbal tea now ready to hit the hay to prepare for tomorrow.