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Guelphites warm up at Hillside Inside

Monday, February 8, 2010

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  • Ani DiFranco and Ryan Corrigan, aka Hawksley Workman, were among the performers at this year's Hillside Inside Festival. (Photos

    Ani DiFranco and Ryan Corrigan, aka Hawksley Workman, were among the performers at this year's Hillside Inside Festival. (Photos

  • Hillside Inside performers Woodhands and Dublin 2 Delhi got the crowds on their feet. (JRM)

    Hillside Inside performers Woodhands and Dublin 2 Delhi got the crowds on their feet. (JRM)

  • Woodhands got the crowds at the Sleeman Centre onto their feet at Hillside Inside. (JRM)

    Woodhands got the crowds at the Sleeman Centre onto their feet at Hillside Inside. (JRM)

  • Owen Pallet of Final Fantasy gave a subdued performance, minus thunder and lightning. (JRM)

    Owen Pallet of Final Fantasy gave a subdued performance, minus thunder and lightning. (JRM)

  • Nils Edenloff of the Rural Alberta Advantage gets ready to play a set. (JRM)

    Nils Edenloff of the Rural Alberta Advantage gets ready to play a set. (JRM)

Written by Martina Schaefer

Music fans braved the cold weather on Saturday night to experience the warmth that only a music festival can provide - in this case, the third annual Hillside Inside festival.

The one-night event brought in hundreds of volunteers, several community groups and crafts vendors, and many of Guelph's local restaurateurs. Hillside Inside was created three years ago in an attempt to continue fostering the atmosphere of the summer Hillside Festival during the winter time, which is now in its 26th year.

Hillside Inside's variety of musicians, mostly Canadian, made for an eclectic mix of sounds. Experimental string prodigy Owen Pallett, formerly Final Fantasy, appeared once again in the Hillside spotlight, following up his surreal performance during the summer festival, when he insisted on finishing a song before waiting out the worst of the rain and wind during a thunderstorm. 

Pallett's performance on Saturday night was arguably more subdued - or perhaps more relaxed - in the absence of thunder and lightning.  Accompanied by a fellow musician on bass guitar and drums, Pallett's unique style captivated the audience as he built each song from scratch using loop pedals to record the violin and keyboard parts, and layer them accordingly.  Audience members sang along to both lyrics and riffs, and although there was no storm overhead, the final track, "Lewis Takes off his Shirt", left an air of triumph in the stadium.

During her only Ontario performance this winter, folk legend Ani DiFranco furiously hammered out gritty guitar riffs on the main stage, accompanied by an equally adept band comprised of an upright bassist and two percussionists. As is typical during her performances, DiFranco switched guitars between every track, giving an assistant the chance to properly tune each one for its next song. To the delight of the crowd, DiFranco ended her set with an encore performance of an old favourite, "32 Flavours".

Those looking for a more high-powered dance experience were offered a supercharged mash-up of bhangra, dub and Celtic music from Vancouver's energetic Delhi 2 Dublin, who bounced around onstage with instruments like violin, sitar, and tabla. The evening ended off with a dance party during Toronto duo Woodhands' animated performance. Keytar, drums, synth sounds - and some very enthusiastic vocals - invigorated those who stayed until the very end for this last act.

In addition, Hillside Inside 2010 hosted Martin Sexton, Basia Bulat, Hawksley Workman, Elisapie Isaac, Socalled, The Rural Alberta Advantage, and Bahamas.  The afternoon got started with an aboriginal welcome.

When Hillside Inside started in 2008, it was originally granted funding as a three-year project. Now that those three years have passed, some have been concerned about the festival's future. For the time being, organizers are evaluating the success of the event during its first three years, and are considering making some changes to future Hillside Inside festivals.

"The plan is to continue at the same time next year,” said organizer Sam Baijal. What may be different next year is format of the festival. New ideas are being bounced around, such as spreading performances out over a few days, as well as holding performances in multiple venues.

The evolution of Hillside Inside was reflected by questions on the survey in this year's Hillside Inside Guide, where audience members can give feedback to the organizers.  Hillside's Executive Director Marie Zimmerman said of the Sleeman Centre, “a lot of people don’t seem to like the venue and don’t feel comfortable in the venue for a festival-like event.” The Centre was decorated with hand-painted cardboard trees, and Astroturf covered the floor level. A small community marketplace was present in an effort to maintain a grassroots feel and connect concert goers with craftspeople, and several local restaurants were present as food vendors in the stadium.

Hillside Inside Volunteer Molly McManus felt that overall the festival went smoothly.  "Their waste reduction strategies are really impressive," she said of the organizers' efforts to keep Hillside sustainable.  Waste reduction has always been a concern for both the summer and winter Hillside festivals, and reusable dishes and alternatives to bottled water are offered at both.

When asked about the possibility of Hillside hosting future performances in several downtown venues instead of one, McManus expressed some concern over the accessibility of the spaces available; many of Guelph's smaller downtown venues do not have accessible entrances or washrooms. "Guelph does not have very many accessible buildings... [the Sleeman Centre is] not the best, but it's not the worst," she said.

In the meantime as the organizers revamp the unique winter festival for next year, Guelphites can look forward to the summer when Hillside will return to Guelph Lake for its 26th summer running.

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