Hillside Festival 2017: Hillside is Truly for Everyone


Hillside’s 34th Festival was one to remember. As always, the Guelph Lake Island was transformed into a Guelphite’s paradise for the weekend, with amazing music, dancing, food, art, culture, and community.

However, this year marked particular success for the festival, which has been suffering in attendance for the past few years due to a surplus of festivals popping up in Ontario. Hillside took on this challenge with poise, staying true to their core values, and establishing a “resistance and protest” theme for this year’s programming. The lineup featured artists who address global issues in their music and practice, including Sarah Harmer, Leonard Sumner, Billy Bragg, Rae Spoon, NEFE, and many more. A number of collaborative workshops were also centred around this theme. Hillside ran a Protest Songwriting workshop this spring, and the students performed their songs on the Main Stage at the festival. A strong sense of solidarity was felt among the patrons, who embraced and appreciated the theme wholeheartedly.

Along with the Resistance and Protest theme, Hillside always stands out as a socially and environmentally conscious festival. They consistently represent female performers in their lineup; this year, female and LGBTQ+ performers were represented in over 55% of the performing acts. The festival provides a safe and supportive space for everyone, including people in LGBTQ+ and indigenous communities, as well as people with disabilities. Sustainability is also at the forefront of the festival, where they use reusable dishes, cups and cutlery, organize an efficient waste management system, provide bus transportation to and from the festival, encourage biking to the festival, power a stage using solar energy, and provide a large water truck where patrons can fill their reusable water bottles.

The strength of Guelph’s arts community shines bright at the festival every year:

As always, Hillside showcased a plethora of local talent in their festival lineup. This year’s local acts included HighparkWhoop-SzoThe Blurry Pickers (K-W), NEFE and Common Deer, along with Hillside’s Songwriting Student showcase (12 acts) and the Jam School showcase (7 youth acts). A real sense of Guelph pride was felt when local acts were introduced, yielding whoops and hollers from the audience. NEFE received thunderous cheers from the packed tent at the Sunday Morning Gospel Hour workshop. A dense crowd of fans stood at the front of the Island stage awaiting Highpark’s performance, and proudly sang along to their songs while sporting the band’s t-shirts.

Some artists from this year’s Art on the Street were spotted in Hillside’s Artisan Market, including Bella GreyNicole Gagnon Wooden Designs, and Stray Stones.

The Hillside volunteers are another example of Guelph’s supportive community. 1400 volunteers work before, during, and after the festival to make sure all the bases are covered, from setting up stages, lights, signs and decorations to washing dishes and sorting collecting garbage. Not only do the volunteers work hard, but they take pride in what they do and make Hillside volunteering an annual tradition. Some volunteers have been working with the festival since its first year, who now bringing their children (and some grandchildren) to the island to volunteer as well.

This weekend was truly a Happy Hillside for everyone. Mark your calendars for next year’s festival, July 13th-15th, 2018!

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