The Hillside Festival is an annual three-day, five-stage (including one kids stage) summer festival occurring in Guelph, Ontario hosting musicians, spoken word artists, workshops and more. The Hillside Festival occurs in late July on Guelph Lake Island.
Hillside's first festival was on Saturday, 14 July 1984. The festival location moved from a proposed Hillside farm site to the Riverside Park Bandshell at the last minute. Admission was free and donations were taken. The Hillside Program was a single sheet photocopy folded in half, stating the event was an "11 hour music celebration for all ages Noon-11".
In 1985, fees were charged for the first time. The cost was only $5 advance, $6 at the gate, $4 unwaged. The event was held the same day as the Live Aid. The Guelph Food Co-op helped provide food to Hillside. The seven-act line-up included Common Ground, Tamarack, magician Tom Kubinek, The Reverbs, James Gordon and Aleod. All of the artists performed for free.
The Hillside of 1986 was billed as an event with "small town integrity" and included homegrown musical talent, craft displays, and wholesome foods. The one-day event began at 2pm so people had extra time to get organized. Workshops include topics like kayaking, angling and kite flying on the banks of the Speed River.
In 1987, The Hillside Festival moved to Guelph Lake Conservation Area Island and expanded from a one-day event to a three-day event, with multiple stages, bands, and booths. With the move to Guelph Lake, camping became part of the experience. Festival goers could also catch a bus from downtown Guelph for the first time (rides cost $1 each way). The first beer tent was also added to the festival. With 110 volunteers, Hillside was incorporated as a non-profit group with a Board of Directors, and the festival joined the Ontario Coalition of Folk Festivals.
In 1988 the festival celebrated its fifth anniversary, and gained increase support from the City of Guelph, who supplied blue boxes for cans, glass and newsprint to make the festival environmentally responsible. The County of Wellington now supplies the Festival with recycling bins.
Hillside is labeled one of the reasons why Guelph is one of the "Top ten places to live in Canada" in 1989. The first Ontario Arts Council Grant and first City of Guelph Grant were given to the festival this year. Guelph Lake Park also improved the water and electrical services to the island. Hillside membership was only $15.
The first sold-out Saturday night of Hillside happened in 1990. The Hillside Community Quilt, which was quilted during the festival, was raffled off on site. The first map of how to get to Guelph Lake from out of town was also launched this year.
Poets were added in 1991 as well as putting the names in a hat and draw to see who plays together nicknamed "hat bands". This was also the first time Hillside had something called the "Free for All" after the last performance (on Sunday). This was a chance for festival-goers to share thoughts and ideas about the event.
In 1992, the lineup of bands become notably larger. The Main Stage featured "drumming in Hillside at 11am on Saturday and Sunday". The current Hillside logo was created this year by Guelph artist Gary M. Eden. The Solar Stage (Tree Stage) supplied by the Energy Action Council was now being run on solar power. The Body, Mind and Spirit tent offers workshops.
Hillside celebrates its tenth year (1993) by adding an Environmental Expo. A Youth Committee, open to 16-to-20 year olds, is formed. They call themselves the "Tofu Love-Punx".
In 1994, the tickets include admission to the GRCA/Guelph Lake for the first time. There were over 400 volunteers—a large increase from previous years. The program included food vendor menus. Youth bands chosen by peers perform short sets on the Main Stage for first time.
Bike lock-up and minor repairs were offered by Speed River Bicycle in 1995. The price of pass was early birds $35, advance $45. The festival had 450 volunteers and a $200,000.00 budget. This was also the first year the Hillside survey was done to get feedback from patrons and volunteers on the festival.
Acoustic Guitar ranked Hillside as one of the top 25 festivals of North America in 1996 (with one of the smallest budgets in the business). Hillside added a Watermelon-eating contest and Waste Management, Inc. implements Guelph's "Wet/Dry" recycling program on the festival grounds.
In 1997, fashion policeman O.J. Anderson walked around the Hillside site and handed out hilarious citations. Spoken word and hand drumming were in the program and a locksmith was on site in case keys were locked in a car.
A website was launched in 1998. The cost for access to festival was early birds $45, advance $55, and $65 at the gate. There were over 500 volunteers and over 40 acts.
The Aboriginal Circle was launched in 1999. The Evergreen Seniors Centre and Guelph-Wellington Seniors Association celebrated the "International Year of Older Persons" by being at Hillside. A major thunderstorm shut down the Main Stage, forcing organizers to reschedule all Main Stage acts onto the Island Stage and the Lake Stage.
In 2000, the Hillside CD was released. It features a "musical snapshot" of live tracks from the 1999 festival. The Hillside t-shirt is unveiled and was made in Ontario from 100% organic cotton. The Hillside Youth Committee got a tent to relax in for first time. There were over 800 volunteers.
In 2001, performer's merchandise is housed in a separate booth due to "unprecedented traffic and sales last year". First year for the hand drum check (a lockup area).
Phase I of the permanent Hillside Community Stage is completed in 2002. All the weekend passes sold out this year and the number of volunteers reached over 1,000.
The twentieth anniversary was celebrated in 2003 with a year-round "Hillside presents…" events in the community. The Barenaked Ladies return to Hillside (they first played in 1991) to inaugurate the new Hillside Community Stage in a "Raise the Roof" fundraiser. The roof went up on the stage as well. Ticket became available online.
From 2004 to the present, the festival has grown even more with more bands, booths and activities.
In 2008 Hillside started a second annual festival—Hillside Inside, which takes place at the Sleeman Centre in downtown Guelph in February. It is a ten-hour indoor music festival featuring some of the same values at the summer festival. The event was run again in 2009.
In 2013 Hillside celebrated its thirtieth year of running.
List of past performers
Notable performers who have played at Hillside include:
- The Acorn (2008, 2010)
- Arkells (2009, 2012, Inside 2011)
- Akron/Family (2008, 2013)
- Arcade Fire (2004, 2005)
- Joseph Arthur (2008)
- BADBADNOTGOOD (2012)
- Barenaked Ladies (1989)
- Basia Bulat (2007, 2010)
- Beardyman (2010)
- Be Good Tanyas (2005, 2011)
- Bedouin Soundclash (inside 2009)
- Bombay Bicycle Club (2012)
- Bourbon Tabernacle Choir (2008)
- Broken Social Scene (2003, 2005, 2008)
- The Emerald City (2010)
- Buck 65 (2003, 2005)
- Burning Spear (2000)
- By Divine Right (2002)
- Cadence Weapon
- Calexico (2010)
- The Canned Goods (2010)
- Neko Case (2002)
- City and Colour (Dallas Green) (Inside 2007)
- Bruce Cockburn (1998)
- Jason Collett (2008, 2010)
- Constantines (2001, 2002, 2006)
- Cowboy Junkies (2008)
- Cuff the Duke (2003, 2005, 2006)
- The Dears (2003, 2007)
- Ani DiFranco (2007, 2009)
- Julie Doiron (2001, 2009)
- Gord Downie (2001, 2010)
- Feist (2000, 2006)
- Final Fantasy (2006, 2009)
- Sarah Harmer (2003, 2006, 2010, Inside 2011)
- Hawksley Workman (2001, 2008)
- Hayden (2002, 2008)
- The Hidden Cameras
- Horse Feathers (2010)
- Islands (2008)
- k-os (2002, 2005 surprise guest)
- K'naan (inside 2009)
- Lights (2008, 2011)
- Los Lobos (2010)
- The Lowest of the Low (2005,2013)
- Loreena McKennitt (2009)
- Sarah McLachlan
- Metric (2003, 2004)
- Joel Plaskett (2012)
- Sam Roberts (2005, Inside 2009)
- Xavier Rudd (2005, Inside 2008, 2009)
- The Sadies (2008)
- Buffy Sainte-Marie (2009)
- Tokyo Police Club (Inside 2008, 2009)
- Jane Siberry/Issa (1993, 2009)
- Sarah Slean (2005, 2008)
- Sloan (1999, 2011)
- Stars (2005, Inside 2009, 2010)
- The Stills (2006)
- The Weakerthans (2002, 2005, Inside 2008)
- Wintersleep (2006, Inside 2008, 2013)
- Yukon Blonde (2010)
- Zeus (band) (2010, 2012)
- Walk off the Earth (2012)
Notable spoken word artists who performed at the festival include Sandra Shamus, Sandra Alland (2005), Stuart McLean (2008), Canadian Improv Games National Silver Medalists the Notorious G.I.T., Robert Priest (2005), Tony Leighton (2007, 2008), Tom King (2007), and Shane Koyczan (2010, Inside 2011, 2013). Barenaked Ladies played a concert before the festival to celebrate the construction of the permanent Hillside main stage that had recently been built.