Hillside 2015 – One Volunteer’s Perspective on a Unique Festival

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by Taryn McIntosh

Taryn McIntosh worked with us here at GAC on a summer co-op placement. She has volunteered with Hillside for three years but has been an attendee for many more. We asked her to share some background on Hillside itself, her personal take on the experience as a volunteer and long-time attendee of the festival, and what stood out to her this year.

The Festival

Hillside is an annual, three-day music and arts festival held at Guelph Lake Conservation Area Island on the last weekend of July. There are three music stages, a poetry stage, and a children’s stage with performances running all weekend. Also featured are artisan booths, food, a kids area, workshops tents, the beach on Guelph Lake, camping, youth activities and more. The Hillside Festival is unique in its dedication to sustainability. Hillside is a Not-for-Profit organization committed to the community and the event, which has been around for 32 years, has won many awards and is one of the Guelph Fab 5 Festivals, along with Guelph Dance Festival, Guelph Jazz Festival, the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, and Guelph Film Festival. Unlike many festivals, there are no corporate sponsors and because of this, the festival does not run on headlining acts. However, the Hillside planners really have a knack for picking out talented bands and artists. The festival aims to welcome people of all ages, and there are designated licensed areas on the island during the festival (the Lake stage and Island stage) where folks looking for a cold refreshment can find a beer tent. There is plenty of parking available, but don’t worry if you can’t drive yourself out there – there are bus shuttles running continuously from the island to downtown Guelph all weekend. Run by a small staff and about 1500 volunteers, Hillside Festival prides itself on being eclectic, family-friendly, sustainable and community-based.

Photo credit: Chris Monteiro

The Music


Doldrums are an electro-pop band from Montreal. Their songs are beat-based and synth-heavy, mixing pop tracks and ambient, industrial sounds. Their latest album The Air Conditioned Nightmare reflects the experience of growing up in the United States. The performance garnered mixed reviews, but I loved it; it definitely had a darker, more processed vibe than most other Hillside performances. I was a fan of Doldrums before Hillside, so I was happy to see them in the lineup. The show was great for me, and I really liked the energy of the crowd. If you like droning beats and a super hip, head-bobbing crowd, Doldrums are ideal. I think the show contrasted the folkier daytime Hillside sounds, and did so successfully, which is impressive on the part of the organizers and the band. Check out Doldrums.

The Galacticats

The Galacticats make jazzy rock/pop music. They had great energy and the music was highly-danceable, which I love. And they’re from Guelph! I really recommend checking out their bandcamp and buying their studio EP. Their album art is awesome, too.


I was on a volunteer shift when Bedsheets played, however the hospitality tent is right behind main stage so I still got to hear/dance while making mass quantities of coffee and lemonade for fellow volunteers. The band is lead by Sam Boer, a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter. The band has a very genuine and unique presence, and their music mixes a variety of styles. Their songs are catchy and skillfully orchestrated. Personally, hearing a crowd singing along to lyrics about the Speed River is pretty great. I was so pleased to see them play Hillside (finally), and I very strongly recommend checking them out. Bedsheets bandcamp.

Dakha Brakha

This band was a big hit at Hillside, and were definitely my favourite performers. DakhaBrakha is a world music quartet from Kyiv, Ukraine. Their music mixes elements of traditional Ukrainian folk music, contemporary ambient sounds, and powerful, soulful vocals. The spectacular vocalists are backed by traditional instrumentation taken from all over the world. Their live show is remarkably theatrical and dramatic. DakhaBrakha are extremely talented and skillful artists and amazing performers. I don’t think words can do them justice. Check out these live performances and their website.

Hillside as a different kind of Festival.

This year’s lineup was met with some negativity as the headliners were not as big as the headliners they have had in the past few years. This year is the first year of Wayhome festival near Barrie, creating competition for Hillside that they haven’t dealt with before. Often big music festivals have their performers sign contracts to only play their festival that weekend in competitive situations like this. Hillside would never have the same headliners as a huge festival like Wayhome, however many of the popular artists that have played at Hillside in previous years (July Talk, Mother Mother, Hollerado, Arkells) were performing at Wayhome as smaller acts to huge artists like Alt-J, Modest Mouse, St Vincent, Kendrick Lamar, Hozier and even Neil Young.

I’ve only been to a couple big music festivals of similar size & calibre to Wayhome: Osheaga in Montreal and Field Trip in Toronto. The energy and environment at those festivals was very different from Hillside. The amount of corporate sponsorship-based marketing that goes on gives them a different feel, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As far as a festival with a sense of community, however, Hillside is unique. The big festivals have their obvious draws, and are always a really good time. For me, however, I can’t really afford to drop $400 on a ticket for one weekend, not including the prices of food and camping or lodging off festival grounds. As a volunteer, the experience is even more unique, and it doesn’t cost me anything to get into the festival or camp. The community aspect is very positive and the reason why many people attend every year. Although the artists are smaller, there are always artists that I know and am a fan of, and every year Hillside introduces me to musicians that I would not have discovered otherwise.

The Food and Craft Vendors

Hillside food vendors are always diverse, and the prices aren’t very steep, especially for a music festival. Vendors include well-known local businesses like Salsateria as well as various other restaurants and catering companies. From what I’ve seen they are very accommodating of dietary restrictions (vegetarian/vegan, dairy free, gluten free, etc.), and offer cuisine from all over the world.

I recognized a few of this year’s Art on the Street participants while browsing the artisan booths: Nicole Gagnon, StrayStones, Keri Rounding, and Pip Robins. There are always lots of cool artisan shops to look through, selling everything from vintage clothing, to jewelry, to handcrafted ukuleles.


Hillside is run by almost 1500 volunteers every year. My experience as a volunteer has been amazing. I think the sense of community is a huge draw to Hillside, and volunteering is the best way to feel like part of the community. You will meet really nice people, too.

In addition, you get free admission into the festival, free camping, and food and drinks at the Hospitality tent. Also, the volunteer camping area is always really fun. If it’s possible for you, I highly recommend looking into volunteering. Applications usually come out in March or April. All of the information is on the Hillside website.

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