Ontario's WayHome Music & Arts Festival, which in 2016 saw 40,000 music fans gather for three days of concerts an hour north of Toronto, will take a "pause" in 2018, organizers said Tuesday.
The announcement from promoter Republic Live came less than two months after the latest edition of WayHome, where attendance was 35,000 this year, with some daily totals falling below 20,000, a spokesperson said. The July festival has taken place at the Burl's Creek Event Grounds, just outside of Barrie, Ont., for the last three years.
Republic Live did not give a reason for next year's cancellation and declined an interview except to verify attendance – though the company did not say the festival was permanently cancelled.
Canadian music festivals have gone through tremendous growing pains in recent years as new competitors joined the field and the low – though now-rising – Canadian dollar made it expensive to book musicians, who often do transactions in U.S. dollars.
Live music is a low-margin business, and a destination camping festival such as WayHome comes with added costs of travel and accommodations. "There's a limit to how much they can raise ticket prices because people have all the other expenses associated with them," said Catherine Moore, an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto who studies the music industry.
In 2016, Republic Live said 40,000 people attended the festival, with 35,000 of them camping on site. This year, the weekend total was about 35,000, with daily attendance ranging from just more than 18,000 to 25,000. At music festivals, fewer overnight or repeat-day attendees means fewer people paying for amenities such as camping sites, food and drinks, in turn reducing revenues.
Destination festivals began ramping up in popularity last decade – with big names including Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California and Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee – and Prof. Moore said that this success prompted many other businesses to join the fray, saturating some live-music markets. Because of the costs, "the novelty of going away to festivals has worn off," she said.
Pascal Courty, an economics professor at the University of Victoria who studies ticketing, told The Globe and Mail that "the demand for these events seems fickle, and there are large up-front costs to establish a strong brand like Coachella."
In a statement, Eva Dunford, a co-founder and partner of Republic Live, said that "after much consideration, we have made the difficult decision to push pause on the 2018 edition, to allow us to reflect, reassess and reimagine the event." She also thanked the fans, artists and business partners who had participated in the festival since its 2015 launch.
British Columbia's Squamish Valley Music Festival was cancelled in 2016 as the U.S.-dollar conversion rate raised costs for Canadian promoters, pressuring their margins. And Toronto's North by Northeast Music Festival has undergone a dramatic reshaping in the last three years, including a shift of its main stage from downtown to the city's harder-to-access Port Lands, subsequently receiving social-media complaints of low attendance.
Last May, Pemberton Music Festival – the biggest in B.C. – was unable to offer refunds to fans who'd bought tickets after it became embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings and was cancelled. WayHome's promoters quickly jumped at the opportunity and offered free general-admission WayHome tickets to Pemberton ticket holders.
In its three years, WayHome attracted global megastar performers including Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Solange, Major Lazer and Sam Smith.
While WayHome did not adhere to a single genre, Republic Live's other flagship festival, Boots and Hearts, has stuck primarily with country acts – and its 2018 return was officially announced last week. It, too, takes place at Burl's Creek.
"The custom-designed 600-plus-acre site is beyond comparison to others in this area. We have a huge opportunity to develop music and other events at Burl's Creek and will focus on these prospects over the next year and into the future," said David Cuddy, Republic Live's chief financial officer, in a statement.
Prof. Moore suggested that taking a pause could be beneficial for WayHome's brand. "There's a lot to be said for having a music festival run every two years," she said. "They take a long time to set up, with a big lead time to book the headliners, and it gives fans a break too."