Wakestock Woes, 2 Years in a Row
With Wakestock 2008 returning to the Toronto Island this year, I was fortunate to score a pair of free tickets from the Edge. Knowing that Wakestock 2007 was a textbook example of how NOT to run a festival, my tickets served as an apology of sorts for the 2007 fiasco (which was both out of the organizer's control and unavoidable).
But this year, despite an incredible music line up and some dramatic improvements in logistics, I'm not about to let Wakestock 2008 off easy.
Running any event on Toronto Island comes with its share of problems, and surprisingly, Wakestock returned to face the same barrage of issues faced last year. The ferry service aside (which adds up to 4 hours to the trip), the island presents some unique challenges. Like last year, the main problem plagued the beer garden - carrying only Bud Light and limiting patrons to 2 drinks at a time ONLY worked out this year because the crowds were thin. I don't mind lining up a few times if the lines are short, but like many people, I simply didn't drink during the 4-day festival. Boo-urns.
Luckily there was just enough entertainment, spread very thinly over 3 days, to keep me interested. As always, the wakeboarding, skateboarding and motocross demos were incredible. Unfortunately the Island was again cordoned off, so as to limit the audience's access to these events. For the 19-plus crowd, the beer garden ran the length of the wakeboarding course, and the skateboard ramp had one side open to the audience, but again I was left asking how anyone could have planned the layout so poorly. Most of the athletes were less than impressed with the venue, preferring past venues like Bala or Wasaga, where audience participation can be maximized.
This is not to mention the Island's inability to handle wet weather - a brief downpour on Saturday afternoon turned the entire festival grounds into a mud pit, leaving the audience standing barefoot and ankle deep in a lawn stew. Gross.
Fortunately, this year's artists don't seem to have any issue with the festival's organizers, and in speaking with Neil from Silverstein who played on Saturday, it seems like the artists were well taken care of. "We went to do a signing during the rainstorm. It was pretty bad. We actually saw lightning strike and heard a huge crack, and I think some people might have been hurt. I was wearing my shoes, but a guy standing close by wasn't looking too good. You can't help the weather, but we [the artists] have been well taken care of."
It's a good thing, because Wakestock will need to pull out some big acts next year if they want to keep us coming back. The only aspect of Wakestock that made me return each day was the music, which seems to be getting better with the 'commercial momentum' of the festival. Starting on Friday with Dillinger Escape Plan, followed by Rza and Gza of The Wutang Clan on Saturday, and then We are Scientists and Metric on Sunday, the crowd was treated to some amazing live performances. The poor weather helped to thin out the audience, making an incredibly intimate experience for those of us who braved the mud. It also speaks to the dedication of Toronto fans, who after tolerating last year's mess and this year's mud, stayed for the final encore of the 4-day event.
So, Wakestock 2007 was a FAIL. But was Wakestock 2008? I'll give it a pass... barely. As much as I love having Wakestock close by, the Toronto Island is just not the place for it. The improvements seen this year in logistics were really only noticeable due to lower attendance, and given the disaster caused by the rain, I can only shudder when I imagine how things might have turned out if the crowds were bigger. Thankfully both the athletes and artists appeared unfazed, and Toronto may have another Wakestock yet... but for our sake, I hope it moves to a more appropriate venue.
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