Only two years in, Canada’s WayHome Music & Arts Festival is technically in its infancy. Yet, the three-day bash — located about 90 minutes north of Toronto, Ontario, at the 92-acre Burl’s Creek Event Grounds in Oro-Medonte — has had a distinct advantage: years of experience from a partnership between local vets Republic Live and Bonnaroo co-founders AC Entertainment and, more importantly, the capability to look at myriad other long-established festivals and borrow their most successful elements, or at least draw inspiration from them.
Mirroring Coachella, there’s immersive lighting production on each stage and installation art gleaned from the desert fest’s metal-meets-nature aesthetic. The campgrounds and on-site accommodations — particularly the tree-shaded artists’ alcove — look almost exactly like Bonnaroo’s. Trippy projections are cast across encircling trees, much like Levitation. Local food vendors dish out all sorts of delicious cuisine (mmmm poutine!) similar to ACL Fest. And giant flags — in fact, the very same flags used at Glastonbury one month earlier — line the walkways. All of these features effectively culminate into a best-of fest.
And then there are the lineups. Last year’s roster topped by Neil Young, Kendrick Lamar, and Sam Smith drew 35,000 people, and this year’s — arguably one of the strongest of the season — tapped headliners LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, and The Killers, with attendance rising to 40,000. Other fest vets on the bill included FKA twigs, Savages, Major Lazer, Haim, M83, Ray LaMontagne, Chvrches, Metric, Gary Clark Jr. and Chet Faker, plus an impressive number of Canadian acts like Arkells, Dilly Dally, Black Mountain, Stars, BadBadNotGood, and White Lung, to name a few.
Booking so many talented Canucks is mightily admirable. It reveals the fest’s interest in bolstering its country’s grassroots scene, not to mention a commitment to fostering a sense of community. Even more so, commonality between all peoples who traveled to WayHome was established by the fest’s overt code of ethics. It wasn’t quite on par with Bonnaroo’s clear-cut list of commandments, the Bonnaroovian Code, but a utopian aim still shone through.
“Welcome Home,” read a sign above the main gates, reminding all those entering to leave their egos at the door and treat one another as family. And for the most part, the idea seemed to work. I arrived at my campsite with next to no resources and was immediately greeted by Canadian neighbors with smiles and friendly hellos, cold water, and a shaded spot to sit. They continued to offer me anything and everything throughout the weekend, even if I didn’t always need it, and I witnessed countless acts of no-strings-attached fellowship among others each day.
The same sort of optimism was offered to artists — even if people were clueless about a band’s music, you could see them making an effort to enjoy, often giving themselves over to it. The Roo peeps down in Tennessee would be proud of Canada’s capacity to radiate positivity.
Honestly, I have zero complaints, but of course, a festival should always strive to innovate and improve. Though some part of me hopes it will stay small-ish, what will really make WayHome stand out in years to come will be its ability to grow a fiercely loyal core fanbase — those that will purchase tickets for the experience, no matter who’s on the lineup. It’s the sort of thing that will ultimately be achieved by good, old-fashioned word of mouth. So listen up, future WayHomies: Canada ain’t that far, it’s goddamn beautiful, and the people are nice as hell — come find your way home with the rest of us next year.
Click ahead to see the top 10 sets of the fest, plus our exclusive photo gallery.
Metric is one of those bands that always works hard to deliver a memorable show. Frontwoman Emily Haines is inevitably the centerpiece — she looked jaw-droppingly radiant with her sheer green cape floating around her on “Cascades”, a synthy gem from their most recent full-length, Pagans in Vegas. But guitarist James Shaw and bassist Joshua Winstead visibly made equal efforts by throwing their whole bodies into every riff and solo.
They looked and sounded sharpest when reviving tunes more than a decade old like set opener “IOU” and heavy-hitter “Dead Disco”, which included an Easter egg for the old-school fans in the form of a short “Succexy” coda. What a treat to witness Metric breathing new life into old material without falling back on more obvious old faves like “Combat Baby”.
09. Bishop Briggs
British-born, Los Angeles-based singer Bishop Briggs didn’t necessarily pull off the breakout set I’d surmised she might have in terms of crowd — 1:15 p.m. on Sunday during a three-day camping fest is a little early for most people. But the powerhouse punch of her performance despite that proved that she’s only a stone’s throw away.
Her backing beat conjured up some hip-hop and popular EDM-infuenced beats, but her greatest strength is her voice. At just 24 years old, her range on key cuts like “Hi-Lo [Hollow]” and chart-topping hit “River” already rivals Adele’s. But, like Lorde when she was first starting out, Briggs is somewhat limited in the dance moves department, though that’s not to say her bubbly bounding wasn’t charming. My two cents: If she can incorporate some solid choreography into her shows, she’ll be unstoppable.
“This is our last show for this album (for awhile),” mused Chvrches vocalist Lauren Mayberry near the end of the Scottish trio’s Friday evening set. “We’re probably going to take a big nap and watch Netflix … you’re lucky we turned up because we’ve been spending all our (free) time watching Stranger Things and playing Pokémon.”
Given how strongly those two trends have taken hold lately, I can’t help but suspect that she was joking somewhat in earnest, but the group’s performance painted a different picture: From the kickoff of “Never Ending Circles” to the galvanic closer “The Mother We Share”, the group appeared imbued with momentous energy to mirror their ardently dancing-and-singing audience. Mayberry in particular attacked with ferocity, frequently finishing off prettily sung lyrics with a snarl, bounding about and head-banging center stage, and often leaping off monitors with mic chord and hair trailing behind her. She’s always been a charmer — this time she took time to comically comment on her favorite totems and kick a giant beach ball like it was “the world cup or some shit .” But, especially as she was so deer-in-the-headlights green toward the beginning of the band’s touring career, it was badass to see her slipping so easily into full-on beast mode.
07. Marian Hill
“I love you Marian!” shouted one eager fan as Philadelphia duo Marian Hill took the stage Friday night. The shout was directed at vocalist Samantha Gongol, whose name obviously isn’t Marian (the moniker is a reference to the musical The Music Man). Nevertheless, she took it in stride, smiling easily as she and master beatmaker Jeremy Lloyd laid into “Down”, the opening track off their just-released debut album, ACT ONE.
From there, the duo, occasionally accompanied by their pal Steve Davit on saxophone and bass, pulled off one of the breakout sets of the festival. At first, the audience was tiny, but no matter — Lloyd banged on and bounced off his MPC and keys with the aggression of a hardcore rocker, and Gongol moved and sung with the cool confidence of a siren. She easily drew in more and more people with the seductive, hip-hop-influenced sounds of tunes like “One Time”, “Wasted”, and a groovy cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”. As LCD Soundsystem finished at the nearby main stage, Marian Hill’s small gaggle became a throbbing throng, which — during the second half of the set — offered deafening ovations.
“I got it/ I got it,” crooned Gongol at the close of the outfit’s final song by the same name. Yes. Yes you do.
Second only to Arcade Fire, there was no greater outpouring of Canadian love than during Arkells’ Saturday night set. During catchy-as-hell cuts like “Michigan Left” and “11:11”, the audience reaction reached fervor almost equal to a religious congregation — an obvious parallel given the band’s various references to religion in both lyrics and overarching gospel influence. But you don’t need to adhere to a certain faith to get down with Arkells.
Frontman Max Kerman is a constantly moving, singing preacher, but he’s unafraid to cuss: “Can you say, ‘Punch in and punch out’ like you fucking mean it?” he goaded on “Oh, the Boss Is Coming!” — as much a reference to Bruce Springsteen’s obvious influence as it was to any higher power). The rest of the quintet easily matched his energy; it’s always satisfying to see a rock band that doesn’t heap all the expectation of performing solely on the frontman. A special collaboration for a “special occasion” with Toronto’s Northern Soul Horns made this set one of the weekend’s most intensely explosive.