He’d been waiting a long time for his invite and when he finally got it, laryngitis kept Joel Plaskett on the sidelines of the festival for most of the weekend. But it was clear, at the closing of the 29th annual Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont., that guitar solos were among the few things that could cure what ailed the Nova Scotian rocker Sunday night.
Plaskett missed an acoustic workshop Saturday afternoon and lamented that he didn’t get to hang for more of the festival, but he more than made up for it with his headlining set Sunday night.
The signs of his sickness were visible at points – he breathlessly worked his way through his set and the large crowd, but naturally, the East Coast rocker caught his breath and recovered his voice during his ripping solos.
Plaskett brought a bit of East Coast charm to Hillside and on a night more brisk than most in Ontario this summer, after a long weekend of food, beer and bands, he had the Ontario crowd dancing like they were at a notorious East Coast kitchen party.
From the opening chords of “Down at the Khyber,” I felt like I was back in Halifax and wishing I could float down the river to the Musquodobit Harbour. Playing a few tunes off his 2009 triple album Three, Plaskett dedicated “Deny, Deny, Deny” to Cape Breton and when the first chords of the familiar “Nowhere With You” were strummed, even children who would otherwise have been long asleep danced in and out of the feet of their parents and nearby spectators.
The weary, sunburnt crowd urged Plaskett out for an encore, and he emerged sans Emergency Band with an acoustic guitar, ready to jam “The Island Girls and Harbour Boys” off his latest songwriting adventure Scrappy Happiness. A mere few lines into the song, he broke a string. When bassist Chris Pennell came from stage right to help, Plaskett shooed him away, giving him the thumbs up; the crowd had their hands above their head and clapped along as Plaskett sang a capella: “Don’t speed me up, Guelph,” Plaskett said, urging a steady rhythm.
Anyone who has ever been to Hillside will tell you it’s a special festival. They serve you cheaper-than-normal-festival-priced beer in your re-usable and biodegradable plastic Hillside mugs, and all of the local, organic vegan- and vegetarian-friendly foods are served on re-usable plastic dishes. Love notes from strangers are scattered around the festival grounds at the picturesque Guelph Lake Island, and the daytime grass-sitting crowd has the uncanny ability to turn any show into a rocking dance party once the sun goes down.
As for who rocks the hardest? It’s hard to say, but the volunteers that are almost solely responsible for running the festival are certainly among them. Or at least it seemed that way Sunday evening when many a red-bandanna-clad volunteer could be seen stomping, swinging and rocking to arguably the East Coast’s biggest indie rock export.