As Neil Young sang it: "Are you ready for the country? Because it's time to go." The cranky Canadian rock troubadour will headline the inaugural WayHome Music and Arts Festival (July 24-26), a three-day mega-fest taking place on the Burl's Creek Event Grounds, in the township of Oro-Medonte, in Simcoe County. The Globe spoke to Ryan Howes, Burl's Creek vice-president of operations, about the growth and growing pains of music-camping extravaganzas
Toronto isn't done applauding itself over its impressive summer music scene, but already the festivals at places like Fort York seem routine. Do you think music lovers are looking to get out of the city?
People's tastes are changing. They're looking for more of an experience. Back in the nineties, there was a huge growth in amphitheatres. And the touring model in North America in the summer was to push many of the top acts in through those 50 or 55 amphitheatres. Now, festivals are definitely continuing to grow, especially on the camping format. People are looking at them as mini-vacations basically.
With growth comes growing pains. Can you talk about the pushback you've received from the residents of Oro-Medonte, over WayHome and August's Boots and Hearts country music festival?
When you go to rural communities like Oro-Medonte, sometimes there's curiosity and concern from local residents. Typically, there are three main concerns: public safety, traffic and noise. But when you're producing a large-scale festival such as Boots and Hearts and WayHome, you bring in a number of qualified professionals from across North America.
There was a report of a town hall meeting Oro-Medonte in which a woman fainted. Has the tone of the discussions been heated?
No. I've been at all public meetings, whether it's been myself speaking from the promoter/venue side of things or if it's been the township themselves holding a meeting. These meetings are not as heated as they come across in the media. There are questions and concerns, but they're topics that have been, or are still being, addressed.
What about the possible bylaw infraction at the Burl's Creek site, involving what land of yours is zoned for special events and what land is not?
Unfortunately, there's been a lot of misinformation relating to the pre-existing land we had purchased at Burl's Creek, as well as the newly acquired land neighbouring Burl's Creek that we'll be using for day parking and camping. The actual events, both Boots and Hearts and WayHome, will be taking place on property that is already zoned for special events.
Right, but what about the neighbouring land that will be used for camping and parking? That's the sticking point, isn't it?
Since November, we have been working with the appropriate agencies to ensure the various operations plans, traffic plans, security plans, etc., are all in place and going through the proper checks and balances. As we continue to meet our deadlines and approvals, with all agencies, the expectation is that these events will be going ahead fully as planned.
WayHome, July 24 to 26. $209.99 to $599.99. Burl's Creek Event Grounds, Oro-Medonte, Ont., wayhome.comBoots and Hearts, Aug. 6 to 9. $199.99 to $269.99. Burl's Creek Event Grounds, Oro-Medonte, Ont., wayhome.com
This interview has been edited and condensed.