The first time for anything is always a gamble, and the atmosphere in the car on the drive up to Burl’s Creek last Friday was one of nervous anticipation. Am I prepared enough to pull off a good time? Did I bring the right protection? Will I remember this weekend for the rest of my life? It can be heavy, being there at the beginning of a thing, watching it grow and adapt and learn. But the first year of WayHome, despite a couple of regular ol’ music festival speed bumps, managed an impressive showing for its inauguration, filled with delicious eats, sun-drenched open fields, and of course, some of the best live music you’ll ever get a chance to see.
And let’s keep in mind the music, when you’re at a music festival, should always take centre stage. WayHome was overloaded with fantastic tunes, to the point where it was difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to catch everything you wanted to see. Sure, you could catch Broken Social Scene’s surprise Saturday night fill-in for Passion Pit, a glorious homegrown moment from a band that you’re never sure will ever play a show again (or where it’ll be, or who will be onstage), but you’d be missing METZ devastating the tiny forest-sheltered WayAway stage. Of course, this is kind of an awesome problem to have. Too much killer tune-age is no reason to complain. Neil Young laid waste to the main stage on the very first night of the festival, coming out to two farm girls seeding the plants he had up front. Over three glorious hours, Shakey provided nearly all his hits, as well as some new tracks from The Monsanto Years, ending the night on fan-favourite “Fuckin’ Up”. It’s tough to fill shoes that big, but Kendrick Lamar, backed by a full band, took everything up a notch the next night, bouncing around the stage with boundless energy and charisma, giving the biggest crowd of the weekend everything they wanted.
While the heavy-hitters were undoubtedly major highlights, the smaller stages brought some seriously righteous moments as well. Courtney Barnett melted faces; Alvvays melted hearts; Hey Rosetta! gave everyone the feels; Viet Cong slayed the forest; Fucked Up, in consistent Fucked Up fashion, proved once again they might be the greatest live band on the planet, destroying everyone in ear shot with their brand of epic hardcore, with lead singer Damian Abraham talking about how smoking weed helped him lose weight and cure his anxiety, and letting everyone know that if people try to get you down, you can tell ‘em all to go to hell. Future Islands singer Samuel Herring skulked around the WayBright stage for a dancy late-night set while Girl Talk pumped out mashed-up hits. Run The Jewels unleashed a turbo-charged atom bomb of a performance on Saturday, with Killer Mike even stopping to warn the crowd: “If you have prescription fucking sunglasses, put them in your fucking pocket now, because we are about to fuck your fucking shit up.” He wasn’t kidding—Run The Jewels is dangerous.
No one summed up Sunday better than Chad Van Gaalen, when he bluntly exclaimed, “how’s everybody doing with their stupid fuckin’ hangovers?” Fortunately, it was doubtful anyone had a headache so bad that they couldn’t enjoy the rest of the day, including St. Vincent’s gloriously weird and beautifully strange evening set. Two long days of being on your feet, though, can take its toll, and while most people looked pretty tired out, they stuck it out for the last day, escaping to shady spots and chugging water.
The food helped, too. VIP ticket-holders got to partake in all sorts of deliciousness from the Drake kitchen, including fish tacos, a Friday night pig roast, and mouth-watering ribs, all in the shade of WayHome’s giant barn, featuring the comfiest chairs on-site. If you didn’t spend the extra money so you could spend extra money, there was no shortage of food trucks splayed out right close to the stages. Smirnoff set up their own party spot, which looked kind of like a frat house, not too far from the Reebok tower where you could scan your wristband for a chance to win free shoes. The only challenge for festival-goers, of which there weren’t many, was a lack of washrooms. Other than a giant compound on the edge of the festival, there was limited port-a-potties per stage, which is bad news when you’ve got tens of thousands of people all drinking and trying to catch as many tunes as they can without having to sacrifice their bladders. It resulted in a lot of “becoming one with nature,” with Chad Van Gaalen even pointing out that he actually saw a girl poop in the woods.
The best part of the weekend, though, as it often is with any music festival, was getting lost. The best fests make it easy for you to walk around and discover your favourite new songs, and WayHome nailed that: from exposing massive new talents like Weaves and The Beaches, to curating stages that you could hang out at all day and see something great every hour. A music festival—even one with major corporate sponsors and people schilling product and upping the glitz and glamour non-stop—still has to be about great tunes at its heart to be successful. And WayHome wore that musical heart on its sleeve.