While I was off celebrating my birthday at Toronto’s Festival of Beer with Naughty By Nature, the Unity Festival with Wu-Tang’s GZA, and the Pan Am Games closing ceremonies with Kanye West, there was a much larger music festival happening up north in Barrie (July 24-26). Like most humans, I can’t be in two places at once, but luckily our friend Louise Johnson was attending the festival and agreed to write a concert review for us. Louise is a recent Harvard graduate who currently writes for The Boston Day Book as well as her own website, LouiseClaireJohnson.com. Links to all of her social media will be at the end of the review 🙂
Louise has a much more diverse taste in music than I do, which is why it’s more fitting that she be the one to review The WayHome Festival. WayHome is a weekend-long festival that combines the up-north camping experience with live performances by many different artists in various genres. For my Hip-Hop heads, Kendrick Lamar was slated to headline one of the three days, while Run The Jewels, Danny Brown, Big K.R.I.T. and SZA were also featured on the lineup. Other headliners included recent Grammy winner Sam Smith, Neil Young, and Alt-J.
From here I will let Ms. Johnson take the wheel. The following are her words and her experience at the festival.
The inaugural WayHome Music & Arts Festival kicked off this past weekend at Burls Creek in Oro-Medonte (part of Simcoe County) with 35,000 attendees. Toted as “Bonnaroo of the North,” Canada suited up, exceeded expectations, and demonstrated that we can host a kick-ass international festival on par with the Bonnaroos’, Coachellas’ and Lollapaloozas’ of the world. I’d definitely say that our rookie festival status skyrocketed into the big leagues.
Music goers were met by dozens of flowing flags upon entering the grounds. I learned through one of the organizers that they were flown-in directly from the Glastonbury festival in the UK. The pastel colours and soft silk waving in the breeze were mesmerizingly calming.
At dusk, the way the smoke and lights billowed out from the main stage made me feel as though I were walking into the Tri-Wizard Tournament. As a non-closeted Harry Potter buff, this eerily enjoyable feeling of being amongst mystical creatures was magical.
As a “Music & Arts Festival” there were many wicked installations scattered throughout the four stages. The creativity people possess mind-boggles me (in the best way possible).
Toronto-based multi-media artist, Trevor Wheatley, created some of my favourite pieces. His main focus is typography, which as a lover of words and all that they endow, makes me very happy. His “One Night Only,” “Squad,” and “Nature” signs were the most visible, yet he also created some stage backdrops, such as the For Esmé signage seen during their set at the WayBold stage.
Camping was included in the ticket price so my sisters and I figured that this would be as good a time as any to test it out. All we knew was that if we wanted to set-up in the same area as our friends, we had to coordinate our convoy of cars in a tight parade to secure the space.
Our plan to meet Thursday, 10pm, at the Tim Horton’s off of Highway 11 was foiled when we discovered that it was blocked off by police. Cell service was already dipping in and out but miraculously, through sporadic texting, pure LUCK, and some dangerous maneuvers, we managed to chorale six cars in a row.
The camping Gods were good to us again as we were directed to a large area along a forest, giving us a bit more privacy. Being a decent distant away from the porta-potties (waking up to that smell would have been rather unpleasant), yet close to a water source was also key. Our cells died the first day, which didn’t really matter since reception was shoddy. It was like the good old days, we had to set up meeting spots – “see you back at this flag in two hours!”
We slept on yoga mats (next time I’ll probably splurge on the air mattress) and while the nights were cool (great sleeping temperature), I awoke early every morning baking like a spud in my tent. A water bottle shower wasn’t ideal but it became a necessary quick fix.
The heat persisted throughout the weekend, except for a minor downpour, which didn’t last very long (side note: thanks to Somersby for the free rain ponchos just in case!) Not going to lie, I was real grime-y by the end of the weekend but I was too busy having all the fun to worry about a little (a lot) of dirt. (Although at 2am on Sunday evening I have never been more grateful for a long, cold shower).
I tried to eat most of my meals at camp before the food went bad in the heat (my friend Alexandra also brought the most delicious vegetables, including fresh kale, from her garden so we actually ended up eating pretty healthy). With the abundance of food trucks and tents, I did splurge at Station Cold Brew every morning on an icy coffee treat (mmm!) Only complaint is that they ran out early so they closed up shop a day early (high demand, low supply!) I opted for a jumbo white freeze instead.
My other favourite items were the fish tacos at Buster’s Sea Cove and Smoke’s pulled pork sandwich (that had hickory sticks and coleslaw in it) – might sound like a weird combo but my taste buds were over the moon.
Now… THE MUSIC
Neil Young played a three (plus) hour set with the band Promise of the Real (which includes two of Willie Nelson’s sons). I heard polarizing perspectives – some hated it; they thought Neil went on way too long preaching his views about “Monsanto” and didn’t play enough of the hits. He pumped out “Heart of Gold” and “Helpless” right at the beginning (as most people were running over from other stages) but left out “Old Man” (perhaps this now hits too close to home…) and “Harvest Moon” (among others).
I personally enjoyed it (except, I agree, I was hoping he’d whip out a few more classics) – it’s just so impressive that a man of his age can play NON-STOP, FULL-OUT for HOURS. It was also nice seeing him on his home turf (that he so adamantly advocates for). He clearly has honed his craft and when you’re Neil Young, you can pretty much play whatever the hell you want and get away with it. There were a few incredible interludes that nailed it for me:
- Somebody threw a whiskey bottle on stage, he picked it up and yelled “It’s empty fuckers!” before tossing it aside (This reminded me slightly of something he’d do in “The Last Waltz” so I soaked it right up)
- After his third encore, past midnight, he said into the microphone, “It’s STILL TOO EARLY” – if that gives any indication of his energy levels (despite how haggard he might look on the outside)
- A woman flashed him from the front row (it was caught on the big screen) and mid-song, Neil broke out into a Cheshire cat/dirty old man grin. It was great.
Earlier in the day on Friday, one of my favourite shows from the entire weekend was Sylvan Esso. That voice. Those hypnotic beats. I could sway all day. Other Friday honourable mentions go to: Alt-J, Hozier, For Esmé and Future Islands.
Kendrick Lamar KILLED his headlining performance Saturday night. The energy was amazing. Everyone was exuding pure joy and happiness – whether they were organic-ly ecstatic or narcotic-ly enhanced (hey, whatever you need to be on the same level), everyone in the audience was on their feet, dancing or waving their hands in the air for the entire set. He played most of the Good Kid, m.A.A.d city album, but also include “ADHD” from Section.80 and a rendition of “Fuckin’ Problems.” “Backstreet Freestyle” and “King Kunta” were by far my favourites (if I was forced to choose).
He seemed to feed off of the crowd’s energy and genuinely seemed excited to be there – even promising to come back again. He closed off with an impressive fireworks display leaving everyone pumped up for Big K.R.I.T. right afterwards. My sisters and I then mellowed out with Timber Timbre under the twinkle lights and trees before calling it a night (or morning depending on the way you look at it).
Honourable mentions during the day on Saturday go to: The Rural Alberta Advantage, Django Django, Run The Jewels, and Modest Mouse. Passion Pit pulled out last minute (due to illness) so the “mystery special guest” turned out to be Broken Social Scene. There was speculation that The Arkells, Metric or Kanye West would fill the spot (there’s no way Kanye would “not headline” a festival, especially last minute) but I would have been more stoked on The Arkells or Metric over BSS, despite hearing that they put on a great show (more fireworks included).
Musically speaking, Sunday was probably my favourite day overall. I’m always in the mood for The Sheepdogs and their main stage sunny afternoon performance delivered. Vance Joy was everything I thought he would be and more. With the sun setting, the sky tinged pink, his clear voice and lovely lyrics, I was overwhelmed with happy chills. SWOON WORTHY. Speaking of swooning, I now have an even bigger girl crush on St. Vincent after her performance. Thoughtful, deep and a bad-ass babe. She laughed at herself when she messed up slightly on a Beatles’ cover, which just made her all the more endearing.
I’m biased when I say that my friends’ band, HIGHS, played one of the best shows of the weekend for me, but it truly was the icing on top of incredible performance after incredible performance. Knowing all of the lyrics and seeing them play under a canopy of trees with some of my best friends in the entire world can’t be beat and won’t be forgotten.
I don’t know if it’s because Canadians are just the coolest, laid-back cats around (in my humble opinion) but the toasty vibes and warm, happy energy pulsated for the entire weekend – even on Sunday, after the sun and sleepless nights had taken their toll, people were still in a dreamy state of bliss.
Overall verdict: a smashing success.
Remember to check out the SYpherSights Youtube channel for more concert videos.
*as Louise stated in her review, all the smartphones died on the first day, and so we don’t have any videos from WayHome