Written by Dakota Arsenault & Andreas Babiolakis with Photographs by Sarah Rix & Sean Chin.
WayHome has been amped up for many months now. The masterminds behind Toronto’s mega-festival have made people second guess anything related to the event for quite some time. Are we supposed to go to some club in the wee hours of the morning? Do we open this ticket envelope? What do these pictured clues mean? We finally made the hour and a half trek to Oro Medonte and found that we had barely any reception up here. We were confused, lost and disoriented so far. The only time anything started making sense was when we started to see the acts play amongst the huge amounts of installation art. Everything came into place when the masses, with their sacrificial staffs that donned stuffed animals and masks, ran about and led the crowd behind them. WayHome is a celebration with very little direction. Having said that, the first day of the weekend was a well guided, superbly put together festivity that made the magic come to life. It was a long day, but it was a downright lovely one that did not disappoint.
Australia’s Courtney Barnett had come onto the WayBright stage with some driven music that didn’t really make sense at first. Here was this indie rock artist who had a sly wit to her music and a sarcastic tone of lyricism. What was expected to be a fun and carefree show ended up being a headbanger once Barnett and her fellow musicians started pummelling Nirvana-esque grunge. The guitars were loud, and every bass drum kick punched the entirety of WayHome in their teeth. Every snarky line was full of more truth instead of just a shrugging off. This was a set that was an early contender for one of the best sets of the day, because it was unexpectedly crunchy. Other artists during the day, including Sylvan Esso, could not help but comment on how intense the Courtney Barnett set was. It was a hidden gem that hopefully caught the attention of enough people who can revisit her acclaimed studio material and hear it in a whole new light.
Due to Tobias Jesso Jr. pulling out due to “personal reasons” all the acts on the WayBold stage were pushed down. Arriving at what I thought was For Esme was actually Saxsyndrum. I was treated to a very unique show where the singer yelped into looping machines and a sax and violin was the backing band creating a cross of Colin Stetson and Tanya Tagaq, but far dancier. When For Esme finally came on the crowd was treated for the wait. Lead singer Martha Merideth wearing an adorable jump suit paced back and forth singing her heart out while chest pounding bass lines were pumped into the crowd by Dave Thiel. A high point was a fantastic Van Halen-like guitar solo by Nathan Crook. Their sound was buoyed by their new 80’s synth pop heavy sound with lead single You off their soon to be released new album. The set finished with an amazing cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs Gold Lion. They ended up playing a second set on the Molson sponsored side stage at around midnight.
Polaris nominated hooligans Viet Cong have had a flack for their name for a while, but they were well acclaimed at WayHome with their insanely loud set. Their basslines, of which were reminiscent of The Smiths with how catchy they are, held all of the surf-noise-rock set together. With the tiny speakers at the WayAway set, the sound that Viet Cong cast out was really distorted and muddy, but it was perfect for the gritty atmosphere. Having such a visceral band play amongst trees and dim lighting was quite an experience, because it felt like a private vinyl party at times, especially with the condensed sound. Singer Matt Flegel kept commenting on the odd ornaments that people held upon their staffs, including what looked like a “crucified knight” and a “misfit from Dark Crystal” (which was actually a Jar Jar Binks mask). It helped the personal atmosphere, especially with all of that noise being driven into our souls. It was a lovely, living room evening event of pure hell.
As the sun went down the WayBright stage finally looked packed as the crowd awaited original headliner Alt-J to come out. The beautiful thing about these English lads is you know exactly what you are getting. If you love their albums they are able to recreate their sound to a T. They ran through their indie hits covering both albums. Tessellate, Left Hand Free, Breezeblocks and more. By the time Taro was played the crowd was in a blissed out heaven. For the most part the band was back lit in only white lights creating huge silhouettes onto the crowd.
Instead of leaving Alt-J and going directly to the main stage to see the King of Canada, a pit stop was made at the silent disco. For those unaware of what a silent disco is, basically to the outside world it looks like a bunch of crazy people dancing to the voices in their head. In reality when you enter the area you are given a pair of wireless headphones and only those wearing them can hear what the DJ is spinning. The silent disco works even better at night, as it is tucked into a little forested cove and lights inside shone on the trees and dancers like an actual nightclub. Bambi was the name of the girl playing at the time and for about fifteen minutes she played mostly early 2000’s hip hop like Eve, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg before transitioning to modern hits like Drake’s Started From the Bottom. The silent disco is only open on Friday and Saturday so those that missed it the first day need to go on Day 2. While it’s obviously more cool at night, its a fun experience no matter the time.
After finally making our way to Neil Young headlining the main stage, outside of the silent disco most of his set was completely unopposed so, almost all of the crowd packed in to hear the legend himself play with his backing band Promise of the Real. His backing band is no ordinary band, but actually Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Mica got together to record Young’s album. While it seemed like most of his big hits were played early in the set, it didn’t diminish the prowess and energy the man still has. While I expected Young to make political speechs regarding GMO’s, capitalism and our current Prime Minister, shockingly the politics were left only in the music. In fact Young barely spoke to the crowd, instead choosing to rip through song after song with no real breaks. Bringing the vibe of Woodstock almost fifty years ago, Young’s songs each ended up being almost ten minutes each. He would play the first few verses and chorus’ then go on an epic extended jammed out solo with his very capable backing band. It really should come as no surprise as to the talent of Young’s backing band as this is a man who has toured with a Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills and Nash all prolific acts themselves. While I witnessed mostly new songs off of the album The Monsanto Years, it was hard not to be impressed by the godfather of grunge. All in all, including his encore, his three hour set time was more like three and a quarter. I’d recommend everyone to see him next time he is in town, but unfortunately he is only doing a very small tour and WayHome was the only stop in Canada. A real highlight was the entire crowd singing along to Rocking in the Free World, an utterly simple concept of a song that has so much meaning behind it. Sorry eh about everyone who missed this now famous performance, can you say you were there for it?
The band of misfits that love playing late at night, the Canadian hardcore legends Fucked Up, were once again playing at the darkest times of the night on the same tiny stage that Viet Cong played at. Whereas Viet Cong were congested and contained with their extreme noise, Fucked Up were painfully loud in a good way. The guitars were sharp and almost at Shoegaze levels of extreme at times. As per usual, singer Damian Abraham was jumping into the crowd and getting lost amongst the fans, but he was a little bit more tame tonight. This was because he still had glass stuck in his head from a previous experience, and thus he was feeling “gingerly” (as he put it). Nonetheless, he was still smashing cups and the like over his head and having fans rub it like it was the belly of Buddha. Even though it was late at night, Fucked Up still had people moshing the entire time, and even the band was alive, laughing and having a blast. What else can you expect from a Fucked Up show aside from pure, hilarious annihilation?
With a plethora of options to finish out the night I ended up at Girl Talk, the mash up specialist who rocked the WayBold tent. Arriving a few minutes before it started I managed to get fairly close as Kaytranada was finishing and people were walking across the field. The lights dimmed and a slow automated chant of Greg Gillis’ stage name starte in a hypnotic robotic voice. The chanting got quicker and quicker until Gillis came running out screaming into a microphone. The stage was set up like a gigantic inflatable man had fallen onto the stage and just his giant hands and sneakers were sticking out of the four corners. Not long after Gillis came on stage about fifty other people came bounding on stage to party with him, a signature Girl Talk feature. Two girls on either side of the stage used leaf blowers to shoot toilet paper into the crowd like streamers almost nonstop. It seemed like every hip hop, pop and dance rock song of the past few years made it into his set. Gillis mixed his traditional beats that are heard on Feed The Animals and All Day with new classics like Trap Queen, Man of the Year, Royals and everything else under the sun. The very packed crowd was all hooked on one drug, the beat that kept going hard all night long. Well until around the music had to stop of course, but what a glorious way to finish the first day.
The last act caught, besides Girl Talk, was Future Islands, and did WayHome ever leave the most lively act for last. Samuel T. Herring knew he had competition, as he credited Neil Young as being a big act to perform before him and Girl Talk as a difficult band to compete with. There was nothing to worry about, as Future Islands’ synthpop music was a lovely way to go out into the night. Every song was catchy and full of passion, and the light show that drowned the entire stage in blues and purples seemed like an after affect of a scorching hot day that took a tole on us. We were lost in a beautiful hysteria when it was late enough to be starting to get brighter outside. Then there was Herring and his signature dance moves that had everyone in a possessed fit. I have not seen someone be so emotionally invested in a performance than this very moment. It is difficult to top a man who has an internal fight and struggle for the world to witness. His infectious dance moves were borderline self-harming, and his growls and wails were full of pain. However, he was an absolute delight in between songs and he was all smiles. It was a terrific way to end the night, and we left in a state of delirium.