Hillside Music Festival goes green

By Quintin Bignell

If music festivals get a bad rap for not being eco friendly, Hillside Music Festival is looking to change the tide.

Every year, thousands of people descend on the conservation grounds at Guelph Lake for three days of music, art and culture.

For the past 36 years, Hillside has made a name for itself by putting emphasis on green initiatives and a spotlight on up-and-coming acts.

“30-50 per cent of people here don’t know most of the artists on stage and they come because they want to discover new artists,” said Hillside executive director Marie Zimmerman. “Nobody had heard of Feist, Broken Social Scene or Arcade Fire but we were really interested in them before they broke and are now a household name in Canada.”

The festival runs every July and Zimmerman said it’s like a party you would throw in your own backyard.

“It’s a community, you see your neighbors here, and you see the people you work with … there’s just this air of celebration and it’s also non-commercial. There’s something about that, I think, that attracts people. It’s very escapist in a highly capitalist, consumer oriented culture.”

About 25 years ago, organizers axed single-use plastics on the festival grounds. They replaced them with reusable plates and utensils they supply to festival goers and after use, they are washed by volunteers.

Other environmental initiatives at Hillside can be seen across festival grounds. All waste is sorted by volunteers, and later recycled or composted.

Atop the main stage is a green roof, sprawling with plants native to the area. The festival takes advantage of solar energy, using it to power cellphone charging stations, water heaters and a performance stage.

Zimmerman said Hillside focuses on leaving the land as green as when they found it.

“The whole festival was founded by musicians and environmental advocates, so there’s always been this consciousness about how we leave the land, and do we leave it cleaner than we found it, do we leave no trace.”

The festival is still working on reducing its carbon footprint, trying to find ways to cut plastic out entirely. This year, Hillside transitioned to bamboo wristbands, as opposed to the plastic and paper versions regularly seen.

The festival is trying to get rid of plastic all access passes, but the green alternatives can be costly.

“They’re a bit problematic… We’re having a lot of trouble because to replace it with something that is compostable and biodegradable, it costs eight times more and we’re a not-for-profit charity,” said Zimmerman.

Hillside offered concert-goers shuttle buses from Downtown Guelph and Toronto and runs July 12 to 14.

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