Friday, July 25, 2008

Hillside 25 - Guelph, ON

This weekend was a gathering of a few friends at the Hillside Music Festival in Guelph Ontario. Hillside was celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and 6,000 people flooded onto an island in the Guelph Lake Conservation Area to join in the festivities. This really is an amazing event that has done quite well at avoiding the corporate glam. Here you drink local beer from reusable mugs, eat freshly cooked grub from plates washed by volunteers and watch both big name bands and local talent from a stage with a grass-covered roof. They even have a station for refilling your water bottles for free. As you can well imagine the crowd was filled with folks from all walks of life and all ages too.

The plan...

The idea of a small reunion of friends originally started on a whim when I discovered that one of our favorite live bands from our university days were to get back together for a one off gig. After a 13 year hiatus, The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir had decided to answer the call of Hillside's Artistic Director, Sam Baijal to celebrate the festival's 25th anniversary. The original members, Chris Brown, Kate Fenner, Chris Miller, Jason Mercer, Dave Wall, Gene Hardy, Andrew Whiteman and Tom Bona (plus guests) all agreed to hit the stage for a set on Saturday night. (read the news article here)

Glenn (hailing all the way from London England) and I had originally hoped to get the weekend camping pass but they sold out in the first week. In fact the all-day Saturday pass had sold out too so quickly pulled out our credit cards and bought separate passes for both Friday night and Saturday night. All said and done, this scenario worked out best for us as we ended up having to meet up with a few friends through out the day as they drove in from various towns across southern Ontario.

Chris Brown and Kate Fenner
Chris Brown Chris Brown and Kate Fenner

Friday night we rode the free shuttle to the island, set up our chairs at the Main Stage for the 9pm Cowboy Junkies show and headed over to the Island Stage where we could relax, eat a meal and have a pint or two (no alcohol allowed at the Main Stage - don't get me started on that one). The Island Stage was christened by an eclectic bag of musicians, Chris Brown (from BTC) was hosting and joining him was Kelly Jo Phelps, The Abrams Brothers, Kate Fenner, Tony Scherr and a few others.

Kelly Jo Phelps

The show was very entertaining. Essentially a member would be called upon to play a tune or two while the others backed them up. It worked well, mixing folk with blues, some bluegrass, and a sliver of country. Of the four stages at Hillside, this was definitely the one to be at for the festival kick off.

Next was Meaghan Smith who easily entertained the crowd. Old Man Luedecke followed her with a short set filling the tent with some East coast banjo and foot stomping. The crowd really loved this and were none to happy to have him waved off the stage by the time keeper.

Cowboy Junkies at Hillside 25

It was nearly 3 hours now since we arrived and it was high time to wander back to the Main Stage and settle ourselves in for the Cowboy Junkies. After navigating our way through the crowd we were somewhat surprised to see our two "high back" chairs sitting in a sea of people sitting on blankets and these funky little low sitting chairs. I casually suggested to Glenn that we might want to fold our chairs up and sit on the ground but having recently hurt his back he wasn't interested in that scenario. So we quietly hunkered down and caught the end of the show by Danny Michel.

Cowboy Junkies at Hillside 25
Cowboy Junkies at Hillside 25

Junkies hit the stage right on time at 9, and wow were they amazing. Margo's voice was flawless and they delivered a solid hour of old and new CJ with her brother Michael wailing on slide guitar and brother Peter on drums. Well worth the price of admission.

Tomorrow the Bourb...

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