All photos by: Chris Hampton
Southern Ontario didn’t know it wanted a camping megafest until WayHome cropped up last year. But, boy, it fell in love quickly. With an estimated 40,000 people in attendance this past weekend, Oro-Medonte’s WayHome Music & Arts Festival has become one of Canada’s largest music festivals in just its second year.
For many, we’d bet it was the highlight of their summer. Kids planned for it months ahead with their friends, making totems and planning outfits. There’s a wildly active Reddit community devoted to it. People take WayHome seriously, and that’s because finally, they have something that looks like the larger American and European camping fests. And while some were worried that shakeups at the organizational level meant we were in for a totally different experience, for better or worse, it mostly felt like the same festival, if a little more expensive and a little more corporate.
Now that we’ve had a real shower, burned all those Intellipay emails, and remembered how much beds totally rule, we can reflect on everything — good and bad — we saw over the weekend.
It’s easy to get fatigued when sleeping in the dirt, drinking 10 dollar beers in the hot sun, and then seeing 12 bands a day, so you need sets like A Tribe Called Red's to keep you going. The First Nations DJ trio’s exhilerating performance was basically an hour of pure, concentrated energy. It did more than any Red Bull, 8 dollar cold brew coffee, or whatever else you were using to stay awake. The covered WayBold stage was totally crammed, the dancers were amazing to watch, there were pitch perfect guest spots from Lido Pimienta and Shad, plus a remix of Tanya Tagaq that sounded so good I need to hear it again immediately. A Tribe Called Red proved they are no side stage act. - Richard Trapunski
CHVRCHES sound like a tighter unit every time I see them and with their evening slot as the sun was setting behind them, I think they reached perfection. Just try not to have a good time when Martin takes centre stage. - Ryan Parker
The ascension of the Arkells
I watched the beginning of the Arkells’ set broadcast by TV into a shady pavilion in the VIP area while I ate a grossly overpriced hamburger. You’ve gotta pick your moments to replenish and this — a cool spot with some elbow room soundtracked by those Hamilton sweethearts — seemed like a pleasant respite. When the camera turned round, the crowd was ridiculous. It climbed over the horizon. Sometimes you don’t realize how big a band has gotten until you put them in front of 40,000 people. I had to see it in the flesh.
So we hoofed over in time to hear all of WayBright (possibly the stage’s biggest audience for the weekend) sing the band’s breakout, “Oh, The Boss is Coming!” A new CanRock classic being canonized, it seemed. But then again, the crowd knew every word to every song. You could hear the sing-along all the way back at our campsite. When the Arkells covered the Hip, you couldn’t help but think (as one concert-goer had suggested in that casual, “who are you excited for”-type festival chit-chat): are they becoming them? - Chris Hampton
Jet The Falcon
As working media, we had access to the festival grounds before the gates opened. That meant 11 am was the best time of the festival to enjoy an iced coffee on a hammock while listening to an M83 soundcheck — a rare moment of respite at a festival few would call relaxing. But it was also the best time to catch Jet The Falcon on duty with his handler keeping the seagulls away.
It's one of those things that makes sense, but you would never think of: there are people (and birds of prey) doing the dirty work so that everything runs smoothly without you even realizing it. That applies to the guy literally holding the end of the rope so that the beautiful balloon sculpture stays in the air, and it applies to the woman volunteering at the water station because her brother-in-law owns the company and her kids want to see Lindsey Stirling. These are the gears that keep everything in motion. - Richard Trapunski
There is another, better world where FKA twigs is the biggest pop star and crowds shake ass to her minimal, dystopic R&B, then go especially nuts when her dancers lift her up into arty tableau. I know, because I was there. - Chris Hampton
Maybe the perfect way to start WayHome after driving in on Friday (though River Tiber was a pleasant, if faint soundtrack for building our tents). I haven’t seen the Montreal-based three-piece in a number of years and so our relationship was more of a they-live-in-my-headphones type thing. Damn, they are (have become? Always were?) an incredible live act. I tend to think of them for the powerful atmospheres they build together, but each one is full-on virtuosic with their instrument. Austin Tufts belongs in the discussion of Canada’s best drummers. - Chris Hampton
Dilly Dally’s Drake cover
Even a couple of hours north of Toronto, you can’t get away from Drake. Third Eye Blind covered his song with Beyoncé, Tory Lanez remixed/subtweeted him with his own version of “Controlla,” Future cancelled so he could join him on the Summer Sixteen tour, and even the Arkells played a new song called “Drake’s Dad.” But the best Drake moment comes from Toronto grunge rockers Dilly Dally.
When Katie Monks hits her throat-curdling scream on “woes” in “Know Yourself” you get shivers. They played to a relatively small (but fiercely adoring) crowd, but I think you could hear that scream just about anywhere on the festival grounds. You could hear it in your campsite, on top of the ferris wheel. Heck, I’m pretty sure Drake heard it from his tour stop in St. Paul, Minnesota. - Richard Trapunski
We’ve called BADBADNOTGOOD hip-hop’s house band, but they easily handle centrestage, too. In 40-degree heat, the Toronto quartet (joined that day by trumpeter Tom Moffett and, for a run through “In Your Eyes,” Charlotte Day Wilson) had a few hundred WayHomies losing their minds to real-deal jazz music. There was a mosh pit. You could almost hear the sound of aesthetic horizons broadening. Or was that the tssssk of a tall can getting cracked? - Chris Hampton
Last year, WayHome made a splashy debut by offering a trio of diverse, big-name headliners (Neil Young, Kendrick Lamar and Sam Smith) that could appeal to almost everyone. This year, they all kind of filed into the same everyfest category. To misquote a song from one of them, let’s call it “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 2000s.”
On night one, the reunited LCD Soundsystem scratched that itch with a set packed with alterna-hits that would have killed at Toronto's Dance Cave (or your equivalent student-friendly indie dance rock club) about a decade ago. It was cool to hear songs like “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and “New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down” in a crowd full of people, and that sudden explosion in “Dance Yrself Clean” was immensely satisfying live, but with the band mostly facing each other while extending out long grooves and James Murphy saying very little to the crowd, there really wasn’t much that made it feel like a headlining festival set.
Of the three headliners, Arcade Fire was the closest to approaching the universality of last year’s big font bands (and it helps that they had nothing scheduled against them). I’m convinced that when we look back in 30 years, this will be the band that we consider classic rock. Like it or not, they're poised to have longevity like their heroes Springsteen and The Talking Heads. Songs like “Wake Up” are built to be belted out by tens, twenties, hundreds of thousands while fireworks go off in the distance. And between their four albums they have enough major songs to build a perfectly paced, crowd-pleasing set. These folks are true professionals. - Richard Trapunski
The Killers made it easy for anyone who wanted to catch “Mr. Brightside” and leave early to beat the rush of cars departing the festival on Sunday night. Playing it first was a bold move (Brandon Flowers also played it with his solo band last year), but then you realize just how many hits they have. I still don't know if we can forgive the fact that Brandon Flowers 100% thought he was in Ottawa the whole time. - Ryan Parker
The unsung heroes of a major music festival are often the ones whose names are nowhere near the poster. Take the trumpeter who played not one but three sets at WayHome. It took some digging to find out his name, but he was onstage playing with BADBADNOTGOOD, The Arkells and Shad. He was basically the Canadian equivalent of Chance The Rapper’s Donnie Trumpet: Gordie Horn. - Richard Trapunski
The real PokéMasters of WayHome
The festival added permanent and temporary cell towers for all the major phone carriers, so it was much easier to get reception this year. Still, surprisingly, I didn’t see anyone playing Pokémon Go. That doesn’t mean I didn’t see any Pokemon, though.
Not long after Bear Witness of A Tribe Called Red pointed out a Charmander totem near the front of the stage, a squad at a different stage asked me to take a group photo of them with their Pikachu. I told them about the Charmander I just saw and the leader sprung up. “Wait, where did you see it!?” It turns out the Charmander I had seen was stolen from them by another festivalgoer.
I still had the guy’s number (saved in my phone as “Pikachu”) from when I sent him the photo, so I texted him the next day and asked if they ever got it back. Here's what he said:
Later that evening during Haim, I looked into the crowd and saw it: Pikachu and Charmander, reunited again, alongside a Squirtle and a Bulbasaur. By the end of the weekend, they had truly caught ‘em all. - Richard Trapunski
The organizers' responsivity
WayHome organizers took notes from last year’s (minimal) mistakes and decided not to implement them… until day two. The app sent us notice that day that they were adding couple more water stations and we no longer had to wait in line as every person showed their ID for every drink as they started giving out a wristband on the first purchase. Or did they? Because I still had to show my ID the entire festival. The added cell towers were a massive improvement. Sending a text or calling someone was a hell of a lot easier than trying to communicate over other people on the walkie-talkie channel you chose for you and your friends. - Ryan Parker
If you need proof that Trudeaumania is running wild again, here it is: I saw no fewer than five different Justin Trudeau totems. Trudeau with a flower crown, animated Trudeau, Trudeau as a Snapchat dog, Trudeau as Jean Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport. Somehow our Prime Minister was the fan favourite of the whole festival, and he wasn’t even there. - Richard Trapunski
Sadly, almost as prevalent as Trudeau was Republican Presidential nominee/dickhead Donald Trump. But for all the “Make America Great Again” hats, there was also Rae Sremmurd and Tory Lanez saying “Fuck Donald Trump!” (the next great American slogan) and some fans that turned him into a literal dickhead. So let’s call it a draw. - Richard Trapunski
Danish pop singer MØ and Major Lazer are major collaborators with at least one huge hit to their name, and they both played the festival, but for some reason they didn’t collaborate. So we got to hear their songs performed by both acts. We got a Major Lazer-only version of “Cold Water,” an MØ-only version of their Frank Ocean cover “Lost,” and we got “Lean On” twice, two nights in a row… the second time loud enough to actually hear. - Richard Trapunski
The renewed relevance of Third Eye Blind
The week after trolling the Republican National Convention, Third Eye Blind drew a huge crowd to the mainstage on WayHome’s Saturday evening. Could they use their newfound relevance to prove they’re not just nostalgia relics from the post-grunge era?
Stephen Jenkins dressed like he was playing Woodstock ‘99, and a few of their songs veered uncomfortably close to nu-metal. So did Jenkins’ mid-set rant about how “we’re a motherfucking guitar rock band! There’s no sequencers, no backing track. We can do whatever the fuck we want!” That’s basically a shorthand for “we don’t understand the hipping and the hopping of the kids today,” which is not a good sign for a band touring a new record a decade and a half after they were last in the cultural conversation. It was a mixed signal, though, because they also covered Beyoncé, and threw in a snippet of Daft Punk.
In the end, these questions were subsumed into the euphoric singalong moment of “Jumper” — one of those magical festival experiences where the song is bigger than the act or the timeslot or the year-appropriate zeitgeist. You just drop your defenses and belt along. - Richard Trapunski
Yes, this is probably our future (and I mean that in the bigger, scarier societal sense). But like VR, it’s not quite there yet. Other large-format festivals have successfully adopted cashless systems, but WayHome’s transition wasn’t without hiccups. It took three slightly buzzed brains working together on smartphone screens to figure out how to attach our wristbands to our accounts and add money. The design wasn’t the friendliest, let’s say.
And I thought it was supposed to alleviate wait times. Instead, they introduced a complex ritual: “I’ll take one of those WayHome brand beers,” “scan please,” “Can I see your ID?,” "Would you like to add a tip?" add a tip on the touch screen, “scan again please,” repeat. Now my email is full of receipts from every single transaction. - Chris Hampton
Supply vs. demand for hip-hop
The lineup at this year’s festival felt a bit more homogeneous than the something-for-everyone vibe of last year, and nowhere was this more obvious than in the glaring lack of hip-hop. The small handful of rappers that were booked drew huge and energized crowds, which made you wonder: why isn’t there more of it? Rae Sremmurd had the audience in the palm of their hands, Vince Staples had thousands of Ontarians chanting for Northside Long Beach, Tory Lanez was treated like festival Jesus and tried to act the part by walking on top of the crowd like it was water. Even the ever-reliable Shad drew huge numbers. The thirst for hip-hop was clearly there, so why so little to choose from? - Richard Trapunski
The double shoulder-sit
It’s not uncommon to see someone get up on their friend or partner’s shoulders at a festival, but a few times at WayHome I saw a third person also get up on their shoulders. That double shoulder-sit never worked for more than about thirty seconds before it came tumbling down, likely resulting in some extra cash in Shaq’s pocket today. - Richard Trapunski
The sound levels at Major Lazer
The giant, excited crowd for Major Lazer was a sign that maybe electronic music has a place at the festival. And with the slim pickings, you'd hope to be able to hear it. If you weren't near the front, you could've had a conversation with a friend five feet away. If you were to, just make sure you had your hands up, because they reminded us every single song to keep them in the air. - Ryan Parker
The police presence in the medical tent
When are festivals going to learn about harm reduction? Are they so naive as to think stationing fully uniformed cops in the medical tent will prevent kids from doing drugs? Or do they just want to ensure that no one will actually seek medical attention when they’re in danger? Feels a little irresponsible. - Richard Trapunski
Everything was branded, probably even the grass. There were hashtags everywhere you looked.
Fans congregated to see GoldLink on Saturday afternoon. They were there, they were chanting his name and then... nothing. Where was GoldLink? Nobody knew. Eventually WayHome sent out a tweet citing "logistical issues." Only one problem: that tweet came half an hour after his scheduled set time. - Richard Trapunski
Different kinds of idiots
Are large festivals doomed to attract the sort who party recklessly, often at the expense of others?
“How’s this weekend for you?” I overheard one festival-goer ask a security guard kinda idly while waiting in a beer line, “Better than Boots & Hearts? Less idiots?” “Different kind of idiots,” he answered. Then, immediately following, I saw a group of dudes having a home run derby with water bottle caps during Bahamas, knocking dingers into the unimpressed crowd. A different kind of idiots indeed. - Chris Hampton
This happened at the campsite across from mine:
"Does anyone want to see A Tribe Called Red?"
"Who are they?"
"They're like these guys that dress up as Indians" - Ryan Parker
I saw a bro at Black Mountain try to play another guy's foot like a synth. He was not impressed. - Richard Trapunski
Shameless price gouging
The biggest sign that we were always in the presence of corporate overlords was the price tag on everything at this year’s festival. Want your phone charged? $5. Want to camp at an almost mandatory camping festival? $130. Beer was stadium pricing. $10 per shower to wash off what you thought was a tan on your body. I needed a new line of credit for some of the food trucks. - Ryan Parker
You paid handsomely for VIP treatment, which gave you access to the special menu from The Drake. Which is cool, if you don't mind spending $15.75 for avocado toast. Personally, $10 is my limit for toast. - Richard Trapunski