Hillside Festival 2005 at Guelph Lake Island, Guelph, July 23. Tickets: $30-$80. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
It only took me a minute after arriving for day two of the three-day Hillside Festival at Guelph Lake Island to realize this wasn't your typical music fest. The sunburned dude handing out wristbands at the gate looked like he'd seen better days.
"Rough night?" I asked, picturing a wild bacchanal of booze, babes and blow. Nuh-uh.
"Man, after the sun went down last night, we had a ma-a-a-ssive drum circle. Usually they get a drum coordinator to come in, but this year it was just a free-for-all. Blew my mind!"
Welcome to Hillside, where the cops are there to make sure you don't litter or drum past noise curfew. Workshops touch on everything from black magic to cloth diapers, and devoted volunteers scrub the reusable dishes (no paper plates here). But it's hard to be cynical, especially when, after two decades, the organizers know how to program a killer CanCon lineup - and treat their artists with respect.
Despite drawing record crowds with a roster of it bands like the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene , the festival managed to retain a lovely respectful community vibe.
In one tent, I watched a bald baby bounce on his mom's shoulders while clapping along to a Hidden Cameras tune about enemas; later, a polite crowd at the Arts & Crafts jam session (recorded for CBC's Fuse program) tried not to laugh at the hapless host's uninformed questions and cheered just as loudly for the whispery acoustic tunes from new A&C signing American Analog Set as they did for the stripped-down preview of Major Label Debut, a countryish duet from Broken Social Scene's upcoming Windsurfing Nation disc.
The buzzier acts more than met expectations. Stars dazzled with a hyper-dramatic set of swooning romantic pop, highlighted by an awesome version of their MBV-lite Ageless Beauty single with gorgeous guitar work from guest Andrew Whiteman . Arcade Fire justified their hype with manic onstage energy and a singalong exit through the crowd that more than made up for the draggy lags between songs.
But it was the underdogs who really shone. Cuff the Duke celebrated the release of their fab new album with a raucous hoedown bolstered by remarkably strong vocals from Wayne Petti and Paul Aucoin 's pretty vibraphone accents. The crowd went ape-shit over their psyched-out new tunes, which translate even better live than they do on disc.
Meanwhile, Andrew Whiteman proved he may be the ace up A&C's sleeve with a phenomenal guest-studded Apostle of Hustle set melding his Cuban jazz and dreamy pop influences into a beautifully seamless whole.
The only misstep was Sarah Slean's early-evening set, in which the diva manqué seemed to mistake talking in funny accents and over-the-top vamping for delivering the real musical goods. In an environment where sincerity ruled, her hammy antics rang terribly false.