Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the first WayHome festival out at Burl’s Creek in Oro-Medonte, Ontario. A three-day festival produced by Republic Live, WayHome was a four-stage festival with lots of music, art and attendees. I’ve already recapped the first day; today, I’ll look at day three. Note: I missed day two because of a prior commitment.
It’s a little before noon on Sunday and I’m sitting in the media tent out behind one of the stages. It’s sunny, hot and everyone is buzzing about last night, when Broken Social Scene played a surprise set on a small stage and Kendrick Lamar played a great set on the main stage.
It sounds like I missed quite a night. Later, I’ll talk to some attendees who tell me it was exciting to see Lamar and Broken Social Scene; everyone agrees they killed it. Later I’m told over 35,000 people were here at WayHome and I’d be willing to bet most of them attended his show.
My first stop of the day is at the main stage to catch Canadian power-pop legends Sloan. I arrived early, got as close to the stage as possible and had a blast. They all came out, playing different instruments than I was used to – Chris Murphy on drums, Andrew Scott on guitar and Jay Ferguson on drums – played a few songs, then all switched around and launched into an explosive version of “If It Feels Good Do It.”
Throughout their set, Sloan did a good job mixing through their deep catalogue: “I Hate My Generation,” “The Good In Everyone,” “Losing California.” And more to the point, they were having fun doing it, too: the crowd kept throwing a beach ball on stage and Murphy was running around after it, then rushing back to the mic to sing his part and finally kicking the ball back as the band crashed into a song’s final chord.
A little later, I wandered over to the WayBright stage to catch Chad Vangaalen, an artist I was only slightly familiar with. When I arrived, he was between songs and wondering aloud what all the animals on-site thought about this festival: “there’s a bunch of angry chipmunks.”
Playing a small travel guitar – no headstock, a small rectangular body – through a dizzying array of pedals and effect boxes, Vangaalen coaxed strange noises out of his instrument, with a drummer and second guitarist – The Bleach Wipes, his new backing band – keeping a steady rhythm behind him. Musically, it was a lot louder and more abrasive than I expected: “City of Electric Light,” went from an acoustic pop tune to a fuzzed-out garage rocker.
It’s also worth noting Vangaalen’s MVP-level stage banter. Most of the weekend, artists generally restrained themselves to a “Hello Toronto,” or “how ya doing, WayHome?” But Vangaalen told stories – like running into a fan on a late-night golf cart drive the night before – and commented on the event itself. At one point between songs, he set off his car alarm and asked if we could hear it (nope), then took a moment to listen to a guitar solo drifting in from another stage and said “Wish I was doing a sweet solo like that, lemmie tell ya,” before kicking into another song. It sounds silly, but it was nice to see someone so obviously relaxed and having fun on stage.
As I mentioned in my first dispatch, part of the appeal of this festival was checking out Canadian acts I hadn’t seen live before. One was Brave Shores, who I caught at the WayBold stage. A Toronto-based quintet featuring three keyboardists (one doubled on guitar) and led by the brother-sister combo of Stefanie and Jay McCarrol, they brought some indie pop/new wavey vibes. They’re best known right now for “Don’t Come Down,” which was featured in a cola ad and literally written for TV, but it was nice seeing them live.
After spending some time watching St. Vincent (see here), I wrapped up my day watching another Toronto-based indie act: HIGHS. These guys had a Bombay Bicycle Club kind of thing going on: bouncy rhythms, lots of guitars and lots of wordy verses. Again, another act I wasn’t especially familiar with – they’ve only released a six-song EP – but they brought a sizable following; one fan even brought a flag with their name on it.
They were an engaging group, their songs stretching out into some nice jams and getting the crowd moving. I certainly didn’t really expect to enjoy them as much as I did; I meant to pop by on my way to see Cold War Kids and ended up sticking around for the whole set. It was a fun set and a lot longer than their EP; I suppose they’re working on material for a full-length.
All in all, I found WayHome an impressive weekend. There was sizable amount of Canadian content – nearly all the bands I saw were Canadian, actually – and usually something going on all of the stages at once, meaning there was a lot of music to choose from; I never did get around to seeing Hey Rosetta, Slow Magic, or The Sheepdogs. At the same time, on the two days I attended, the lineups were pretty pop/rock heavy: all the hip-hop acts (Run the Jewels, Kendrick Lamar, Big KRIT and a few others) all played on Saturday.
I think it’s also worth noting the event was pretty well-run. During a press conference on Sunday morning, I was told about all the planning, work and labour that went into the event; for example, 80,000 rolls of sod were laid and the equivalent of over 115,000 bottles of water were given away. And with something like 35,000 people in attendance, things went pretty smoothly; I’ve heard horror stories about large festivals before, but nothing too crazy happened here.
Freelance writer and music fan, whose writing has appeared on The Good Point, The Toronto Review of Books, and CTV.ca, among other places. Favorite albums: Dig Me Out, Live-Evil, Decade.