WayHome Music and Arts Festival was jam-packed with dozens of incredible artists spanning three days of live music. Obviously there was no way you could see every band, but we got lucky with those that we did see. All of them seemed to bring something new to the table and I never felt bored or like I was seeing the same set over and over again. There was a wide variety of acts of countless different music genres, musicians ranging from Neil Young + the Promise of the Real to Kendrick Lamar to Girl Talk. I don’t know how anyone could have left WayHome feeling unsatisfied. I thoroughly enjoyed every set we saw, so I thought I’d break down my top five acts for you. Here we go.
Number five on the list goes to Courtney Barnett. The first time I heard her single “Pedestrian at Best,” I was listening to BBC Radio 1, waiting for The Vaccines’ new song “Handsome” to be premiered. Because The Vaccines are my favourite band in the world and all I really wanted was to hear the track, I impatiently brushed off Courtney’s tune and decided that I hated it. But music often takes a little time to grow on me and after I heard the song more often on Toronto radio stations, I fell in love with her sarcasm and honesty. The rest of her album, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, is just as good as the lead single, and I like to put on the record and yell along to the songs. Her live set was entertaining beyond belief, and her Australian charm captivated every member of the audience. The show was fast-paced and it was hard to take your eyes off the stage, even for a second, for fear of missing some of her antics. She played guitar with a beer bottle at one point in the set and sliced her finger open while strumming furiously and laying down onstage. If that doesn’t prove that she gave it her all, I don’t know what does. I’m already antsy to see her perform again.
Spot number four is for Alvvays, who are a long-time favourite of mine. Their self-titled debut album was the soundtrack to last summer for me, and I’d seen them live twice before WayHome. It turns out that the phrase “third time’s the charm” is often true, as they put on the best set I’ve seen them play. It was upbeat and positive as per usual, but they seem to have grown stronger and tighter as a band after their long run of festival sets, including one at the world-famous Glastonbury Festival. Lead-singer Molly Rankin brought out her usual wit and signature smile, discussing the SPF needed to protect her pale skin as well as how wonderful it was to be playing in Ontario once again. Tracks like “Ones Who Love You,” “The Agency Group,” and “Atop a Cake” stood out as the band performed them intensely and with an insane amount of power. Of course, “Archie, Marry Me” and “Adult Diversion” were wonderful as well, with the entire crowd belting out every word and dancing along to the surf-pop melodies. After that set, it’s clear that Alvvays is a band that I will never grow tired of seeing live, and their record is now back to being on repeat.
Next up is The Growlers. Their set started at one a.m., and by that point I was ready to head back to the campsite and fall asleep in an instant. But I had waited a long time to see them and the stage was tucked away in a corner of the festival grounds, surrounded by trees and adorned with bundles of fake flowers and pinatas. At that point I knew it was going to be a weirdly beautiful set, and I couldn’t wait for it to start. The Growlers describe their music as “beach goth,” and that’s a pretty darn accurate description. Brooks Nielsen’s voice is scratchy and smooth at the same time, and the backdrop of jangly guitars is perfect for it. The band is as eccentric as they could possibly be, but that’s part of the draw – you can’t help but be intrigued by this gang of boys playing catchy, danceable music. They’re also all quite clearly on at least one type of drug, but that just keeps things interesting. Brooks is an incredible frontman and there was not a second of their set that wasn’t entertaining. They played “Someday” and “One Million Lovers” and “Chinese Fountain,” squeezing in as many tracks as possible before their stage manager forced them offstage as they had begun playing past the two a.m. curfew. I loved finally being able to see them live, and it was some of the most fun I had had all weekend. I also caught some of the fake flowers that Brooks threw into the crowd, and they’re currently displayed proudly in my room. The Growlers are amazing live, and I would be happy going to their shows all the time if I could. I am extremely happy with the set they put on.
Number two goes to Alt-J. I’ve waited over three years to see them, so when the time finally came, I was on cloud nine. When they first got announced at the WayHome kick-off event, I remember screaming so loud and thought I would lose my voice. I had been waiting for this for a long time. We managed to get really close to the front, and I was excited before they even walked on stage. First of all, the art direction was impeccable and the projections on the screen at the back of the stage were perfect – waves and birds and other backgrounds that went perfectly with every song. The band came on and I was immediately enthralled. I was reminded of why I had fell in love with their unique sound over three years ago. They played every song I could have wanted them to play – “Taro” and “Warm Foothills” and “Breezeblocks,” among others. Every track was beautifully executed and the crowd was surely enamoured by the band. Everyone involved had huge smiles on their faces throughout the set. The three-year wait was well worth it, and I could not have asked for a better performance.
Finally, first place goes to Broken Social Scene. Their set was a complete surprise for all of us – Passion Pit cancelled and nobody knew who was going to replace them until rumours started circulating and Indie88 tweeted that it was, in fact, Broken Social Scene. I think all of us were in shock when it was announced. We all knew that this would be the most important moment of an already historic weekend. Marcus, Katelyn and I all got up to the barrier and we were later joined by other members of our WayHome family. As I mentioned in my last post, BSS is Marcus’ favourite band in the world, and I was so excited and happy that he would finally get to see them live and that we were all there to share it with him. As soon as the band came on stage my eyes started welling up with tears as I realized how big this moment was for everyone there. They played “Cause = Time” and “KC Accidental” and “Fire Eye’d Boy.” But the best, most magical part of the set was when we all recognized the familiar opening of “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” and the entire crowd joined forces, singing along to every word with all that we had in us. The set breathed new life into me. Marcus caught the drumstick and I ran as fast as I possibly could to grab the setlist for him as it got thrown past the edges of the crowd left after the set ended. There were group hugs and smiles and arms around each other as we walked away from the stage, all of us feeling on top of the world.
WayHome was full of incredible sets, and if this was only the first year, I can’t even begin to imagine what’s to come in the future. I’ve already told multiple people that if The Darcys don’t play next year, I’m starting a riot. They’re currently working on their fourth album, and they would be the perfect Canadian band to play this Canadian festival. Of course I would also love to see The Vaccines, but I’m not getting my hopes up for that one – they haven’t seemed to have broken the Canadian market yet. Tame Impala is also on my list, and I would probably die of happiness if The Strokes decided to play. I could probably come up with more acts that I would love to see, but the reality is that I’m going back to WayHome next year no matter what, and I have faith that future lineups will be just as good as the one for the inaugural year.