Born in 1984, Guelph, Ontario’s Hillside Festival is a leave-no-trace, not-for-profit festival that champions homegrown musical talent alongside performers from around the world, hosting 60-plus bands and spoken word artists every year at Guelph Lake Conservation Area. What began as a one-day affair — the first program was a single, photocopied sheet promising an “11-hour music celebration for all ages – noon-11pm” — is now a three day bonanza in late July, blending fresh talent and sounds across five stages with full access to Guelph Lake‘s gorgeous beaches and campgrounds.
Hillside has consistently offered the crème de la crème of Canadian artists, with new favourites like Ought (2014), Majical Cloudz (2014) and BRAIDS (2015) mixed with pillars of Canadian singer-songwriting like Buffy Sainte-Marie, who shared the stage with the Sadies in 2016. The festival has also famously given top spots to emerging prospects, including heavyweights like Arcade Fire (2004), Feist (2000), and Grimes (2011) long before their respective rises in fame.
Hillside festival fosters a distinct culture around volunteering. A majority of volunteers return to support the festival year after year, pitching tents, swimming, and hosting drum circles around the bonfire in “Volly Village” once the musical acts are done each night. These volunteers are instrumental in helping Hillside remain as waste-free as possible, with reusable plates, cups, and cutlery provided to guests, a bike valet at the festival gate, and alternate energy projects - such as an entirely cycle-powered stage - carried through every year by the Green Team.
Hillside’s 20th anniversary saw festival veterans the Barenaked Ladies swoop in to help fundraise to build new stages for the growing festival, including a Rainbow Stage for Hillside tots and a Sun Stage for spoken word performances.
Festival organizers work hard to ensure the festival is enjoyable for everyone. Hillside Festival provides guests 100% accessibility, with one-to-one support travelling around the grounds, as well as sign language interpreters at its stages.
As of 2008, Hillside’s younger sibling, Hillside Inside, began to take shape in Guelph’s downtown core. In the quiet month of February, Hillside Inside pops performers into storefront nooks and other eclectic indoor spaces to bring audiences out of hibernation and back into the music. Previous Hillside Inside performers have included A Tribe Called Red, July Talk, and Owen Pallett, among others.