WayHome Has Landed: An In-Depth Conversation With Republic Live's Shannon McNevan
It seems like Canadian summers just keep getting hotter and hotter. Last month, an exciting announcement was made in regards to a new Ontario-based music festival. This July, the inaugural WayHome Music & Arts Festival will take place in Oro-Medonte, a township located just an hour from Toronto. The festival will be produced by both Republic Live and AC Entertainment, both of whom are already responsibly for two of North America's most well respected music festivals, Boot's & Hearts and Bonnaroo (respectively). Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Republic Live's executive director, Shannon McNevan. In our conversation, Shannon spoke about what attendees could expect from WayHome, some of the goals they would like to achieve with it and even teased a few upcoming announcements among other topics.
Mr. Wavvy: Right off the bat, you've got two great companies, Republic Live and AC Entertainment coming today to create such an interesting sounding festival. What was the inspiration behind wanting to start such a festival?
Shannon McNevan: That's a great question! A few years ago, a few friends and I went down to Tennessee for Bonnaroo and I was simply blown away! Even just from the standpoint of a music enthusiast, it was an incredible experience. When we came back, we discussed the festival and thought we should create something like that up here. Since then, we've been hard at work, really try to persevere the last 2-3 years to get it to the point it's at now.
Mr. Wavvy: Of course, a festival involving AC Entertainment is always a good look. What was their reason for wanting to get involved with a festival on the Canadian spectrum.
Shannon McNevan: We've been talking to them for about 4 years. They're pretty selective of what they do. They get thousands of offers a year to festivals around the world. With our festival, they came up and saw [Boots & Hearts] and really enjoyed it. Then we got to know them pretty good and thankfully they wanted to work with us and they liked the idea.
Mr. Wavvy: That's great! In terms of the location, the festival is located in Oro-Medonte. What were some of the reasons as to choosing this location to hold the festival?
Shannon McNevan: That was a huge gift, really [laughs]. We've been looking around in the last 4-5 years for the right venue. We thought we had it with the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park but we grew out of that. We sold out [Boots & Hearts] last year in December, a whole 6 months early. With this, we knew we had to find a new place and 700 acres of camping/festival grounds just within an hour of Toronto is pretty rare. Call it a miracle, call it whatever you want. That was really, really fortunate for us.
Mr. Wavvy: For sure. With such a large festival space, how many stages could we expect?
Shannon McNevan: We'll have four music stages and then a stage for alternative entertainment, other kinds of performing arts. And then there'll be different kinds of programming going on all over the grounds.
Mr. Wavvy: With that other stage, would it be more art related activities?
Shannon McNevan: Yeah, it'll be alternative art. It'll be everything from dance and comedy to spoken word and just all different kinds of performing art.
Mr. Wavvy: Interesting. In terms of this being a music and arts festival, what kind of art related subjects should we expect to see around the festival grounds, along with leading up to the festival?
Shannon McNevan: There's a ton of visual arts. That's one of the things that as a team we were really inspired by and Toronto -- Canada in general has a great scene for it. We've partnered with OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), they're going to be doing a bunch of stuff and then we just have a whole bunch of art shows that we'll be going and being a big part of moving up to the festival. Even on site, there will be a lot of visual arts and just a lot of different interactive spectacles.
Mr. Wavvy: Going back to the topic of Toronto/Ontario, I know that the government has been helpful to festivals and music scenes in terms of giving grants and what not. I'm wondering, was the government at all helpful towards WayHome?
Shannon McNevan: We're not sure yet! With the way the government cycles work, we've just been really fortunate to get government grants at this point for Boots & Hearts but the way the cycle goes, we won't find out until the spring just before the festival as to if we were lucky enough to be able to get some grants for WayHome. So as of right now, we don't know.
Mr. Wavvy: WayHome, is in Ontario and obviously Canada has fostered many great musical festivals over the years, Osheaga back here in Montreal, Squamish out in Vancouver. Even in Toronto, Bestival was recently announced as well and it makes me wonder, what will seperate WayHome from these other festivals?
Shannon McNevan: That's the part we get excited about. We get asked this question a lot and I always answer the same way. We don't feel like we're competing with those festivals because of how different we are. Osheaga is unbelievable in an urban setting and they do a festival as well as anybody else in the world. Squamish is a camping festival but it's on high school soccer fields. If you look at the grounds that we have-- it's hard to explain, you'd have to experience it-- but when you see the grounds that we have, nobody else is able to do what we're doing. Because of that, we're really trying to put on a great experience and the grounds themselves make it the largest festival site in Canada and it's in the middle of the forrest. It's just a really unique piece of land that we're fortunate to use so we're gonna do our piece but at the end of the day, you can only really differentiate yourself by two or three key things and everything else will feel similar if somebody's doing it right. The two or three key things of us are the fan experience -- the way that they're treated onsite. We believe they can feel the difference in the detail. Osheaga does a great job of that too but our big difference is the camping and the actual site.
Mr. Wavvy: As someone who's been camping in Ontario before, it truly is a magical thing. I can't begin to imagine how crazy that would be with music incorporated as well.
Shannon McNevan: Yeah, it should be neat. It's just a whole different festival once you're doing a camping community for a weekend as opposed to a Lollapalooza, in which you're coming back and forth. Some people love one, some people love the other but that's why we feel like they're very different. It's not always the same crowd.
Mr. Wavvy: Exactly. I can only imagine that another one of these key things would be the music itself. Just looking at this lineup, you have everyone from Sam Smith to Hozier, Kendrick Lamar. But also one thing that I really appreciate about this lineup is that you have a lot of Canadian acts; everyone from The Sheepdogs to smaller names like Lowell and homegrown Montrealer, Kaytranada. Why was it so important for the festival to incorporate so many Canadian names -- a lot of amazing Canadian names, to say the least?
Shannon McNevan: As it sounds like you are, we're pretty proud of the Canadian scene. I think it's always so strong but looking around the world at international festivals right now, I don't think we've ever been stronger in terms of all these different Canadians being represented at so many different festivals! This being in Canada, I think it was one of the most important things we could do. With any festival, it's so important to capture what makes that area so special. We believe that there's amazing Canadian talent and we're trying to draw people from all around. We've already sold tickets to over 20 states along with every province and even a few foreign countries. The goal is to try and bring everyone here in order to experience what is so special about here. At this point, we're just really proud of the Canadian music scene and thankfully, we have so many great Canadian acts to chose from that we're all proud of. There's a whole bunch of artists we didn't get that we're disappointed we didn't get.
Mr. Wavvy: I mean, that seems fair enough to me! Looking at the festival poster, I see that there are more acts to be announced. Should we expect mainly smaller acts or would there maybe even be a headliner that is yet to be announced?
Shannon McNevan: There's definitely still some big acts we haven't announced! It should all play out in the next week or so. We already have some great acts locked up for the next announcement and it definitely won't be just a bunch of baby bands or emerging artists.
Mr. Wavvy: Any hints you could drop?
Shannon McNevan: [Laughs] I wish! I've been biting my tongue hard for the last few weeks. That's the hardest part, when you get so excited about the artists and not being able to say anything.
Mr. Wavvy: Understood. I suppose sometimes it's better to wait and see the excitement unravel. I'm looking forward to that. Wrapping this off, this is obviously a very exciting, very innovative festival. What would you like to see happen by the end of these 3 days?
Shannon McNevan: Ideally, our goal would be as follows. When I went to Bonnaroo as a camper, I didn't think of myself as such. By the time I left Bonnaroo, I couldn't believe I'd never done that before! I guess more than anything, our goal as a company/brand is just trying to expose people to things they might not have seen before. We believe when they see that in this setting, they won't only be able to appreciate it but also, they'll leave changed, with a whole different mindset of the arts and what they've been exposed to.
Mr. Wavvy: Do you see this going on and being a festival for years to come like Bonnaroo and maybe continue for another 10 years, or will it be more like looking at how it goes this time and taking things from there?
Shannon McNevan: No, it's definitely a longterm plan. We've done a lot of studying of other music festivals and with the business plan we're coming in on, it definitely would not work as a 1 or 2 year experiment. So it's definitely a long term plan.
Mr. Wavvy: That's excellent. Looking forward to this year, looking forward to many more years to come. Shannon, thank you so much for your time!
Shannon McNevan: Thank you Mr. Wavvy! It was great talking to you, I'm excited to see you out there!