Published Sep 01, 2005Just recently creeping past its 20th year of existence, this festival's lack of pretence is both refreshing and frustrating, but, really, there is no beating its idyllic setting and laid-back atmosphere. This year's go around carried a bit of controversy, as its big name line-up led to a correspondingly speedy and hand-painted "sold out" sign, which seemed to further galvanise the divide in the crowd at this festival. While some are attracted to the musical talent, others, including some locals, couldn't give two shits who were playing, being present to soak in the sun, camaraderie, family times and other varied activities. No approach is better than the other, but sometimes this cynical city-goer couldn't help but arch an eyebrow at one local's recommendation of a local guitar workshop over the incredibly spot-on Weakerthans. Despite the eerie Arts & Crafts-heavy presence, other bands came to the rescue and the spectacular moments were a-plenty. The Hidden Cameras shook the sun-drenched crowd into a humid frenzy with their exceedingly catchy new tunes, while Luke Doucet seemed to be happily upstaged by a four-year-old, heavenly voiced relative. After catching singer/accordionist/raconteur Geoff Berner drunkenly captivating his crowd, the audible sound of split opinions dominated current buzz band the Most Serene Republic's set. The Arcade Fire got even the most middle-aged of hips moving and their grand finish march through the crowd was as transcendent as it was mystifying, as one could hear the whispered remnants of "Wake Up" seemingly coming from every direction. Stars' smutty enthusiasm was a great prelude to Broken Social Scene's earnestness, as they drafted their 50,000 friends, including a seemingly tipsy, crowd-surfing K-OS, to partake in their raucous, uplifting interpretation of the festival's people-in-arms ambience. On a smaller scale, seeing Gentleman Reg get people of all sexual orientations dancing to his angst was more than sweet, and melancholy found a home in a rain shower that accompanied Jason Collett. There's so much more to Hillside than this smattering of large-scale Canadian acts, as its folk festival roots meant lots and lots of local discoveries could be made if one so chose. The scale may have tipped slightly toward larger acts this year, but, in the end, Hillside remained lovingly unscathed. You may scoff, deride and even groan at the preposterous lengths you go to experience this unique vision, but maybe, against your inner sulking self, you too ended up clapping like a musically-drunken fool under those clear, cool stars.