A music festival that makes it to its 31st installment is never the same as it was on day-one. But while the Hillside Festival has evolved in its three decades of existence, its organizers strive to point out that it has stuck close to its roots.
“Fundamentally, it started as a grassroots festival and has remained as a grassroots festival,” says executive director Marie Zimmerman. “It emphasizes community involvement and community awareness about issues, and in its emphasis on the land.
“Care of land, care of people, care of animals – it’s all part of the ideology of Hillside, but it’s also part of the ideological imperative of so many people in Wellington County.”
If that sounds fairly far removed from the jurisdiction of a music/arts festival, that’s because Zimmerman says it’s as much about the community as the art.
“Care of the land has been probably one of the easiest things that we implemented over the years at Hillside. We were the first outdoor event in the region to have a water tanker come in to supply water for everyone. Over 20 years ago we started washing dishes on site. At first, some members of the public who weren’t in our area questioned that, and said, ‘Are you sure it hygienic? Why wouldn’t you just give us disposable?’ The same with the water: some people thought it would be more hygienic to have bottled water.”
She adds, however, “Certainly times have changed and people’s perspectives have changed, and happily for us, they have dovetailed more with our vision.”
As for the festival itself, how does it play into the larger mission of environmental wellbeing? “People want to make sure that they have good food that’s not full of chemicals; they want to make sure that we have clean water and all have good access to it; they want to be sure that people feel engaged with their lives and happy and not isolated. So we have events like music festivals to bring people together.”
And of course, there’s the music. This year’s major acts include the four-time Juno winners Tegan & Sara, along with Four Tet, Young Galaxy, Kevin Drew, Born Ruffians, Sam Cash, and Elephant Revival (“A huge hit a couple of years ago at Hillside – they outsold every other artist”). Zimmerman particularly recommends the Irish singer-songwriter Imelda May: “She’s backed by some pretty incredible performers with a rich heritage, like Jeff Beck, who has been one of her champions. She has an amazing voice.”
Zimmerman adds, “We try to incorporate all different kinds of music – we’re not just an indie festival, we’re not just a folk festival, we offer blues and jazz and pop and rock.”
On top of the music, the 2014 festival will include the usual assortment of spoken word (including – count ’em – four poetry slam teams), workshops, craft vendors, and dance.
In 2013, the festival celebrated its 30th anniversary. A milestone like that tends to have organizers looking both backwards and forwards.“We’re going to continue what we started last year, with our 30th anniversary,” said Zimmerman. “We began the festival with youth, tipping our hats to the next 30 years; we’re going to continue that effort this year by beginning with local young people.”
The 31st Hillside Festival takes place July 25-27 at Guelph Lake Island. Tickets went on sale this week at TicketBreak.com, and can be ordered by phone at 1-866-943-8849.