I’m not going to the Hillside Festival this year. Not because I don’t want to–god knows it’s been on my list for years–but because this event sells out so fast it’s something a person has to commit to without even knowing who’s playing. The “snoozing/losing” cliche really applies here, and some day I’m going to wake up and get my ticket to this multi-genre, boundary-pushing live music celebration. Because, by the looks of this year’s lineup, I know I’m going to love it–whenever I get there.
Hillside’s lineup is notoriously eclectic, so let’s agree to stay away from any discussions of what is or isn’t “folk music” here, OK? Maybe you think everything on the list counts as folk music, or maybe you think nothing does, but there are interesting sounds being made, regardless, so let’s talk about some of them.
Adverteyes: These Guelph natives are making some of those interesting sounds. “What You Need” is kind of an epic unfolder of a tune with some slide guitar and spoken word thrown in–and that combination works, although you wouldn’t necessarily think so to read about it. “Astronomically Diabolical,” by contrast, sounds like the most ominous klezmer tune I’ve ever heard and then turns into some kind of acoustic-infused death metal. I mean all of that as a compliment, in case you were wondering.
Barzin: Well, this is just lovely, isn’t it? This (mostly one-man) project bills itself as “committed to the aesthetics of quietness and minimalism,” but in this case that’s not just PR spin for “boring.” Beautifully nuanced arrangements with delicate strings and lap steel guitar are complemented by incredibly tasteful brush work on the drumkit. From the first notes of “All the While,” the opening track of his newest album To Live Alone in that Long Summer, I was pretty much sold on the idea of hearing these songs on a festival stage. He even has one called “Lazy Summer,” which I think was excellent planning on his part.
Nat Baldwin: without checking Baldwin’s bio, I listened to a couple of his cerebral songs and wracked my brain as to whom they evoked. At first I couldn’t quite place the bassist from The Dirty Projectors, although Baldwin’s newest solo outing In The Hollows has the same sparse string arrangements and haunting vocals that evoke that Brooklyn band. What’s lacking are the quirky grooves that make the Projectors one of the most well-roundedly interesting acts on the scene today, and I think could be the reason for my difficulty in placing Baldwin’s sound. The pleasingly-titled “Cosmos Pose” features some rhythmic bowing that adds propulsive motion, but I’m not sure it’s enough to sell me. Maybe I should be trying harder to shake the band/solo act comparison, but if you can’t, you can’t, right? If music almost always reminds you of other music, maybe it should be trying harder to be unique.
Wild Child: Here’s how I go about this reviewing business: I make a playlist, put it on, and go about my business, just letting whatever’s going to grab me grab me–at which point I bash out some words about it. Mostly I do the listening part a few times, just to be sure those words aren’t too stupid. Well, my initial thought about this band is that Wild Child might be kind of a misnomer, unless playing the ukulele is your idea of wild. But “Stitches” caught my ear. It’s still got the twee sweetness that seems to infuse Wild Child’s oeuvre, but something about it works, in a strummy-meets-New Orleans Second Line kind of way. It’s fun, and it made me like the rest of their songs better, even if they do have ukulele.
The Wood Brothers: This is some fun bluesy, southern swamp rock stuff, and because I listened to a live album to get a taste of it (Live, Volume 2: Nail & Tooth), I’m pretty sure they can deliver it on a festival stage. I’d say the enthusiastic crowd reaction at the end of the stompin “Shoofly Pie” would confirm that. These guys have the chops, too: Chris Wood is a founding member of electric jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, and his brother Oliver has put in time in blues/rock guitarist Tinsley Ellis‘ band. The Wood Brothers have also put out three albums themselves, so they’ve paid their dues in this genre (which is I guess called “Americana”) as well.
San Fermin: Is this The National I hear? Bathed in lush chamber-pop with some sweet female vocals atop the Matt Berninger-inspired gruffness of Ellis Ludwig-Leone? Because that’s what San Fermin sounds like to me, and that’s not at all a bad thing. I’m not even a huge fan of The National, but damn, I love the eclectic intelligence of this Brooklyn band. Just listen to “Sonsick” and “Daedalus (What We Have)” and try not to agree with me.
Kim Churchill: I was first turned on to the guitar wizardry and positive vibe of this Australian nomad by my friends Krista and Mark, who are about the biggest fans of Hillside Festival I know. You can bet they’ll be in the front row grooving to the sunny surf-folk of tunes like “Window to the Sky” and the fingerstyle guitar ballad “Only Time Can Take You On.” Maybe you’ll see them there if, unlike me, you got your tickets to this stellar musical celebration in time. Enjoy it for me if you did, and know that I’m jealous.