Dispatches from the Hillside Festival day three (Sunday)
Slept super well after Saturday’s festivities. Too well. I slept in ‘til 8:30am, which didn’t leave a whole lotta time to get to the festival grounds for the Sunday Gospel sesh, but hallelujah. I did it. Thank God/Goddess/Creator/Spirit/fill in the blank. Nico had the audience in tears (and herself) as we sang a Scottish ballad together. As a whole, we went into “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” and you could feel the kinship and sense of unity in the tent.
We then caught Kandy Guira at the Main Stage. Hailing from the Ivory Coast in Africa, her trio brought us all to our feet dancing up a Sunday morning storm. Her connection with the audience was palpable and she made eye contact with all of us. For real. Her song for her deaf brother was especially touching, and she (and many of us) were also in tears. Thus far, a teary Sunday. Good tears.
Next up at the Lake Stage was a worship with Winnipeg’s Juno-nominated Begonia and Kingson, ON’s Tiny Horse. Wowzers. Alexa Dirks of Begonia belted her vocals in Sunday gospel style with her brave honest lyrics and a trio of dudes backing her on keys, drums and bass.
These dudes also backed up Tony Horse and played as if they’d rehearsed all week. Their tunes are catchy, funny and there’s nothing “tiny” about Tiny Horse’s Ciara Roberts and Rae Corcoran.
SUCH a full day! This place rocks. I see why it’s legendary. If I had a kid, this would be a perfect place. Twister. Jenga. Swimming. Play workshops. And introducing them to fabulous music.
I had a quick dip by the Lake Stage and heard Riki Gee, who is almost an octogenarian and whose tunes have been going strong for almost 60 years. His music was compelling, and perfect for my afternoon siesta/yoga time; it was like being serenaded by an existential Johnny Cash. Smooth narrative vocals and pertinent lyrics exploring the depths of life.
We went to the Tipi and chatted with Jann, a woman from Guelph of Anishinaabe descent. We chatted about ceremony, reciprocity and how important languaging is. A heartfelt conversation emerged and connection was forged.
The tears kept flowing today (thank goodness I was rushed this morning so no time for mascara) with Martha Wainwright’s performance in the Lake Stage. Man. Talk about true artistry. She joked with the audience that her shows can be intense. “I need a break…. From myself,” she said. Hence, some covers. Not only did she showcase some of her new tunes after a hiatus of several years, but she played the song “Mendocino” by her late mother, Kate McGarrigle and a ballad by her bro, Luther Wainwright, then closed the show with in her encore withTom Waits’ “Take it With You.” I heard countless “Wow’s” murmuring through the crowd. We definitely took parts of her with us.
Speaking of tears, I wanted to say how impressed I am that there’s a “Trust Tent” at the festival. This is a place to go for anyone who needs some support and deep listening. If a song you heard triggered you and reminded you of someone you have loved and lost, if you ran into an ex-lover and had a panic attack, the Trust Tent is a place you can go. Again, so impressed by the progressive measures of this festival in so many ways.
Back to the music. I caught a workshop on the Sun Stage, which featured Buen Rostro (which translates as “nice face”) hailing from Mexico City. True to their name, they had their faces adorned with paints, and bright costumes influenced from the Nahuatl culture. Combining cardenche songs and cumbias, sambas, rock, and jazz, this female-lead group of six had the audience dancing up a storm. They were featured with Balaklava Blues, fronted by Ukrainian Canadians Mark and Marichka Marczyk, and offered up some techno traditional tunes that also had the audience on their feet. Not too shabby for an early Sunday evening. They still managed to rouse tired festival goers.
The Main Stage featured the iconoclastic songwriter Hayden. This dude has been gracing the stages and making interesting music for years. He sang songs from his latest album, Are We Good (replete with his usual cool stylings) and gave us (for those that remember!) some of his great oldies like “Bad as it Seems” from 1995. I remember that tune as an early songwriter; he was an influence on a lot of us, and so inspiring to see he’s still evolving and inspiring younger audiences. In true community-festival-style, he called up an audience member to shake an egg shaker, and his honest dark humour is still in fine form.
Beggonia hit the stage again after her morning show, this time replete with lights and a bigger sound incorporating some electronic beats and backing vocals. She and her boys had the audience up close to the stage as she shared some of her personal experiences with religious trauma, receiving therapy and questioning her sexuality. This connection meant we were putty in her hands, and you could hear a pin drop during her intimate songs. Then we cheered and hollered during “Fear.” Wow.
We sauntered over the Island stage to hear Human Rights, the modern eight-piece roots-reggae band from Toronto. They were super tight and polished with their horn harmonies and full sound. Their inspirational lyrics of unity and oneness were a perfect ending to a festival based on the same values. High energy, and you’d never guess people had been moving and grooving for three solid days. Pure medicine.
We closed the evening with the humour and unifying force of Choir! Choir! Choir! lead by Daveed Goldman and Novu Adilman from Toronto, who began the project in Toronto in 2011. As a Hillside whole, complimented by members of the Guelph Symphony Orchestra, we belted out (in harmony) tunes like Leonard Coen’s “Hallelujah” and Shania Twain’s “Still the One.” We stepped out of the CanCon for a moment to give reverence to the late Sinead O’Connor and sang “Nothing Compares to You.” These guys are pros and reminding us we ALL CAN AND SHOULD SING. A sweet ending.
Another sweet ending was the special ChocoSol (from Toronto) sale they offered at the end of the festival. I left with about ten divine chocolate bars and a warm heart.
As a first-time Hillsider, what really impressed me was the efficacy of the whole machine; very well-oiled. No plastic cups, cutlery or plates used, and over 1,000 volunteers washing dishes, cleaning, composting, recycling. For someone who lives in Mexico (that’s me, if you missed my preview article), where plastic is king, this was SO very refreshing and inspiring. Oh Canada. There is so much good here.
I also loved overhearing tales and stories of people sharing their Hillside moments and recollections from over the years, certain performers they saw that changed their lives, meeting lifelong friends, partners, and now bringing their kids to share the tradition. Truly beautiful. I hope someone will overhear my conversation in 20 years’ time when I recount my first Hillside, and how I had the sweet gig to write for Roots Music Canada, met a few new pals, saw some old ones, and was reminded of how amazing this country is, and reminded of the awesome imagination, vision and talent there is that exists in the world. Gracias Hillside.