For a first-year festival, WayHome Music & Arts came out spittin’ fire. Literally.
After the sun set on the second night of the inaugural WayHome, several massive displays of pyrotechnics shot skyward — once, as a surprise Broken Social Scene show came to its cacophonous climax, and again, when Kendrick Lamar finished the encore of his commanding headline set.
The glittery splashes in the sky inspired wide-eyed stares, passionate embraces and enough social media data to shut down cell phone towers three towns over. For those who were there, these were moments they’d never forget. And for WayHome, whose goal was to create a world-class music and arts festival: mission accomplished.
Upon the ocean of summer music festivals, there is very little open water. But what allowed WayHome to ride their streamlined luxury yacht past the dozens of rickety river rafts was their commitment to the experience. Aesthetically, logistically and musically, WayHome spared no expense. Other festivals focused on names, but WayHome focused on vibe — and it was apparent from the second you stepped on site.
On Friday morning, arriving WayHomies rolled from car to campsite with ease. The sky was blue and the grounds at Burl’s Creek were fresh. Hundreds of colorful sky-high flags soared over the rolling hills that led to the main stage. Over-sized balloons swayed in the distance. Everywhere you looked, there was something to look at — something to get lost in.
For every aesthetic highlight, a memorable music moment followed. Neil Young and his band Promise of the Real blew past their scheduled midnight curfew, delivering over three hours of Neil’s most beloved classics, both heart-achingly soft and ear-splittingly psychedelic. Promise of the Real guitarist Micah Nelson said the band was thrilled to “end the tour with an epic blowout” and that Neil was “fired up by the youthful energy of the crowd.”
Throughout the weekend, the audience energy was so magnetic that several performers couldn’t resist the pull. For July Talk’s Leah Fay, that meant crawling on barricades, climbing stage scaffolding and crowdsurfing upon the sweaty masses — all while performing.
Earlier, Courtney Barnett thrashed her way through a grunge-infused lyrical limbo. By the end of her show, she was down several guitar strings, bleeding, and chugging a Canadian.
Equally badass was Run The Jewels, whose subterranean beats got the crowd jumpin’ so aggressively that Oro-Medonte temporarily sunk a few meters below sea level.
Logistically, even the most pessimistic festival-goers found little to complain about. And when they did complain, WayHome answered. Want more porta-potties? Ask and ye shall receive — thine olde poopstande.
The entire site was amply shaded and wonderfully spacious, with nary a line to be found, both inside and outside the venue. Despite a crowd of over 30,000 music fans, getting a great spot at any of the four stage was easy — from the high-definition behemoth WayHome stage, to the forested and intimate WayAway enclave.
Local vendors, some fearful of the mega-event invading tiny Oro-Medonte, saw their products snatched up in record time. One vendor reported selling three times the product they normally do over a weekend — in just a few hours.
By the time Sam Smith closed out the festival, WayHomies wanted more — and they partially got it, in the form of a “save the date” message on the massive screens at the main stage.
So where does WayHome go from here? For starters, they’re going to grow.
“We will definitely be increasing attendance next year for WayHome,” says Shannon McNevan, Executive Director of Republic Live. “The exact cap is a number we’ll work through with the municipality and our local partners in the coming months. Seeing the fan feedback we’ve received, though, I’d be shocked if the demand for 2016 doesn’t far exceed the cap we’ll have on tickets.”
Fortunately, WayHomesick WayHomies seeking a return to their WayHomeland will have no trouble securing their spot for year two. McNevan says WayHome loyalty will be rewarded, with presales at the lowest-possible price for “founders” — who attended the cryptic event launch in February — as well as all WayHome crews and first-year attendees.
While WayHome may be expanding for 2016, McNevan says the main focus going forward will be the same goal they had this year: preserve that precious WayHome vibe.
“We have a super passionate WayHome community, and we’re excited to continue to provide a foundation that WayHomies can build on, be proud of and make their own.”
“Tens of thousands of music fans were harmoniously united for a weekend, and it was awesome. We won’t just keep that vibe going — we’re going to enhance it.”