Music fans from around the world are abuzz in the sweet afterglow of this past weekend’s Wayhome Music & Arts Festival. In only its second year, Wayhome has undoubtedly proved it’s merit by bringing more than 40,000 attendees and some of music’s biggest acts to the rural community of Oro-Medonte, Ontario. Among the more magical moments of the weekend were the firework-lit and confetti-laden performances of headliners Arcade Fire and The Killers. Not to be outdone, Canadian acts A Tribe Called Red, Bahamas and Mothers blew away audiences with impassioned sets that went beyond the typical concert-going experience.
Needless to say, a lineup this stacked doesn’t come cheap. So, what do you do when your heart says “yes,” but your wallet strikes back with a resounding “no”? Being one of many music fans with ears bigger than my savings, I resolved to have my first Wayhome experience as a volunteer. In the past, I had volunteered with the Hillside Music Festival in Guelph with much reward: the satisfaction of helping others and the free ticket I received for my time (obviously).
Wayhome is unambiguous in what it seeks to offer its volunteers through the aptly titled “Work in Exchange for a Ticket Program”, also called WET (Work Exchange Team). Here is the basic deal: you work an average of 18 hours (give or take) in pre-assigned festival positions and in exchange you receive your ticket and accommodation at no cost. Plus, the free t-shirt they give you as a uniform is really nice. For those working more than eight hours in a row, the festival will hand deliver you a meal that rivals packed lunches everywhere. As an added bonus, it was announced just before the festival that staff and volunteers get FREE SHOWERS. To regular attendees, shower privileges cost about $9 causing some to embrace their…let’s call it “outdoorsy-ness.” Trust me, after three days of no rain, dust, dirt and extreme heat warnings, a free shower is a blessing.
Through previous experiences, I had learned what may be the most important rule about volunteering: always sign up for pre-festival shifts. I find that one of the biggest deterrents for potential volunteers is the fear that they won’t get to enjoy any of the festival because they’ll be working the whole time. Pre-festival shifts are the easiest way to work down those hours before the first chord is played. Better yet, there is always plenty of shifts to go around because of the elaborate setup of such a large festival. The same goes for post-festival shifts. This little insider tip served me well as, after completing my two festival shifts on Thursday evening and Friday morning, I had only missed about six hours of music. Friday night, Saturday and Sunday were totally my own to enjoy: and enjoy I did.
To all the naysayers who think volunteering means sacrificing the fun, I managed to see the sets of LCD Soundsystem, Mac DeMarco, Key ‘N Krates, Young Empires, Mothers, X Ambassadors, Bahamas, A Tribe Called Red, Badbadnotgood, Arkells, Arcade Fire, Patrick Watson, Major Lazer, Dilly Dally, The Killers, Haim, Stars…the list goes on! I tended to find that those who were volunteering during festival hours got the chance to work shorter shifts to leave the majority of the day to music. As a security, Wayhome allows volunteers to select one cannot-be-missed act before the festival and guarantees that they won’t be scheduled. I selected Arcade Fire and was happily given the chance to swoon at Win Butler’s killer white-suit/white combat boot combo as well as the dreamy fireworks during the closing number of “Wake Up.”
An unexpected bonus of volunteering was the chance to become a de-facto Wayhome expert. As I adorned the bright turquoise uniform shirt, I got a lot of questions from attendees about directions, gates as well as general do and do not dos. As Spider-man’s wise Uncle Ben once said, “with great power comes great responsibility”, so I learned the answers to any number of festival queries. For the rest of the festival I was the guru of the grounds, navigating with ease and knowing the exact locales of water stations, the hottest tips on the best eats and other tidbits which made my own weekend go a lot smoother. I also learned a lot of behind-the-scenes fun facts. For example, did you notice there was no seagulls attacking your delish food truck purchases? That’s because they have a falcon on staff whose assigned to scare off vermin. As I was in the staff grounds behind the stage, I saw the falcon and their handler riding around in a golf cart. Who would even think Wayhome had a falcon on the payroll? It’s just one of those little things that made me appreciate the festival even more. Thank you, Falcon.
At the end of the day, the volunteer campgrounds became a refuge to share experiences with a unique batch of Wayhomeies. Volunteers and staff are given the chance to camp closer to the festival than anyone in a site located just behind the Waybright stage. The site comes equipped with its own entrance which goes right into the grounds without any lineups. There are definitely spots where volunteers partake in some late-night brews after the show, but I tended to find that the volunteer and staff grounds were more respectful of that sweet gift called sleep. Everyone was really understanding and cool when someone had to catch some zzz’s before a morning shift. After the work was finished, the chance to share must-see shows with other volunteers is what made the festival a special getaway.
But what of the biggest question when it comes to volunteering: is it worth it? Absolutely. At the end of the weekend, the volunteering felt like a blink of an eye compared to all the other things I did at Wayhome. And here’s the kicker, the whole festival (including my Sharethebus ticket, food and many, many beers) cost me…..*drum roll* $90. If you bring your own food and catch a carpool, that could cut down on the costs even more. Ahead of the event, Wayhome asked for a $200 deposit from volunteers that would be returned if they complete all their shifts. I was a little nervous about it, but it was returned the day after the festival and it was like it was never gone in the first place. To a regular attendee, my experience could cost upwards of $500. Let’s be honest, I would pay $90 to see Arcade Fire on their own.
So, here we are post-Wayhome. My ears are happy and I can still pay my rent for August. Save the date for next year’s Wayhome Music Festival on July 28-30, 2017. The application for Wayhome volunteers opens at the end of March through Festivol. See you there!