Tuesday, July 31st, 2007
So despite losing over an hour to being lost on Saturday night and for a while feeling at real risk of being eaten by wolves or abducted by aliens, I managed to make it home and was back up in Guelph early Sunday afternoon, somewhat rested and caffeinated and ready to take on the rest of Hillside. Or at least some of it.
Even though she was one of the acts I most wanted to see, I arrived a little late to Angela Desveaux’s set and apparently missed her cover of The Band’s “I Shall Be Released”. But I did catch the second cover in her set – a splendid reading of Gram Parsons’ “Juanita” – and between that and the original material from both from Wandering Eyes and as yet unreleased, I was more than satisfied. Desveaux isn’t a riveting stage performer but her arresting voice and terrific balance of country, rock and pop more than compensates.
I was also really looking forward to seeing Elvis Perkins having missed seeing him a number of times since his debut Ash Wednesday was given wide release back in February. And maybe it was that anticipation that left me a touch disappointed in his set – it was decent enough, but Perkins seemed a little perturbed up there, perhaps himself disappointed in the dozy crowd who seemed more interested in napping than watching he and his band Dearland perform. The bright afternoon sunshine also didn’t seem the most complimentary setting for Perkins’ songs, which despite the sometimes upbeat veneer (bonus points for the marching band drum) are decidedly nocturnal in spirit. But on the plus side, it did prompt me to revisit the record and remember why I was looking forward to seeing him play in the first place. Chart caught an interview with Perkins before his arrival at Hillside.
Photos: Elvis Perkins In Dearland @ The Main Stage, Hillside Festival – July 29, 2007
MP3: Elvis Perkins – “While You Were Sleeping”
MP3: Elvis Perkins – “All the Night Without Love”
MP3: Elvis Perkins – “Ash Wednesday”
Video: Elvis Perkins – “All the Night Without Love” (YouTube)
MySpace: Elvis Perkins
I think I spent the next hour sitting in the sun and feeling all of my clothing become lightly saturated with sweat. Information I’m sure you needed to know.
The Lake Stage tent was packed for the next band on my schedule, local heroes The D’Urbervilles who invited a host of guests to come onstage and play with them. I remembered walking away from a show of theirs mostly indifferent but this performance showed what sort of difference a year can make. The quirks that seemed like affectations last time now seemed to fit much more naturally and their lean blend of scratchy rock and deep grooves just came across a lot more confidently and impressively. The enthusiastic hometown crowd was right to be proud.
It’s always a treat to see Basia Bulat and her band play but it was a pleasant surprise that they turned out to be the highlight of the day. Though in hindsight, it shouldn’t have been – her songs are the perfect soundtrack for warm Summer afternoons. Some familiar tunes got fresh looks like the Spector-ised drums turned “Before I Knew” into a ’50s rock swinger and the handful of new songs performed also sounded marvelous. It seemed a fair-sized portion of the audience wasn’t too familiar with her stuff before seeing her play, which is understandable – Oh My Darling doesn’t get a domestic release until September 18 – but I can’t imagine anyone in attendance wasn’t won over. Every time I’ve seen her play, Basia seems genuinely astonished that the audience loves her music – me, I’d be astonished if anyone didn’t.
The final act of the fest – for me, anyways – was Toronto’s own Ohbijou who, like Bulat before them, are always a delight to see live and it appeared the word on this band is out because the tent was overflowingly full of fans. It’s been fun watching Ohbijou’s live show develop over the last while and how they’ve been able to get more lively – even a bit rambunctious – onstage without compromising any of the sweetness of their songs. Though they weren’t technically closing the night on this stage, they played like they were.
Photos: Ohbijou @ The Lake Stage, Hillside Festival – July 29, 2007
MP3: Ohbijou – “Misty Eyes”
MP3: Ohbijou – “Steep”
Video: Ohbijou – “The Woods” (MOV)
And with that, I began the long walk down the hillside and back to the city. Though I would have liked to have stayed later and seen both Ani DiFranco and Born Ruffians, it simply wasn’t going to happen. Worn out from two days of being beaten by the heat like a rented mule and a bit fearful of getting lost in the dark again, I headed back home all full of music and nature and good vibes. I’d heard for years now how special the atmosphere at Hillside was and now, having finally seen it first hand, I will concur. The Hillside experience really is different from other music festivals.
And I think that’s mainly because it’s not a music festival in the classic sense – it’s more of a happening that people plan to attend no matter who’s playing. They come for the community and the camaraderie and with faith that the festival programmers will assemble a lineup worth seeing. The setting is beautiful, people are relaxed and friendly and not at a loss for personal space (read: it’s not overcrowded). It’s easy and fun for city folk like me to poke fun at the hippies but I don’t think there’s another group that could make an idea like reusable dishes from the food vendors, washed by volunteers, work. It’s a no-brainer idea but probably not a scalable one, sadly. For some reason I just can’t imagine Lollapaloozans being conscientious enough to bring their dishes back to a drop-off bin.
Part of secret to the festival’s success is that while its profile and demand for tickets grows every year, the event itself doesn’t grow. Attendance is limited to under 5000 each day for both site capacity and general logistcal reasons and while it’s frustrating for those looking for tickets – three-day passes were sold out almost as soon as they went on sale this year – I think it’s also essential to helping maintain what keeps it special. I’m not entirely certain I’ll be back next year, I think I’d like to mix my festivals up from year to year, but I completely understand why some are counting down the next 360-some days till next year’s edition. I’ll be back again before too long and I’ll remember to bring my swimming trunks.