Interview: We find out more about the WayHome Music Festival from Ryan Howes

Earlier this year, at Canadian Music Week, just after the event won at the Canadian Live Music Awards, I sat down with WayHome Music Festival’s creative director Ryan Howes. The event, which takes place this weekend (July 28th to 30th), will see a massive lineup descends an hour out of Toronto, Canada. We spoke about the event and what’s in store for the weekend.

It’s a crowded festival market here, there’s so much happening. But there’s so much success to be found across the market. What do you think it is about the Canadian music scene that has made it possible for so many events, such as your own, to flourish?

I think it comes down to – and this is why the touring market is so successful, because of the actual size of the country. We can afford to have Pemberton in British Columbia, WayHome in Toronto and Osheaga in Montreal (all around the same period), just due to the space and the size in between each of these major cities and Provinces. We’ve got a similar population as the state of California, but the state of California is very dense, and that’s really why, at the end of the day, there’s so many small, medium and large sized festivals that are actually successful in Canada.

Do you work with the other festivals, like Pemberton and Osheaga, to try and secure some of these bigger headliners?

Yeah, there’s definitely – at the end of the day, the live music industry is very small, it’s a family, and a lot of people know one and other. Since Osheaga is only 7 or 8 hours away from our event, and a weekend after WayHome, there’s definitely conversations around talent, obviously both festivals wouldn’t want to see the same headliners over a weekend before one and other, but there’s definitely communication between the talent buying teams, to ensure there is some different look and feel and curation to the lineups.

Looking back at the first year of the event, to say you hit the ground running is a bit of an understatement, to have that sort of lineup in the first year is quite extraordinary. What did it take to make that happen for a first year event. I have to imagine it was harder then than it is now to pull that off…

Yeah I think in the first year, our goal was to look and feel as if this festival had been around for more than ten years. That came down to the lineup, the art installations, even the set up of the camp grounds. We didn’t want it to look like a first year event that needed another four years to really become something. And on the talent side, the interesting part was that Neil Young, we were really interested in him early on, and unfortunately from the initial announce and on sale, he wasn’t a part of it. But after we announced, he reached out to us, following the huge response, and he was a late addition.

Pretty good late addition.

Prety amazing late addition to have someone like Neil Young, it legitamises your festival to have a legend like Neil Young perform at it. And that performance was amazing. He did six songs solo at the start and then went on to perform another three hours with his band. So yeah I think to have a few cool touch points like the Neil Young factor and a few others in year one really helped kickstart WayHome.

And there’s always been a few Aussies who have made their way into the lineup. We were talking about DMA’s off air before as a group on your radar. Quite a few this year, Vance Joy is on there, Flume obviously, Jagwar Ma and The Naked and Famous representing New Zealand too.

Vance Joy we’re really happy to have him back in year three. He’s always had a huge following in Canada, after “Riptide”. He had an amazing set during the sunset in year one, with well over 20k people there for his set. We’re really happy to have him back.

And then Flume comes to represent how ecltic the lineup is. Do you have different stages for different genres, or is it mixed together?

We mix up every stage with multi-genres, we have done a great job of curating the set times this year. So if you’re a fan of Flume, you’ll be able to see him, and if you’re not, there’ll be plenty of other genres on display at the same time. We’re really happy, we’ve expanded the lineup this year and added a lot more genres. We’ve added a lot more electronic music, and dance acts like Flume, Justice, Marshmello, illenium, and even Louis The Child who has a new EP out that’s going to be huge this Summer. So we’re reaching an even wider audience for year three.

What are some of the biggest changes to year three, apart from the lineup?

We’re making some changes to the actual campgrounds, we’re adding more food offerings and experiential elements to the campgrounds, just to make that experience better. People spend half of the four or five day at the campgrounds, so we want to heighten that experience. And on the visual art installation side of things, people are going to see more tangible art installations that they’ll be able to interact with and be a part of this year, as opposed to just standalone pieces that you can’t get incorporated into that experience – though it might have been beautiful to look at!

I think in the first two years we definitely took note on what worked and what didn’t. Even things like not having enough coffee offerings, or there’s not enough shade. So we’ve definitelu heard everyone’s feedback and we’re pushing the festival in the right direction.

And for those who don’t know where the festival is – we’re sitting in Downtown Toronto right now. How close to the city is the event?

WayHome takes place about an hour and 15 minutes North of Toronto. It’s really easy to get to. I was really surprised at how much of our audience camped in the first two years; just over 90%. I thought more people would come and go. We still have hotel packages and other offerings, so we were shocked at how well received the camping and glamping options were!

For more details on WayHome Music & Arts Festival, head to the official website. The event runs from the 28th to the 30th July in Oro-Medonte, Ontario. Single Day and Weekend passes are on dale now.


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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.