This year marked WayHome Music and Arts Festival second annual return to the rural township of Oro-Medonte, in Southern Ontario. Hosted within the sprawling, 560 acre field that makes up Burl’s Creek Event Grounds, around 40,000 people spent July 22-24 milling around the expanse of dead grass and taking in performances from many talented and noteworthy artists.
It has been no surprise that the camping festival, produced by Canadian promoter Republic Live (Boots & Hearts) and Bonnaroo co-producer AC Entertainment, has already attracted thousands of devoted fans and hosted performances from some of the biggest names out there (Arcade Fire, Kendrick Lamar, Neil Young.) Canadians have yearned for a big name, 3-day fest that takes serious influence from the likes of internationally renowned Coachella or Bonnaroo, whether they were aware of it or not. The dates for WayHome 2017 were announced at the end of Sunday night (July 28-30) and a Facebook event page has already been created for the festival’s third year with 2.6K set as interested and 1.2K officially declaring that they will be going.
While WayHome seemed to consist of a young adult majority, there was still a range in age groups between the daily attendees. From little girls wearing oversized Arcade Fire shirts and twirling hula hoops, to older couples dancing together during Arkells’ popular Saturday night performance; even middle aged women proudly sporting tanktops emblazoned with the words “Concert Bitches,” the festival tried it’s best to appeal to an assortment of concert goers.
Since arriving home late last night, dipping out before the Sunday headlining band The Killers’ set to avoid late night traffic (and not feeling too broken up about it), I’ve had time to scrub my skin and soul clean under the comforting temperature of a real shower and sleep in an actual bed – something that felt so foreign to me after nights spent passing out from exhaustion on a half deflated air mattress, soaked in the day’s cold sweat and waking up already dripping with the start of the next. With my brain no longer in survival mode, I’ve had time to get my thoughts in order and assess the best and the worst of WayHome 2016.
WayHome boasted some strong performances
While I didn’t spend this festival weekend fighting for prime spots as I have many times before, I found myself becoming more familiar with some pretty amazing bands that I had yet to truly listen to, and got to see some favourites that I had been longing to for quite some time. Some of those notable acts would be:
– River Tiber
– Vince Staples
– Dilly Dally
– Glass Animals
Arkells are bigger than ever
Having listened to the beloved Hamilton boys since their earlier years, watching them embark on the path to success and recognition feels well deserved. What felt like the entire festival climbed the WayBright hill to watch the CanCon favourites jam out an entertaining and lively set that included both old favourites (their debut single “Oh, the Boss is Coming!” had everyone on their feet) and a good chunk of material from their upcoming fourth album Morning Report which showed the band testing out new sounds, featuring two electrifying backup singers.
Dilly Dally’s opening Sunday slot
By day three, everyone has accepted defeat. People that I spotted on Friday, looking put together in trendy festival attire and dancing happily amongst friends, were now shuffling by me looking haggard and sunburnt, or passed out in sleeping bags outside of their tents because it was more bearable than the stifling and sticky heat that awaited them inside. The sun seemed to wake everyone bright and early, so I was hopeful that many would gather to watch the Toronto punks open the spacious WayBright stage at 1:00pm on Sunday. Clinging to the barrier, I regularly checked over my shoulder to watch more people stop to take in these national treasures. It was definitely an overall highlight for me to see the group of silly, lovable pals, who I have grown to admire so much, play to a crowd of such loyal and adoring group. When she wasn’t sending out shockwaves through the festival grounds with her warbling, spine tingling wails, lead singer Katie Monks was her typical, completely true and charmingly quirky self. “I listen to a lot of Future and I drink Red Bull,” she told the crowd, her speaking voice much more calm and soft than anything you would hear on the bands debut album Sore. “But I still stay grounded.”
CHVRCHES have won over a new fan
I never realized how great of a festival band, let alone band in general, CHVRCHES were until I watched them play as the sun set on Friday evening. Lauren Mayberry was a delight to watch on stage, charming the crowd with her stellar voice and playful banter, rich with a Scottish accent, in between catch synth-pop songs that lit up the WayBright stage and ignited the audience.
Arcade Fire continue to prove themselves as the headliner to beat
Claiming the ideal Saturday night headlining slot, one of the worlds biggest indie bands who we are lucky enough to call our own here in Canada, took to the stage. Arcade Fire may not have released any new material since 2013’s Reflektor but they haven’t rusted in the slightest. With a setlist packed full of popular fan favourites such as “Rebellion (Lies)”, “No Cars Go”, and the perfect encore “Wake Up”, Win Butler sang stoically at the front of the WayHome stage and held the captivated audience of 40,00 in the palm of his hand, as they sang and danced along to every word. Never one to shy away from voicing his opinion, Butler spoke on the importance of progression within the Canadian music scene. “I just wanna say that when we were first starting as a band in Montreal, almost every band I knew was on a grant,” Win said. “The Canadian government doesn’t just need to give money to bands like us; they need to give it to smaller bands because this is really fucking hard. So please consider it — it’s worth it.” He was humble and genuine; thanking the crowd profusely and promising that the next time they saw them, they would come bearing new music. While the extravagant fireworks display towards the end seemed a bit cheesy, it made for an aesthetically pleasing conclusion to the set. As Butler pointed out, minutes after the fireworks had already begun bursting in the night sky, “Hey guys, look – fireworks!” There is no question that we will one day regard Arcade Fire as classics. Maybe that day is already here. No matter, they remain one of the most classy and respectable bands in the business.
Everywhere I turned, it felt like there was a #hashtag or an advertisement of some kind ready to jump out at me. Everything might as well have had a brand slapped obnoxiously on it. Many of the art pieces were gorgeous, but the giant “YOU FEEL ME” sign that made for the perfect Instagram backdrop, and inspirational quotes from people like Albert Einstein and Muhammad Ali (I still don’t know what the correlation is between them and a music festival) flashing on the main stage screens in between performances left me scratching my head.
Hard working staff
Throughout the weekend, I encountered many pleasant volunteers. WayHome relies heavily on their large volunteer base to fill up water bottles, sweep up garbage, run the gates, and almost anything else really. They are important and contribute to the mass amount of people working around the clock, behind the scenes to ensure that everything looked good and was running smoothly. I hope that everyone treated them with the respect they deserved.
More shade please?
With the weekend boasting some pretty consistent heat warnings, you’d think that there would be some more options for coverage from the blazing sun. However, what was I to really expect? We were in a field with a less than optimal amount of trees, but more shade structures than the WayBold stage would have been very much appreciated and beneficial. The WayAway stage offered a cluster of trees that made it comfortable to watch the shows or take a rest, while the main WayHome and WayBright stages made me feel equivalent to an ant being burned under a magnifying glass on a hot summers day.
A perfect reunion, reunion for Stars
While we haven’t been given a new album since 2014’s No One Is Lost, Montreal’s Stars have kept their fans appeased by continuing to play shows and releasing monthly covers of songs that you wouldn’t expect but they make work so well, like Mike Posner’s “I Took A Pill In Ibiza.” When they took to the main stage midday Sunday, it was clear that they were excited to be there and bursting with their energy that has kept longtime fans loyal and enticed newcomers for over fifteen years. Torquil Campbell, known for his fiery passion and outspoken ways, burst to the front of the stage, ripping back his jacket to reveal one of his trademark white shirts with a message scrawled across it in black print. However, this shirt resonated with the crowd more than most. “Doing it for Gord” read the tee, in honour of the Tragically Hip frontman, which Campbell pointed to emphatically throughout the set. Playing an assortment of songs from their beloved discography, including “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”, “Elevator Love Letter”, and “Ageless Beauty”, Campbell and his longtime partner in the scene Amy Millan’s intense stage presences were on full display. Millan was glowing in a white dress, and rightfully so – “They’re having a baby!” Campbell announced to the energetic crowd, pointing to Millan and Evan Cranley, Stars’ bassist and Millan’s husband. My love for Stars is reaffirmed each time I see them perform live. They embody love and friendship, and have forever encouraged me to be true to who I am and to always “Set Myself on Fire”, as I have tattooed on my wrist as a gentle, daily reminder to always let the fuckers see me burn bright. “We are Stars, and so are you” was Campbell’s triumphant closing remark to the set, and their adoring audience felt exactly what he meant.
Expensive and mediocre food galore!
Since it was next to impossible to keep our measly cooler of food consistently cold throughout the sweltering weekend, I found myself desperate for something that wasn’t a warm drink or a smushed granola bar and reluctantly turned to WayHome’s assortment of food trucks. After tapping away $14 for Pita Pit on day one, I knew I was doomed. Poutine appeared to be a pretty popular choice, but I quickly grew tired of trying to choke down hot food underneath the already boiling sun. While I was hopeful that my VIP access through media would grant me with better and more reasonable options, I was quickly disappointed. The Drake may have offered a variety of foods, ranging from Sneaky Dee’s inspired joint, Chinese dishes, and cafe style foods but they too were ridiculously expensive and I felt extra bummed for the people who had actually shelled out $600 on the VIP “privilege” and didn’t even get a discounted price on the exclusive food that they were being offered. Within the camp grounds, paying $7 for a less than stellar iced coffee felt like a punch to the stomach. The more that I think about it, so much of the festival felt like a total money grab. If you were one of the many without access to the VIP barn’s free, charging station, and had no other option than to leave your phone at one of the charging tents, that was going to cost you $5. Those wearing the GA wristband also had to cough up $10 to shower off the crust and grime that once was their skin. I felt relieved to come out of the weekend only $100 poorer (wristband money and splitting on the $130 campsite combined), as I’m sure many ended up spending thousands.
Totems for everyone
I was aware of the festival trend of bringing in totem poles of all sizes, usually adorned with something culturally relevant like a meme or a political figure, but I hadn’t seen many until WayHome, where I saw enough to last me a lifetime. I give the majority of those who dedicated the time to making them, but got tired of having a giant Justin Trudeau, Snapchat dog face obstruct my view of the stage. Mish Barber-Way of White Lung said it best during the bands Friday afternoon set when she asked the crowd, “What are those faces in the audience? Is this a festival thing I don’t know about?”
Heavy police presence
There seemed to be a lot of cops everywhere I went at WayHome. Whether they were busting people for selling drugs out of their campsites (my friend had some interesting neighbours), or roaming the grounds in pairs, it wouldn’t have been hard to find an officer if need be. However, I was worried to hear of one thing. While I did not witness it first hand, I caught wind that police officers had also been stationed at medical tents – something that will do nothing but work against harm reduction. People will do drugs and that isn’t something that can always be prevented, but placing officers in full uniform at the one place that gives urgent, medical attention only risks turning away those who are in need of help the most.
Art versus entertainment
The last five summers I have spent at Osheaga in Montreal, a festival that I always speak highly of and first attended with my dad as a fresh faced, fifteen year old. WayHome is clearly very different from the Parc Jean-Drapeau based event in many ways, and I tried to not let that affect my experience. But I couldn’t help that I missed the city. I missed the genuine cultural feel, the afterparties at local venues, the view of a sunset over the Montreal landscape across the Saint Lawrence River, which I watched from the top of the hill during sets. It was hard for me to feel excited about all of the great music that I was surrounded by when I felt so painfully aware of the fact that I had temporarily moved into a dry field in the middle of rural Ontario. While I applaud WayHome for the impressive amount of effort that was put into creating the hugely successful, generally likeable, summer festival, you can only do so much to build the ideal scene. While talking to a friend who had also attended, she shared with me something that really resonated. “I was actually talking to my friend about this too and he put it really well,” she told me over Facebook chat. “He said that a majority of people that come to festivals like these view music as entertainment rather than art.” While I can see and appreciate the many ways that music can be interpreted, this really made me think. I guess I’m just not used to the concert atmosphere that also brings large campsites full of groups playing flip cup at sunrise and passing out cold by noon, or guys in sweatbands grinding their teeth so hard from whatever drugs they’re on, waiting next to me in line for the porta potties. It would be unrealistic to expect the same kind of vibe that comes with more intimate, select shows but I hoped to drive away from WayHome feeling more of a connection to the festival than I did.
All thoughts and opinions are those of Ava Muir.
All photographs are courtesy of Benjamin Bush.