In 2015 WayHome festival redefined the eastern Canadian festival landscape by offering up a 3-day multi-genre camping festival at Oro-Mendonte, just outside of Toronto. It was a success as 90% of festival goers had chosen to camp and overall attendance numbers have jumped a healthy 15% each year since its inception. Having recently won the "Best Major Music Festival" of the year award at Canadian Music Week, the buzz around WayHome is continually growing. With 35,000 fans expected to show up per day this summer, the 2017 edition of WayHome is shaping up to be its biggest year yet.
EDM Canada had the chance to sit down with Ryan Howes, creative director of WayHome, during Canadian Music Week to discuss what makes WayHome special, its lineup, location, and much more. Enjoy.
Can you give me a brief history of WayHome?
Ryan Howes: We're entering our third year of WayHome. The intention of when we launched WayHome was to offer a multi-genre camping festival in the Toronto market, which is top 3 in live music markets in North America. A proper multi-genre camping festival never existed in Toronto and we thought it was the right timing to launch.
We had huge success in year 1, and it was a surprise that over 90% of the crowd actually camped. We've seen healthy growth year and year since.
Can you reveal a bit more about the number of attendees, the growth, and how many do you expect to show up for the 2017 edition of WayHome?
We have 15% growth from 2015 to 2016, and we expect to see 35,000 fans a day in 2017.
As the audience grows we also offer more genres. So we added more EDM and hip hop this year. WayHome is no longer strictly an indie rock focus like it was in year one. But if you're a real music fan, you're a fan of a number of genres and different artists.
What makes WayHome special and different than other festivals?
I think one of the main differences is the setting that it takes place. The owner of WayHome also owns Burl's Creek so we got a lot of flexibility on what we can and can't do on the ground. It's a beautiful piece of property, a custom built festival site with internal roadways, fibre in the ground, and the cell + wifi coverage that is better than what you see at a stadium or hockey arena.
Having the location just off the highway, a kilometer off of Lake Simcoe, a few minutes away from cottage country, is special. Also the sunsets are absolutely amazing. We're surrounded by forests and trees everywhere. I think the setting is what makes WayHome what it is.
This year you have invited a lot of electronic acts like Marshmello, Porter Robinson, Justice, Flume, and more. Would you agree that WayHome has embraced more electronic dance music in 2017 vs in previous years? Is it due to the growth or more to do with the future direction of WayHome?
It's definitely due to the growth. We want to offer more to a wider audience. It's also the way to industry is heading, like with Coachella you'd usually see a lot of indie rock acts headlining a lot of stages but this year you see Marshmello, Porter Robinson get some huge set times over the course of the weekend.
Adding electronic dance elements adds another layer of partying and enjoying the actual festival with friends. Louis the Child has a new EP out and they're going to be really big this summer and I think they are going to have an amazing set over that weekend.
How did indie rock fans react to Bassnectar on the lineup from year one of the festival?
At WayHome we have late night sets, and when we had Bassnectar on, we noticed that the vast majority of the crowd gravitated towards the electronic acts.
With more electronic acts added to WayHome - will these acts get their own stage or will it be mixed?
Mixed. We always took the approach of putting various genres on each stage. We've done a really good job to make sure indie rock acts don't compete amongst each other, same goes for electronic acts.
Is the lineup complete, or can we expect to hear more names?
On a personal level, name the act that you are most excited to see and why?
There's a lot of amazing acts that you don't generally see in a festival environment. Pup is an amazing punk rock act from Ontario, and to see them perform at the Floor stage infront of 7,000 - 8,000 people will be pretty impressive.
Justice hasn't really toured with a full on global touring package with sound and light in the past 5-6 years, so seeing them for the first time will be amazing.
With the announcement of the cancellation of Mysteryland in the U.S. - What is your opinion on the overall health of the festival space in 2017 and beyond? Does the demand remain strong?
There's definitely demand for festivals but festival producers must be strategic and smart on what they offer. Even with Insomniac, they canceled EDC New York last year, and are now concentrating more on the west coast. So now they're more regionally based vs. wanting to be in New York, Chicago, Orlando, and possibly somewhere in Canada.
Festivals will be more regionally based and more about the boutique and niche. There's hundreds of electronic dance festivals in Europe but they're all geared towards a certain demographic and a certain sub-genre. I think that's what we'll start to see in North America. I don't thinks we'll be seeing 70,000 - 80,000 capacity festivals anymore, but more 15,000 - 30,000 capacity ones.
For those that are interested in getting into the industry - what is your role as creative director?
It takes 10-11 months to build a festival. As soon as WayHome 2016 was done, we started working on the 2017 edition 3-4 weeks later. I'm responsible for working with all of the departments, tying all of the pieces together. I make sure that the stage design, video content is all on brand. I have to make sure it ties into all of our sponsorship activations. I help design the site, food and beverage, VIP areas, curating the visual art stations, etc. I piece it all together to make sure it all belongs there once the fans show up at the festival.
We have talent buyers that deal with booking the talent directly and I do work closely with them, and that takes a lot of time because there's a lot of back and forth negotiations. There are very long days, even working long hours in January/February.
WayHome Music & Arts festival takes place from July 28th until July 30th at Oro-Mendonte, just outside of Toronto. Tickets are still available - click here for more information.