Toronto and Southern Ontario finally received the camping festival that people have lusted for and Antiquiet was there. Check out our favorite moments from a blissful weekend away at WayHome in Ontario, Canada.
On Sunday St. Vincent referred mockingly and repetitiously to the audience as “Toronto… and surrounding areas.”
For years, what “Toronto and surrounding areas” have been pining for hopelessly was a weekend camping festival; to bask and bake and dance and shake at a world-class romp to call their own. Sure, many of us commuted to the Lollas and the Roos and the Osheagas to satiate that festival fix. There were always the rumors, but never a fruition. The country music fans had their festival (Boots And Hearts). Why not the rest of us? It seemed like an obvious untapped market.
Thanks to the audacity and ingenuity of promoters Republic Live and their partners, Southern Ontario’s camping festival cherry has been popped. They threw a proposition out to the masses: to join them for stellar lineup of Canadian and International talent, art installations and new friends (aka WayHomies). The way home was northbound out of Toronto and 35,000 eager voyagers answered the call to break away from the everyday and celebrate on the idyllic grassy knolls of Burl’s Creek nestled away in Oro-Medonte.
A first year frolic of this magnitude was bound to fall victim to a few logistical hiccups, which we’ll elaborate on later, but it would be erroneous to call it anything but a stupendous success.
We came. We braved the relentless heat, the lines, and the overindulgence. We conquered.
Cross Dog: Raw and Unfettered
There’s nothing quite like roving through near-empty festival grounds and stumbling into a rock band like Cross Dog to get your weekend started. These are the kinds of surprises you hope for. Hair was flailing. Bodies were gyrating. Imagine a carbon atom. Six electrons in flight with near infinite space to jump around erratically. These were the kids kickin up dust in a makeshift moshpit during High Grain in a tiny but excitable crowd.
Singer Tracy Ashenden was spastic as she reached back and snagged Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl for our listening pleasure. A faultless and ferocious rendition it turned out to be.
The Decemberists: Where Is Everybody?
Portland, Oregon’s finest folky-ensemble made their way on stage Friday for a late afternoon set, but apparently it was too early for most. The WayHome main stage was astonishingly under-crowded as The Decemberists made their way into the sun and commenced with the slow-groove of A Beginning Song, one of the choice cuts from their uninspiring new record What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World.
They may have lost some of their edge on their last two records, but their live performance is still a spectacle to behold. And this year’s run of shows and festival gigs have been the first opportunity for fans to catch them live since 2011. Frontman Colin Meloy called with his harmonica and responded with his words as he led the group through Down By The Water, a perfect tune for a hot summer afternoon with a beer in one hand and a friend’s shoulder in the other.
It was nice to see Jenny Conlee back on stage and swaying confidently with that accordion following her cancer scare.
“Thank you, good-bye,” Meloy teased turning away before turning back with a sneer and leading them into Make You Better as a few more 9-5er’s started to file into the grounds. They then dug back to The Hazards Of Love for a run of rockers, highlighted by the morbid musings of The Rake’s Song, pulsing life into the sun-baked audience.
An extended O Valencia! was their swan song. Meloy air-embraced the audience as they departed. And then it was off go to battle the inevitable…
Choices, choices, choices. The same old festival game. Exploring the grounds, popping in and out for some Gaslight Anthem and dashing to Viet Cong. The hustle is on.
The Valiant Viet Cong
If you’re not into Viet Cong, you’ve made some unfortunate life choices. The Calgary 4-piece was a merciless wall of guitars, all poised at the edge of tiny WayAway stage as they bestowed some post-punk dissonance on a fervent audience during March Of Progress. It was loud, it was jammed, and it was wonderful. Some have deemed it expedient to compare them to seemingly disparate acts like Kyuss and The Smiths. While those influences would seem to live somewhere deep in the annals of their tunes, Viet Cong is a beast all its own, unrestrained by conventional structures.
Bassist/vocalist Matt Flegel was at some times in an apparent loss-of-consciousness stupor, lost in the droning complexity that he was birthing. “I feel more comfortable looking out over a sea of strange things” he toyed as he leered out over an audience adorned with ridiculous ”find-me-here” totems including a bouncing Jar-Jar Binks head on a selfie-stick.
And then came that devastating slide-off guitar of Continental Shelf, drowning in its own reverb. You will appreciate this band in a whole new way if you seem them live.
How hard was it to walk away from this set? Don’t ask.
Transitioning from Viet Cong to Alt-J is like the sonic equivalent of being manic-depressive when the happy-pills kick in.
The sun was beginning to depart, a swathe of thick smoke fell from the WayBright staged which was jammed with what would be its largest audience of the weekend by far. I suppose the “most-liked” and “most-scheduled” band on the WayHome app was destined to draw in a few onlookers. And then that ominous beat. Hunger Of The Pine.
The rise of Alt-J over the last two years has been as remarkable as it has been confounding. When it comes down to it, they just have the damn songs.
White spotlights broke through purple and blue shrowds of light as singer Joe Newman, eyes closed, crooned in the indelibly indecipherable way only he can. They ran through a dynamic string of hits, including Tessellate and Fitzpleasure, but the high-pitched screams of the girl-sea hit their shrieking peak when they dove into the clever simplicity of Left Hand Free. I wanted nothing more than to stay and get my Breezeblocks on, or so I thought.
Neil Young + The Promise Of The Real: O’ Canada
Two women in overalls walk aimlessly around the stage, apparently spreading seeds for this season’s harvest. One of them looks a lot like the crazy cyborg gymnast from Blade Runner.
Mr. Neil Young sneaks indifferently out on to stage right and sits at his piano while facing the backdrop. “There was a band playing in my head, and I felt like getting high.” Many in the audience had a similar inclination at that moment.
After The Gold Rush!
With that we were in this thing. WayHome’s organizers dropped Neil Young’s name in a second round of artist announcements two months after the original lineup was released. Neil Young festival sets outside of his Farm-Aid and Bridge School Benefits are a rarity. He was to be joined on stage by a spartan young band featuring Willie Nelson’s sons Micah and Lukas. This would be a three-hour affair with one of Canada’s most prolific and influential songwriters.
He stood and switched casually to an acoustic guitar and serenaded the audience with Heart Of Gold, wandering with directionless abandon between the flowerpots scattered around the stage.
The set was in essence a career retrospective. But it also drew heavily on their new record, The Monsanto Years. The record fell flat despite its amusing and conspiratorial leftist lyrical content, but did manage to find new legs in this setting.
Young was leaning with an endearing frequency into the flowerpots as if his chords were infusing them with some sonic synthesis, an audible growth fuel. When white-coated fumigators sprayed the stage to kill the supposed genetically modified seeds we were to assume were spread out earlier, the proselytizing veered into comical territory. Fortunately it veered back.
Promise Of The Real joined him for Out On The Weekend, the audience (now swelled beyond sight) was swaying in jubilation as the house lights illuminated them.
Young’s voice was infallible in its awkward subtleties. He’s a man of contradictions when he performs. He had an old man’s voice as a young man. Now aged 69, his anguished vocal strains were perfect imperfections. He’s methodic in his aimlessness. Never was this more evident than when he jammed for what seemed like a euphoric eternity during Cowgirl In The Sand.
He opted to limit his banter between songs, which is surprising because we all know he has a lot to say. At one point he started throwing what appeared to be guitar picks, but turned out to be something else. “These organic cherries are absolutely perfect” he said.
The newbies were offset with the oldies. A New Day For Love was followed by Down By The River. Not long after Big Box we got Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World, the crowd now re-infused with vigor. This set was a celebration.
After encoring with some Buffalo Springfield (Mr. Soul), and having now been rockin us silly for three hours, Young proclaimed “it’s still too early” before closing this epochal set with Crazy Horse’s Fuckin’ Up. Not many acts can play for three hours and still leave you wanting.
Having toured extensively world-wide on their self-titled debut and played renowned sets at SXSW and Glastonbury this year, Toronto’s indie darlings Alvvays finally found their way home (ugh) again to grace us with their forlorn indie charms. And they got a turn-out.
After a poppy Next Of Kin, tiny, pale singer Molly Rankin quipped, “its nice to be back in Ontario… I never thought I’d say that five years ago.” Weather reports had indicated that thunderstorms were in the cards for day two. At this time, dark clouds had thankfully dispelled the brutal heat wave of the first day. It sure felt lovely to sway to The Agency Group.
The slicing tones of Rankin’s beat-up Fender Mustang during Marry Me, Archie rang heavy in the mix. “You guys are so great” she said, “I know it’s a cliché. I can’t believe you know the songs.” Atop A Cake faded off as I commuted to the WayHome stage.
A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet, right? Well Burl’s Creek was a cell phone dead-zone for nearly the entire weekend. Reception is usually bad in these settings, but this was hopeless. Fortunately, when you can’t find your old friends at a festival, there are plenty of potential news ones hanging around.
This festival crowd was low on drama and high on life. Safety Ambassadors aka Security Guards were by all reports courteous and patient throughout the weekend. Burl’s Creek was a coalescence of positivity.
Run The Jewels: WayHype
The stage fills with smoke. We Are The Champions blares from the speakers. Killer Mike and El-P walk out, chests raised high. El-P projects a confident snarl. Killer Mike raises his arms in the air with a fist and a gun pose. Arms as far back as the eye can see do the same. Then the beat takes over. Run The Jewels. We’re in it now.
This has been a massive year for Run The Jewels. Somehow RTJ1 slipped under a lot of radars. But RTJ2 did not. It cracked the top 10 in nearly every year-end album list, including ours. That prestige has led to high profile festival slots all over the world in 2015. WayHome is just another notch in that proverbial belt.
After dropping a gangbuster Blockbuster Night Pt. 1, Killer Mike stopped toe-tapping for a moment to acknowledge his people. “You guys showed the fuck up today!” And then it was Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck); Zach De La Rocha’s sampled vocals providing the beat.
The chanting washed over an audience in full on bonkers mode: “RTJ! RTJ! RTJ!”
“Mike, this is your life right now” El-P remarked, still projecting disbelief at these rabid responses to their performances. The rest came in a flurry. Lie, Cheat, Steal was followed by Early and the lecherous Love Again (Akinyele Back). The festival’s neighbors (who had congregated into citizen’s organizations to protest the festival) were already apoplectic at this point about the noise. One can only imagine the emotions that were conjured up after hearing thousands scream out in in repeating unison “dick in her mouth all day…”
As the dancy screech of Get It got rolling, Django Django called from afar.
Django Django: Unfair Overlap
Sometimes two of your favorite acts at a festival are pitted dead against each other. Run The Jewels and the band sharing their time slot were a near full overlap. If those filthy festival shoes weren’t already tattered, they surely met their wretched end during the sprint across the grounds to the WayBold tent to catch the evanescent conclusion of Scotland’s rising indie sensation Django Django.
Having masterfully avoided a sophomore slump with the release of this year’s Born Under Saturn, the band is now in the midst of an extensive world tour. By the time my feet had carried me there, the eclectic Born Under Saturn material was sadly already in the rearview. Waveforms had just commenced, it’s percussive trance-like ambling helping to bring my heartbeat back to a resting pace.
Singer Vincent Neff was well saturated at this point in the set; the midday under-the-tent humidity was getting the best of everyone in sight. But the dancing did not subside.
Neff grabbed the mic and dedicated their next song to “the Canadian border agency who kindly let us through in double time,” before leading the band into the Arabic-melodies of Skies Over Cairo, which was extended with a modified rhythmic outro. And then came that surfy guitar hook.
“People of WayHome, I need you to get down on the ground and pump your fists” Neff demanded. The audience obliged, waited patiently as the riff built, and then rose to meet the crescendo of sirens, jumping gleefully to WOR, the band the going on to noodle around with the barricade of synthesizers grouped at the edge of the stage. This may have been the best 20 minute run of the weekend.
Mighty Modest Mouse
The main stage was in full swell mode again as the sun crept ever-so-slowly behind the trees. Modest Mouse took fans through a carefully crafted one hour set featuring hits and gems and a bundle of tracks from their beguiling new record Strangers To Ourselves.
The 8-piece was essentially obscured by the billowing smoke cloud on stage, which was illuminated by the last remnants light emanating from that relentless explosion in the sky. They stepped in the shallow end, testing the waters with one foot with the airy-gloom of The World At Large.
Frontman Isaac Brock’s searing vocals cut through the mix during Lampshades On Fire, his eyes opening for brief deathglares, while expressions of adoration greeted him in return. It would be hard to deny that the set was highlighted by the discordant punk riffing of Doin’ The Cockroach, Brock’s cracking screams breaking only when he began playing his guitar with his teeth.
With Float On came a steady rise of high-waisted booty-shorts rising on to sunburnt shoulders, girls waving for the cameras. As was expected, this set felt devastating in it’s brevity.
WayAway Stage: Backwoods Cranny
This quaint little stage hosted an army of Canadian talent and was the place to be if you wanted to hobnob with any of them. Segregated by trees, this stage was home to killer sets by the aforementioned Viet Cong, Metz, Fucked Up, Yukon Blonde and more…
If you happened to catch a glimpse of this fellow during the Sheepdogs set, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to.
St. Vincent: Pale Pixie
Is St. Vincent the hardest working woman in show business? When’s she’s not releasing hit records, contributing to David Byrne’s Contemporary Color or making playlists for her fans, she’s busy giving Run The Jewels a run for their money as the most booked festival act of 2015. The only thing, it would seem, that changes faster than her creative ambitions, is her hairstyle.
She pranced on stage in a tight black get-up, looking like a guitar-toting catwoman who had just lost in a decisive rift with a hole-punch. That outfit likely made for some interesting sunburns…
Confident and candid she struck her mannequin pose and delivered Birth In Reverse.
“What’s up Toronto… and surrounding areas?” she joked, before heading casually a blistering twofer of Cruel and Actor Out Of Work.
Her collaborative tour with David Byrne has undoubtedly rubbed off her solo performances. The pixie-like ballerina on invisible marionette strings tiptoed around between songs.
“A very special welcome to the freaks and the others, to the queers and the dominatrixes” she called out before squinting into the sunlight and dazzling with Marrow, chanting “H.E.L.P” and breaking away into that sultry riff. She closed out the formidable late afternoon set with Digital Witnesses.
Cold War Kids
These guys never disappoint.
A brief festival set like this one offers a stark reminder that these guys have been steadily dropping hits now for a decade. Led by singer Nathan Willet’s anguished bellows, the group leaned heavily on those hits. Guitarist Dann Gallucci struck perplexing poses, cradling his guitar like a newborn child during Miracle Mile, which then fell away to crowd-pleaser Audience Of One.
There is still a sense of urgency radiating from this band, as if they still feel they need to win over their crowds, that they are underappreciated.
Next came that deliberately paced riff, that powerfully basic melody. It was Hang Me Up To Dry.
They went on to drop an enchanting Hospital Beds before covering John Lennon’s Well Well Well. The grassy knolls of Burl’s Creek were alive with the sound of music.
Inaugural Growing Pains
Will there be room to improve in 2016? Absolutely. With that said, the majority of issues with this festival were related to the layout and could be easily remedied if/when this festival does return. The lack of cell coverage was a bummer. The distant scattering of port-o-potties on the festival grounds led to a few unflattering and indecent moments. Food options were plentiful, but vegetarian options were limited and the lines were often unbearably long. No cell coverage was brutal, but the rest felt like mere minor setbacks.
Beyond the growing pains and the indignant neighboring communities the end story of this weekend was that of a resounding success. The music was a blast. The grounds felt clean and safe. Southern Ontario finally has the camping festival so many have longer for.