This past weekend was the first edition of WayHome Festival in Oro-Medonte, Ontario, and, despite the usual NIMBY rumblings, already it feels like an entrenched summer tradition. Toronto (area) has had an explosion of festivals this summer, but WayHome is the only one that feels like it's in the same arena as one of the major British or American festivals. Some of that has to do with the fact that it's the only major festival to offer both camping and headliners on par in stature as festivals like Glastonbury or Bonnaroo (the latter is surely related to the fact that Bonnaroo producers AC Entertainment co-organized).
But a festival is about more than just its boldface names. It's about the late night camp parties, the food, the fashion, the drunk bros high fiving to Hozier. We came in with the intention of ranking the performances from best to worst, but by the second night we realized we couldn't stop there. So we ranked everything.
Photo: Ryan Parker
Kendrick is now well-seated as one of three biggest talents in hip-hop (fight amongst yourselves about who those other two spots belong to), and he's marked that coronation, off the back of To Pimp A Butterfly, with a headlining performance at nearky every sizeable summer musical festival there is.
With that mileage, he's become a master in his stage presentation; he knows that an outdoor fest like WayHome isn't the arena for marauding free jazz or future funk (or perhaps, to his mind, nuanced discussions of blackness in America). That will come later. It will look different. These sweaty, dusty kids want bangers, so he draws heavily from good kid, m.A.A.d city (which, make no mistake, is definitely definitely also about black experience though it might sound more danceable), then reached even further back for a run at "ADHD" from Section .80.
The great pleasure of watching Kendrick revisit old material comes when he effortlessly inserts whole new verses and sections — detours that suggest 100 ideas lie adjacently or, perhaps, that he just keeps getting better. When he promises "I...will...be...back," you know you'll be there. You want to watch the dragon take shape. Hard as it might be to believe, he's not yet finished growing. - Chris Hampton
Photo: Portia Baladad
Run The Jewels were WayHome's heaviest act — louder and more brutal than what most any metal or punk band might field. When Killer Mike begins, "I have no desire like tearing this motherfucker down," the crowd — mostly white and mostly suburban, it should be noted — is eager to help. And that energy never washes. Through the course of the hour-long set, the audience gets swept deeper into their revolutionary fervour — WASPy-looking 16 year olds in bucket hats are, whether they know it or not, throwing Black Power signs. And though so many there probably bounced off to find weird pills and explore strange tents, for a minute, everybody was on the same page. It felt hopeful. - Chris Hampton
Quietly a favourite amongst Ontarian music writers and summer fest junkies, twice the Indian tacos from The Flying Chestnut food truck saved my life this weekend. Known elsewhere as Navajo fry bread, this version piles (if I said "mountains" could you understand it as a verb?) beans, beef, salsa, greens, shoots, tomatoes and cheddar on a slab of fried bannock. Ideal for soaking up last night's rye, but fresh enough to feel like you're doing your sunburnt, filthy, and otherwise battered body a favour. Plus the little edible flowers, the reason — I think — so many people will ask you "Where'd you get that?" are bound to make you some new friends. Handily one of the best WayHome performances. Can't wait to see 'em again. - Chris Hampton
Photo: Portia Baladad
St. Vincent's ultra-mannered, almost robotic live show is entrancing, but it's also a bit distancing. When Annie Clark's guitar solos, blistering as they are, come with choreographed stage shuffles atop a pink wedding cake platform, and her stage banter is rehearsed and performed and altered only slightly (the "insert city name here" slot fitted with "Toronto and surrounding areas" which got funnier each of the three times she said it), you start to feel like she's performing at you and not for you.
But she can't control everything. As the hot sun beat down, likely melting her right into her leather suit, her band member's laptop overheated and she had to drop her veneer while they figured it out. So she dusted off an old classic she hadn't played in awhile - her fuzzy solo version of The Beatles' "Dig A Pony" - and as she flubbed a line and laughed it off, the crowd was suddenly fully on her side, with her.
She ended by jumping off the stage and running through the area in front of the guard rail, slapping hands as she went, and accidentally knocking over the camera guy filming it for the big screens. She finished the set collapsed onstage, totally spent. We had glimpsed Annie Clark, the person behind St. Vincent, and still wondered how she can actually be human. - Richard Trapunski
Late Night Campsite RV Parties
Photo: Ryan Parker
When the performances came to an end and you realized you brought in a should-be-illegal amount of liquor that you wanted to finish but your hat wasn't big enough to sneak into the festival grounds, you could’ve kept it going in the campgrounds. Just follow the rumbling bass. Some geniuses with an RV brought speakers, DJ’d all night, and attracted a bigger crowd (150+) than some official sets we saw this weekend. - Ryan Parker
Photo: Ryan Parker
Most bands, even the headliners, played for an hour and a quarter, 90 minutes tops. Neil Young got three hours. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that it's freakin' Neil Young, but I have another theory: when a festival asks him to play, he'll give them two hours of hits if he can spend the other hour singing about the evils of corporate farming.
His new album, The Monsanto Years, with his newest Crazy Horse stand-in Promise of the Real (featuring two of Willie Nelson's sons), is full of protest songs so literal and nuance-free it's actually funny. You could almost play Neil Young madlibs. Monsanto, check. GMOs, check. "Hey Mr. Harper," triple-check.
As he watered his onstage flowers and passed out organic cherries to the first few rows of fans in official Rebel Content tour t-shirts that said "GMOs" with a red "x" through them, he busted out the new song "People Want To Hear About Love" and I realized, hey, he gets what he's doing here.
Basically a song addressed to himself, "People Want To Hear About Love" lists off all his 2015 political concerns - world poverty, pipelines, people voting because they don't trust the candidates, um, his theory that pesticides are causing autism in children (yup) - and admits people don't want to hear about it. They just want to hear songs about love. He might be right, too, especially at a festival.
And so good on him for using his platform for what he cares about. If it means I get to hear beautiful solo versions of "Helpless" and "Heart of Gold" and massive rock jams of "Down By The River" and "Fuckin' Up," I'm happy to hear some songs about Monsanto. I mean, it's freakin' Neil Young! - Richard Trapunski
People want to hear about it. - Richard Trapunski
Chad VanGaalen's stage banter
Whoever booked Weaves against Chad VanGaalen was clearly not thinking of audience overlap. It was heartbreaking to leave Weaves' set midway through - the Toronto band is sounding better every time I see them - and even more so to realize the two would work perfectly on a bill together. Weaves singer Jasmyn Burke and Chad are both delightful weirdos and clearly kindred spirits.
That said, it's hard to beat Chad VanGaalen's stage banter As cool as it was to see his old songs transformed by his new band The Beach Wipes, who made their debut at WayHome, I'd pay just to see him talk. His asides started as non-sequitors and slowly gained their own strange logic. It was like watching one of his comics come to life. He talked about tour grannies managing bands and breastfeeding milk dust and lamented the "so many children and wives laid to waste" by the crazy highways of Ontario. "We're all going nowhere anyway," he said, as poignantly as a man who just talked about sleeping in a dirt pile and chewing on cigarette butts can be. "Let's all go nowhere together." - Richard Trapunski
Photo: Ryan Parker
Festival fashion is hard to pull off when you're sweating in a tent for three days, so festivalgoers have found a new way to show off their style: totems, aka Rage Sticks. What started as a way to find your friends in a massive crowd with no cell reception - hold a sign or a stick or a pool noodle high enough for your friends to see - has quickly gone from functional to fashionable. People use them to make jokes, pledge allegiance to their crews, even try to catch artists' attention. Here are some of the best we saw:
- Jar Jar Binks
- Missy Elliott
- A flag that says "I am Canadian" (waved during Sloan, naturally)
- Stephen Harper wearing a flower crown
- A giant radish
- A sign that says "This is a good sign"
- A "Save Oro" sign manipulated to read "Rave Oro"
- #WayWolf (only because it gathered a bunch of dudes broing out to Sam Smith, which is as funny as it sounds)
Photo: Portia Baladad
The full name of the festival is WayHome Music & Arts, but, let's face it, people don't go to a festival for the visual art. There were some fantastic artists who contributed installations - Phillipe Blanchard, Winnie Truong, to name just a couple - but most people seemed to either use them as shade (more on that in a second) or mistake them for decoration (someone asked on Twitter if they could take the flags home - they belonged to the artist).
But the most effective was a sign in a brief wooded area between stages that said "#NATURE" surrounded by a fence. I'm not sure how much of the irony was intended, but it picked up another layer after a weekend full of festivalgoers decided to use it as a toilet. #NATURE indeed. - Richard Trapunski
Sam Smith is not much of a showman but that's okay. While there were no costumes or legions of back-up dancers, there was Smith's voice which was as strong as ever.
Smith filled his hour and 15 minute set by jumping between tracks from his Grammy-winning debut album, In The Lonely Hour, to various covers to keep the set from being a depressing time. Even the WayHome bros got into the Brit's performance; one group drank beer from a trophy as one of their brethren danced up and down the audience with a giant wolf sign during tracks like “La La” and “Money On My Mind.”
He ended the festival with “Latch” (his big hit with the Disclosure boys, re-imagined as a soulful piano ballad) and his big solo single, “Stay With Me.” Listening to Smith sing as we tried (and failed) to beat the rush out of Burl's Creek was actually a calming end to a non-stop weekend. - Portia Baladad
There's something about hearing a big hit that transforms a crowd full of people into instant best friends. There were a bunch of those moments at WayHome: Modest Mouse playing "Float On," Brandon Flowers doing "Mr. Brightside," Neil Young singing any of his non-GMO jams.
But where that festival magic usually transpired on the main stage, Alvvays had the chance to conjure it on the smaller WayBright stage in an early afternoon slot with their huge breakout single "Archie, Marry Me" . So it's curious they chose to play it so early in their set. As they aired it, just third on their set list, a number of casual fans literally ran through the field to see it. Then there was a similar rush the other way when they finished. But they still had most of their set left.
As the Toronto wonders learned, that collective "we all know the words" experience runs both ways. - Richard Trapunski
The prevalence of electronic music
Photo: Ryan Parker
The WayBold tent had a state of the art lighting rig decked out front-to-back but missed its opportunity to house electronic music all weekend, a curious decision considering the popularity of big EDM acts at festivals these days. It was slim pickings for electronic fans - basically just Bassnectar, Odesza (they both conflicted), Girl Talk, Kaytranada, and Com Truise, and they all drew huge packed houses, all completely energized. From the acts we did see, Odesza put one one of the most impressive sets of the weekend with a beastly light show and new workings of cuts from their fantastic debut album. - Ryan Parker
We Have Been Activated
Photo: Chris Hampton
Bands, festivals, and brands have long been peas in a snuggly little pod. Nothing new there. But in the era of Toronto festival mania, the various brand engagement campaigns have grown stage-like in stature. People waited in line to paint Reeboks. You could play giant-sized beer pong at the Smirnoff House Party. Or backstroke in a ball pit from Air Miles. There were hammocks and beanbag chairs scattered about from vitaminwater. Somewhere, in between all of those other experiences, there was music. - Chris Hampton
Listen, I can barely tell an activation from an installation. But even I know it would have been savvy, at a festival full of sunburned daydrinkers in a giant field, to provide a little bit of shade or air conditioning or even a fan. By the final day, when the sun was so hot it was impossible to keep a beer cold long enough to finish it, kids were squeezing into whatever sliver of shade they could find: a tree, a stage, a flag, a piece of art, another person. If the festival couldn't provide a cooling station, why not a brand? It basically markets itself. #MistOpportunities. - Richard Trapunski
Kanye West's big surprise set
Pictured: Kanye West at WayHome
Is it ever enough for you people? Can't you just feel contented by the fine set of acts you all willingly, uncoerced to my knowledge, shelled out a few hundreds bucks to see?
The rumours began as the gates swung open. A friendly pair of festival-goers struck up a pretty commonplace conversation: who's going to be the big surprise? They had ideas: J. Cole, Drake, Kanye. He is, after all, nearby readying for the Pan Am Games closing. Then, on the Saturday, Passion Pit cancels last minute. An opportunity! The moment!
Broken Social Scene get called up. Indie nostalgics delight. Others are disappointed. The rumouring pushes into overdrive. Now it's Kanye for sure. He's flying in by helicopter, one yarn said. A girl in line for the washroom is willing to bet me $20 he'll show. Others standing behind or beside offer their local version of the myth circulating within their corner of camp. Everybody knows it's going to happen: the biggest performer in the world is on his way to Oro-Medonte this minute. But Kanye never comes. And I never see my payout. - Chris Hampton
Maybe it was the bounty of sun-boiled beers or the literal dirt under my fingernails, but The Growlers bratty West Coast vibe — a shtick I can usually get behind — didn't play well on a camping festival bill in the late late spot beside Bassnectar and Odesza. They were the self-professed cool guys at the party. The ones who'd wear leather to a picnic. - Chris Hampton
Photo: Ryan Parker
It’s cold as hell when you’re gearing up for bed. Sweatpants? Check. Sweater? Check. Wrapped up in anything you can find including an empty Doritos bag? Check. Then the sun rises in the morning and your tent becomes an inescapable heat box. You wake up in a puddle of sweat, frantically tear off all your clothes, and try unsuccessfully to fall asleep again. - Ryan Parker
So silent we couldn't find it. - Richard Trapunski
Late Night Car Alarm DJ Set
It’s 4am and you’re finally getting into your sleeping bag, what’s the last thing you want? An amateur DJ to spin a car alarm sample for 6 hours. Or was it another one of WayHome’s art installations? Whatever it was, you still didn’t get any sleep this weekend because of it. - Ryan Parker