Hillside Festival featuring Hidden Cameras, Japandroids, Stars, Laura Marling, Jason Collett Guelph Lake, Guelph ON July 23-25

Hillside Festival featuring Hidden Cameras, Japandroids, Stars, Laura Marling, Jason Collett Guelph Lake, Guelph ON July 23-25
For one weekend each year, the Hillside Festival makes the Guelph Lake Conservation Area the place to be, and this year was no different. Twenty-seven years in the making, the annual soiree in Guelph, ON came with high expectations, all of which were met. There may not have been Owen Pallett serenading a thunderstorm, but there was Gord Downie leading an entire field in a choral sing-along.

Given the task of warming up the weekend, Laura Marling performed songs from 2008's Alas, I Cannot Swim and her more recent, Mercury Prize-nominated release, I Speak Because I Can, including an affecting rendition of the latter's namesake. Perhaps it wasn't the best segue into the performance from the Hidden Cameras, who came up next, but then again, this is not a band that need an opening act to do their dirty work.

The Hidden Cameras played a set that drew on material from the band's various periods, including tracks like "Awoo" and "Smells Like Happiness," which they played blindfolded alongside Basia Bulat. "We won't be watching you," lead singer Joel Gibb said to the audience before blindfolding himself. "So you can just freestyle." And freestyle they did, setting the tone for the weekend. Also joining the Hidden Cameras was pal Gentleman Reg, who turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

It's nice to see bands earn the hype that surrounds them, which is just the way it went for Japandroids on Saturday night in the packed tent of the Island Stage. It took about three minutes for the Vancouver garage pop duo to inspire fans to crowd surf, but not without guitarist Brian King reminding those inclined to look out for their fellow "rock'n'roll family."

Jason Collett swaggered deservingly up to the main stage on Saturday night, and it was then that the Hillside crowd really roared for the first time. But don't thank Collett, thank the sun. "Long may you love the sun" said Collett before jumping into recent single "Love Is a Dirty Word" from this year's Rat A Tat Tat. The self-proclaimed "weekend hippie" later finished up with "I'll Bring the Sun," as the Collett/Zeus clan proved they look mighty good on a big stage.

On Sunday afternoon, the solar-powered Sun Stage played host to Charlotte Cornfield, who was joined by her Bent By Elephants bandmate Chesley Walsh for a Beyoncé cover. "Us mellow folks have to battle sometimes with rock'n'roll," Cornfield told the crowd as the sound of the Easy Star All-Stars blared on from the nearby Main Stage.

Then it was over to Montreal (by way of Calgary) experimentalists Braids. Armed with an ambience more suited to an Animal Collective-worshipping New York crowd than one in Guelph at 3 in the afternoon, the band brought a certain vulnerability with the groans, yelps and general weirdness integral to their sound. But it was this fish-out-of-water band that gave Hillside's most genuine performance.

That said, British Columbia wordsmith Shane Koyczan was given the coveted recognition of an unplanned encore later that day. After playing at the Sun Stage during last year's festival, Koyczan brought the crowd to tears with his spoken word performance. While the genre itself may not be everyone's cup of tea, there's something uplifting about a thousand people gathering to give it a sip.

After Holy Fuck gave the Island Stage a shaking that could show up on the Richter scale, the time had come for prolific Montreal darlings Stars to bring this year's festival to a close. While excitement stirred in the sticky summer air for their performance, it wasn't until they played "Take Me to the Riot," a handful of songs in, that the crowd really came to life. Recent single "Fixed" came next, as did some Hillside love from singer Torquil Campbell. "This is the way festivals should be done," he told the audience. "I think this is when people are at their absolute best." And then a conversation about ice cream and hula-hoops turned into "Ageless Beauty" so quickly that no one saw it coming.

Stars were out in full force that night, Campbell kind and charming and somehow crass at the same time while Amy Millan stayed sweet yet urgent. To a weekend that saw storm clouds and sunshine - not to mention an eclectic array of music - it was a fitting end.

Check out our photos from the festival on the Exclaim! Photo Blog here.