For the second year, Burl’s Creek in scenic Oro-Medonte, Ontario, hosts WayHome, a three-day festival with some of the biggest names in indie rock circles (we covered last year’s in four pieces). The festival starts on July 22 and runs over the weekend, with a set by The Killers closing the festival on July 24.
With four stages and three days worth of music, there isn’t just a little of something for everyone, but almost too much music to cover in a preview. So instead, we’ve decided to focus on a few of each day’s the most interesting acts. After all, it’ll be impossible to see each and every set in full, so festival-goers will have to make hard choices.
Will you see Can-rock legends Stars or All Them Witches on Sunday afternoon, Nathaniel Rateliff’s neo-soul or Shad’s nod to smooth R&B on Friday? In making this guide, we’ve created three days worth of full slates, a mixture of genres and styles which includes familiar names, new faces and almost no overlapping. Hopefully you’ll find our preview as a guide of sorts for three days worth of music.
Tennyson (WayAway Stage, 1pm)
No, not the poet. Tennyson is a sibling duo from Edmonton: Luke and Tess Petty. They grew up playing in their dad’s jazz combo, but went on their own a few years back. Their music is mostly-instrumental, dreamy soundscapes: loops, keyboards, drum machines, etc. At times they remind me of trap beats, at others of musicians like Grimes or Purity Ring. However their music is more experimental; is that a busy signal on “Like What”? Maybe it’s a jazz thing. They have several records; their latest is Like What, which came out last November. Find it on their Bandcamp.
Bombino (WayHome Stage, 1:45pm)
A Tuareg singer and guitarist from Niger, Bombino comes with some impressive indie rock credentials: an album produced by Dan Auerbach, appearances at Bonnaroo and an opening slot for Robert Plant. What you should care about is his proficiency with a guitar: he plays an exciting style of guitar, not dissimilar the dry desert blues of Tinariwen or Ali Farka Toure, but also propulsive, searing and colourful. His fifth record came out earlier this year on Partisan; it was a more rootsy affair, but compelling nonetheless.
Femi Kuti and the Positive Force (WayBright Stage, 2:45pm)
The eldest son of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti plays a similar style of music: jazzy, funky world beat, although his music has a more contemporary edge to it and I think he’s got a better voice, too. Like his father, he’s politically and socially aware, too. So basically think beat-heavy funk, drenched in horns and with a bunch of backup singers dancing around. If you like his dad, you’ll like his music.
Shad (WayBold Stage, 4:45)
Probably better known now for hosting CBC Radio’s Q, Shad has long been an overlooked presence in Canadian hip-hop. I remember seeing him live in 2009, when he did a set with just a guitar and a DJ. He opened for K-OS and blew the established rapper away (K-OS, if memory serves, walked off after a couple of songs). And although Shad’s rhymes are maybe a shade too clever and his new R&B music’s a little too self-aware for him to fit in alongside more mainstream Canadians like Drake or Belly, he holds his own alongside peers like Cadence Weapon or K-OS. When he’s not bettering them, that is.
White Lung (WayAway, 5:30)
A band we’ve examined here before at Bearded G., White Lung are a loud punk group from Vancouver who make compelling, exciting rock. Great harmonies, killer playing and exciting songs. What more should I say, besides they’re one of the acts I’m looking forward to most. They have four records out, plus a fifth this May: Paradise, on Domino Records. Listen to “Kiss Me When I Bleed” at their Bandcamp.
Metric (WayHome Stage, 7:15)
One of the most popular and longest-running Canadian indie bands, Metric hasn’t just been around since the start of Toronto’s indie scene, they played a pivotal role in it: frontwoman Emily Haines is a regular part of the Broken Social Scene’s records that cemented the scene in the early 2000s. Metric, meanwhile, have changed tack a few times over the years but have always been a compelling rock band, be it one pulsating with dance vibes, out-of-control guitar attacks or, on their most recent records, a slick, keyboard-dominated sound. Needless to say, they’ve remained one of the most important cogs in Canadian indie rock. Listen to “Dead Disco” on YouTube.
CHVRCHES (WayBright Stage, 8:15)
The Scottish electro-pop trio has been a critical and popular favourite since their debut record The Bones of What You Believe and their latest record, Every Open Eye, upped the stakes with hard beats and Lauren Mayberry’s sharp songwriting. BGM’s Mary Long was a big fan of that, calling it a “fresh clear take on the sounds of the 80s,” in her positive review of the record.
LCD Soundsystem (WayHome Stage, 9:30pm)
Making their lone Canadian stop this July, James Murphy and company look to rock the main stage on Friday evening. Chances are you already know about them, so I’ll skip the biography and just say they’ll probably be one of the festival’s highlights. And who knows: this could be it for them. Reunions are funny that way.
Mac DeMarco (WayBold Stage, 11:15pm)
After the exciting music of LCD Soundsystem, here’s the perfect nightcap: Mac DeMarco’s laid back, unpretentious singer-songwriter rock. Granted, I’ve found his music a little too laid back at times (I was a little hard on his latest LP, Salad Days), but I’ll also be the first person to admit his music has its charms: he never takes himself too seriously, has a great voice and his tunes have a nice sense of humour. I still wish he’d rock a little harder, but c’est la vie.
Little Scream (WayBold, 1pm)
Based out of Montreal, Little Scream makes catchy indie rock and has an impressive roster of friends: her new album has contributions by Sufjan Stevens, Owen Pallett and two-fifths of The National. More to the point is her music, which is slick and catchy – dig “Love As A Weapon,” off her upcoming record Cult Following (due out in May on Merge Records). Watch “Love As A Weapon” on YouTube.
Mothers (WayAway, 2:15)
Hailing from Athens, GA., Mothers released their debut LP earlier this year: When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired. The first song and the verbose title suggest they’re a twee folk-pop group, but they’re so much more: guitars crash in out of nowhere, the band constantly lurches forward with fits and starts and Kristine Leschper’s raspy voice weaves in and out. It’s moody, compelling and a blast, especially when the band cuts loose and Leschper’s voice sounds like it’s about to snap. Another band on my must-see list. Listen to “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t” on YouTube.
Noah Gundersen (WayAway, 3:30)
An indie folkie singer from Seattle, Noah Gundersen used to head a band called The Courage before going solo; he’s since released two full-lengths and a handful of EPs. His music’s slow, melodic and downtempo indie folk, reminds me of artists like Jason Molina. For a taste of what his set could sound like, check out his performance on KEXP last fall on YouTube.
Bahamas (WayBright, 4:30)
More singer-songwriter vibes from another Canadian, albeit one older and more seasoned than DeMarco. Bahamas – the working name for Afie Jurvanen – is also a local, raised just ten minutes down the road in Barrie, Ontario. His music’s personal, but also rootsy, reminiscent of artists like Jason Collett, The Band and Fiest’s more rock-oriented music. In fact, he was part of her touring band for many years. His latest record is Bahamas is Afie, and was longlisted for the 2015 Polaris Prize.
Banners (WayAway, 5:15)
An English musician, Banners just released his first EP Banners on Island Records. It’s short, but it’s a catchy, fun slice of pop hooks. He sounds very British, too, with his soft-spoken, slightly fragile voice. He’s touring North America for the first time this year; WayHome is one of his first stops in Canada.
A Tribe Called Red (WayBold, 5:45)
This Canadian electronic trio might not be as well known States-side, but up here they’ve made waves with a distinctive mix of beats and outspoken politics. A Tribe Called Red is three First Nations musicians who mix traditional elements into their dubstep-influenced music, making a compelling and unique sound. At the same time, their videos add their outspoken, Idle No More politics. In a nutshell, they’re compelling and interesting, outspoken and worth listening to. I bet they’ll be one of the weekend’s highlights. Watch the video for “Stadium Pow Wow.”
Arcade Fire (WayHome, 9:30)
Another long-running Canadian indie rock group, Arcade Fire has become something both of a poster child for a scene and something quite apart from it. Unlike peers such as Metric or Stars, they were never part of the Toronto-focused BSS scene; unlike West Coast-based supergroups like The New Pornographers, their music was complex and constantly evolving. Their latest record, Reflektor, showed them at their best: catchy, interesting and hard to resist, even as their record stretched into a second CD. Needless to say, we loved it: Jason Ricciardi gave it a perfect 5/5 score.
Vince Staples (WayBold, 11:15)
Vince Staples hails from Long Beach, CA and has been making waves in hip-hop circles since the release of his Stolen Youth mixtape three years ago. Since them, he’s released both an EP and a full-length (Summerime ’06) and worked with musicians like Earl Sweatshirt and Schoolboy Q. I liked his debut, which was darker and more nihilistic than Kendrick and more compelling than Sweatshirt’s latest. We called Summertime ‘06 the 40th best record of 2015. Watch the video for Lift Me Up on YouTube.
Savages (WayAway, 1am)
Another English quartet, Savages makes brash, compelling post-punk, slow and distorted rock; when I saw them on Cobert a while back, they played “Adore,” a song that slowly built up a tension as Jehnny Beth moaned and sang about how she adored life with a dark kind of menace. It’s a very British kind of darkness. Adore Life, their second album, came out earlier this year on Matador records; in his review for BGM, Matt Jamison wrote “they make me want to dance around my house while drinking wine. Even with the slower burners my body stays in motion.” Check out their Colbert performance on YouTube.
Dilly Dally (WayBright, 1pm)
A Toronto based quartet, Dilly Dally makes some pretty rad punk rock. On singles like “Desire” singer Katie Monks shouts and screams as the band roars on behind her; the sizzling lead guitar is a great touch, too. It’s pretty raw, it’s pretty rockin’, it’s pretty rad. Their cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself” is a blast; I hope they close their set with it. Last fall they released Sore, which absolutely slays and cracked BGM’s honorable mention list. I included it on my Polaris Prize ballot, too.
The Paper Kites (WayAway, 2:15)
An Australian folk-rock band, The Paper Kites (http://thepaperkites.com.au/) have been around for about six years and have a handful of releases to their name. Their latest record is twelvefour (2015, Sony Music / Nettwork) and had the fun gimmick of being recorded late at night. I suppose the guitars on songs like “Renegade” have a late night feel, but the record trades in classic indie rock sounds; it reminds me a lot of the stuff I used to spin in college back in 2008. Which is another way of saying not to expect guitar heroics like Courtney Barnett brought to last year’s festival; I’d almost compare them to The Decemberists, who played at about the same time.
Coleman Hell (WayBright, 2:45)
Hailing from the shores of Thunder Bay, Coleman Hell is a rising electronica artist whose music evokes country and dance beats, like he’d taken a cue from Keisha/Pitbull’s tune “Timber” and made a career out of it. Indeed, his latest single “Fireproof” makes liberal use of a harmonica break and looped keyboard/drums samples. He’s yet to release a full length, but there’s a few singles scattered around.
All Them Witches (WayAway, 3:45)
No witchcraft here, folks. Just four dudes, blasting loud, stoned-out guitar doom and gloom. All Them Witches are based out of Nashville and make some pretty rad tunes, cool sludgy stuff that reminds me a bit of Chad VanGaalen at his more excessive. Maybe that’s just because he animated a video for them, though. They’re definitely one to watch if you like your guitars loud and all over the place. Their latest album (Dying Surfer Meets His Maker) came out last year on New West Records; it came in at 29 on our year-end best of list. Listen to Dirt Preachers on YouTube.
Lucius (WayBright, 4:30)
A quintet from Brooklyn, Lucius has picked up props from outlets like NPR and Rolling Stone, but chances are they’re new to you. Led by the duo of Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe, they make driving, compelling and soulful indie rock; their harmonies are tight and memorable, even as the band lurches between loud rock (“Born Again Teen”) and slow, soulful balladry (“Madness”). Their most recent record is Good Grief, which came out last March, and back in 2013 we gave Wildewoman 4.5 out of five. Listen to “Madness” on YouTube.
Black Mountain (WayAway, 5:30)
A hard rock quintet from Vancouver, Black Mountain has been around for over a decade, blasting waves of distortion and cool fuzzy guitar grooves. I’ve been a fan since 2008’s In the Future (dig the 70s stoner groove of “Stormy High”), but they just released their fourth record, IV, early in April. It was just named to 2016’s Polaris Prize Shortlist, too. Watch the video for Mothers of the Sun on YouTube.
MØ (WayBold, 6:30)
A Danish singer and songwriter, MØ is probably best known for her guest appearances, like her singing on Major Lazer’s smash “Lean On,” (one of the most streamed songs of all time) or on Iggy Azalea’s single “Beg For It.” However, she’s much more than just a vocalist: her debut No Mythologies to Follow was a compelling dance-pop album, simultaneously drawing influences from all over while sounding distinct. At times she reminds me of MIA, at others of Grimes, but along with AlunaGeorge, she’s one of the best voices in dance music right now. Watch the video for Kamikaze on YouTube.
White Denim (WayAway, 7:15)
A loud, genre-pushing rock band from Texas, White Denim plays a distict kind of rock: 70s riffs, interesting chord changes and time signatures (dig that little hiccup on “Holda You (I’m Psycho)”). It’s the kind of rock you didn’t think people still made and you’re glad to hear when you do finally stumble on them. I’ve never met these guys, but I bet they like Little Feat almost as much as I do. They certainly have a similar sense of humor, not to mention approach to grooves. 2013’s Corsicana Lemonade was a fave around these parts, making two of our best-of lists and getting a gushing review by Tom Vickress.
The Killers (WayHome, 9:30pm)
You probably know these fellas. The Las Vegas-based group has become one of the biggest rock acts of the last decade, with lead singer Brandon Flowers making a compelling case as one of the few actual rock stars of his generation. Interestingly, he played a solo set at last year’s WayHome; maybe he likes Oro enough he’ll want to buy a house here (if you’re reading, Mr Flowers, drop me a line; I know where to find a decent breakfast in the area). Anyway, they’re closing the festival and are arguably the weekend’s biggest, most-popular act.
As noted above, WayHome is being held July 22-24 at Berl’s Creek, which is just north of Barrie, Ontario and right off of Highway 11. There are also many other bands playing than the ones listed above; let us know in the comments who you’re looking forward to seeing! Additionally, there will be featured displays of visual art, many options for food and crafts and other draws for the many festival goers.
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.