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Inaugural WayHome festival a huge success

It's no longer Bonnaroo of the north. After this weekend, WayHome can stand on its own. With genre-spanning, well-known international acts such as Sam Smith, Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels, alt-J and duh, Neil Young, the festival brought out a mass of 35,000 people for its inaugural year.

The event maintained a celebratory vibe, starting with the soaring flags that greeted everyone as they walked through the gates--flags that wouldn't have looked out of place in an episode of Game of Thrones or a medieval fair.

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Billed as a music and arts festival, WayHome enlisted Toronto painter Charles Bierk to curate the arts portion, which featured numerous installations scattered throughout the grounds and included work by Toronto collective VSVSVS.

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The four festival stages were unique and the largest one had massive screens that were visible from afar, making the wide-open main space feel truly epic. To define epic: Kendrick Lamar's Saturday night set closed with a fireworks show.

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The WayAway stage was tucked amongst a canopy of tree allowing bands such as Yukon Blonde, Vancouver's Dear Rouge and the Toronto-based Ascot Royals to play intimate, yet impressive sets.

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Artists such as Vance Joy, July Talk and Alvvays dominated the larger WayBright stage. Although, the highlight here was a surprise show by Broken Social Scene who replaced a scheduled appearance by Passion Pit on Saturday night. (They had to cancel due to illness.)

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On Sunday, many took refuge from the heat at the WayBold stage, which was housed under a massive tent. These shade-seekers were in luck thanks to energetic sets by Toronto's Brave Shores, as well as brother-sister duo Broods. On Friday and Saturday night, WayBold kept crowds partying until 2 AM with performances by Girl Talk and Bassnectar, respectively.

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Canadian legend Neil Young headlined Friday night. He began his solo set by knocking out several hits, such as "Heart of Gold" and "Helpless," before his band Promise of The Real (which includes Willie Nelson's sons Lukas and Micah) joined him onstage for the rest of the three hour show.

At one point, Young stopped to snack from a bowl of cherries and threw some to his band members. "Organic Ontario cherries," he announced, before tossing a few into the crowd as well.

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Many attendees opted to sleepover on the event grounds. The campsites were well-organized and equipped with water-dispensers. The layout took into account that some might not stay the full three days and upon entry, each car received bags for garbage and recyclables.

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Hungry campers and festival-goers had plenty of meal options, including treats from some of Toronto's popular food trucks and restaurants including Rose and Sons, Buster's Sea Cove and Food Dudes. Fresh was onsite selling cold-pressed juice for those who wanted a healthier option and VIP pass holders could munch on food the Drake Hotel.

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Despite a smooth experience for most, many Oro-Medonte residents weren't pleased with the festival. Over the weekend, some complained about excessive noise, according to the Toronto Star.

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In the lead up to WayHome, as well as the upcoming country fest Boots and Hearts, local groups such as SaveOro and the West Oro Ratepayers' Association have been vocal in their fight to keep Burl's Creek event grounds from encroaching onto and rezoning environmentally protected and agricultural lands.

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But, WayHome doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Its website says to "save the date'" for next year's festival, which is already scheduled for July 22, 23 and 24, 2016.

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How was your WayHome experience? Let us know in the comments.

Writing by Amy Grief and Wini Lo. Photos by Jesse Milns and Hector Vasquez.


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