The communal experience, now known as the WayHome Music & Arts Festival, created a blank canvas for attendees to literally live amongst each other for a three-day period this past July.
I was there.
What seemed to be an experiment of sorts in fact created lasting impressions inspiring new friendships with strangers and proof that authentic moments are indeed possible within the "shiny penny syndrome" many call real life.
When someone asked me how I was and really wanted to know, I knew I was in a special place.
When someone slipped, and a crowd of people along with myself sprung to their aid, I knew this was humanity at its best.
When the food ran out and someone in front of me offered me some of their plate, I knew I didn't want to leave.
When it started to rain, and someone gave me their umbrella, I thought I was being punked.
I along with my friends chose to drink the koolaid because it was real, it really happened, and it really inspired us.
As an attendee, I was not a ticket number, I was a Wayhomie. I was immersed into a community of an announced 35,000 infused with the values of sharing, openness, and communication. The vibe was incomprable. The music, the food, the camping, and the environment were enablers to create a collective community.
And it worked.
I am going to make a similar declaration. With a twist.
The standout for me was the human element of what I saw, felt, and experienced. Hence, I wanted to shout out the WayHome Music & Arts Festival as the Best Human Festival of the summer of 2015.
What has been created is a loyal WayHome community that is itching to get back to the magical vibe again when the festival returns July 22 to 24, 2016. It is them that is keeping the vibe going, which is an organizer's dream.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Shannon McNevan, Executive Director for Republic Live (producers of WayHome and Boots & Hearts) and one of the founders of the WayHome Music & Arts Festival and what follows are his thoughts on the why, the how, and what is next.
What was the inspiration for the WayHome Festival?
I went to Bonnaroo in 2010 with my best buddy and a group of his friends, that I barely knew. I thought I was a huge music fan, and would have never guessed that I could be that inspired or feel that loved at a music festival with so many people I'd never met before. Now our goal at Republic Live is to create these kinds of communal experiences that people may have never even known they wanted, but, once they experience it, can't believe they've ever lived without it, and they can't wait to share it with their pals.
You say that, "we wanted to make it a place for people....to come together to make a kaleidoscope of sound, smell, colour, and spectacle." How did WayHome achieve this?
Your exposure is your reality, and we're socially constructed to fear or try to control what we don't understand. Well, not everyone grew up visiting art galleries, seeing live theatre, or going to live shows with their friends and family. Our goal for WayHome was for everyone to feel comfortable exploring their own creativity, and to interact with the music, art installations, other Wayhomies, and the natural beauty of Burl's Creek in their own way.
It feels different than anything else out there. Like a WayMovement has been created?
It's really encouraging to hear you say that because we have this incredible team that's been focused from day one on creating a brand that exists to engage people's curiosity, and celebrate the things that inspire them. Thankfully it seems to have really resonated and went deep with a lot of people, and right from the first week our community started to make it their own, and let us know why they were inspired by it, and what they would love to see and experience on-site. As long as we keep listening to them, there's certainly no shortage of things to be inspired by or celebrate in the Canadian music and arts scene right now.
Many on social media are saying WayHome was "the best fest ever," "changed my life," "best weekend ever." How do you respond to that?
Very gratefully and humbly. From the first day this festival was conceived the dream was to be able to offer these fans a truly "time of your life" moment that would transcend anything negative that might be going in their lives at that time. Something that would make them feel alive, united, and awaken the dreams that they may have forgotten they even had. You can't force people to experience that, so to hear people making comments like that following the first-year is something we definitely cherish.
Lots of folks from outside Ontario who attended?
Yeah, we set out to become Canada's International Destination Music Festival, so to see every province and territory, 28 U.S. states and 8 foreign countries buy tickets to come and experience our first WayHome was a huge win for everything we're hoping to do with this festival.
What do you have planned throughout the year and next WayHome to continue to infuse the local community?
We work closely with the venue, and our local partners on this. Being a good neighbour isn't an isolated action, it's an ongoing relationship that we will need to continue to foster as we grow together.
It's tragic to think that this movement has been created and the festival itself only happens live once a year, in one location, and only tens of thousands get to experience it.
Here's hoping that there are more WayHome's happening all over Canada and the world in the years to come. Our world would be better because of it.
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