Like other music festivals around the world, all stages at WayHome are named. This is as much a brand decision as it is a practical one. “Let’s meet up at WayBright” someone might suggest, and in fact a few of my friends did that over the course of the weekend. The stage I’m at this afternoon is called WayAway, and it’s by far the smallest, most intimate stage at WayHome Music & Arts Festival — an otherwise vast, expansive, epic music festival, and now one of the largest of its kind in Canada. Like the rest of the crowd of excited WayHomies (as many festival goers took to calling themselves) we’re waiting in anticipation for Toronto band The Highest Order to walk on stage and serenade us with their unique blend of psychedelic and country/folk sounds. Just as the band is about to start, my girlfriend points to our right, “I love that girl’s tights. The patterns are really sweet.” And they are. I did a double take, thinking maybe the tights were part of the festival merch, but they aren’t quite right. The colours are close but not exactly the same. The pattern has the right energy, but the line weights are off. The graphic designer in me is taking over at this point, and the band is now well into their first song, so I quickly dial it down and turn my focus back to the stage and simply enjoy a great set of music. It’s only later that it occurs to me: It is entirely possible, and even likely, that this girl selected those tights specifically, deciding to co-ordinate her style with that of the WayHome brand.
This wasn’t the first time I’d considered WayHome’s branding. It’s become a natural part of my life to pay attention to interesting brand work when I see it. And I know the team responsible for creating WayHome’s brand and marketing. They’re friends of mine, and we’ve worked together on a number of projects in the past. For WayHome specifically, I worked with them to develop the look of the festival. But a helping hand and an additional voice in the mix were as far as my contribution went. The conception, direction, and for the most part, production of the WayHome brand all came out of a tiny studio in Toronto, Canada, run by two best friends from Peterborough — a town of 80,000 people a few hours drive away.
We want to uncover the thinking, problem-solving, strategy, and maybe even that little bit of luck that jump-starts an idea…
As a music-obsessed kid growing up in a fairly sheltered suburb of Ontario, I read the reviews and stories from festivals in music magazines, dreaming of the day I might get the chance to experience it for myself. Since then, my obsessions have grown more diverse, and I wanted to offer a different take on that standard festival roundup. What we’ve gathered here is a glimpse of all the visual and strategic elements that came together before those festival gates opened on a sunny Thursday afternoon in July. For this Beginnings issue of Frontier Magazine, we’re telling stories of people at the moment they conceived a new idea or project. We want to uncover the thinking, problem-solving, strategy, and maybe even that little bit of luck that jump-starts an idea and makes it real. What follows is not a complete picture of how WayHome Music & Arts Festival came to be, but rather a focused selection of those critical creative moments that formed a connection with an audience who came to feel at home in a field of grass, trees, art, and sound.
Puncture is a design studio led by creative director Spencer Cathcart and project director Rashad Maharaj. The pair met in high school and bonded over similar creative pursuits, vowing early on in their friendship to start a company together some day. At the time of this interview, they worked out of a small studio in Toronto on King Street West, sharing the neighbourhood with Taxi, Jacknife, Bruce Mau Design and other much larger design agencies. They have since moved to a storefront studio space in Kensington Market. The studio seems to be in a constant state of flux, shifting and reacting to projects and opportunities as they come. Like many new pursuits though, it took a few tries to really commit themselves fully to starting a business together.
Rashad / We were roommates at the time, working separately at big, established agencies. We always had this dream, but we never really did it. We managed a couple of clients, freelanced a bit, but it was always just to make a little dough on the side.
I didn’t really realize what we were looking at. I had no time. This all happened literally in one night — logo and name.
Many designers, including me, struggle with trying to balance independent creative projects and those that will simply pay the bills. In many cases, landing that first big client is key to making a new design business viable. For Puncture, that client was Republic Live, and the plan was to create a new rock festival from the ground up, which at the time was called Starseed. But that plan quickly evolved into something no one had planned or even anticipated.
Spencer / For a while, they start trying to get bands and they’re just not having a lot of luck. Most artists stay away from first-year festivals. At this point Republic Live was not a big company, but they were having some luck on the country side of things with some personal relationships. The first person they ever booked was Tim McGraw, and that was huge. So overnight we had to flip the idea from rock to country. We’re like, Listen, let’s put this big rock festival dream on hold and let’s do this country one. I gave them tons of names to work with and I sent them off and I think at that time I was really naive about the branding. I didn’t really realize what we were looking at. I had no time. This all happened literally in one night — logo and name. I had to give them something by 9 a.m. the next day. They texted me back and said they were going with the name Boots and Hearts, and at the start I was like, Oh my God, what a horrible name! But now I actually think it’s the greatest. We put the look and feel together and showed it to Republic Live. They loved it. We went ahead with Boots and Hearts, and that kind of became the focus of our studio.
So the whole idea in a nutshell, the easiest way to break down what this brand was supposed to capture is a mix of Bonnaroo, Burning Man, and Nuit Blanche.
Boots and Hearts quickly became one of the largest country music festivals in Canada. Every year it gained more momentum and more interest from bigger artists and sponsors. The brand took off, finding its way onto virtually every form of festival merchandise imaginable. Puncture managed to create a festival brand, essentially overnight, that thousands of people bought into. As far as first clients for small studios go,this one was a whale. It became the fuel that kept Puncture going and was by far the biggest project they had. Through Boots and Hearts, Puncture solidified their partnership with Republic Live, and that managed to keep them busy for the next few years. It also gave them the freedom to take on other smaller projects. But the dream of that original Starseed music festival never went away. They wanted to revive the project but just needed a spark to get it going again. Luckily, the momentum of Boots and Hearts was building new interest from Republic Live, who started to wonder what other music events they could take on. This was Puncture’s shot. This was their spark. But like a lot of opportunities, the timing wasn’t perfect.
Spencer / So the day after Rish leaves for a trip to Europe, I finally get the call. This is happening. We need a logo, a brand, and mockups to show the client. So I pretty much devote the next two weeks of my life to making this happen — solo. Luckily, I had been thinking about this visually for so long. I’d been doing a lot of the work in my head. I had the whole thing planned out. So I came up with the logo mark and spent a while trying out colours, patterns — enough to build it as a concept. So the whole idea in a nutshell, the easiest way to break down what this brand was supposed to capture is a mix of Bonnaroo, Burning Man, and Nuit Blanche. Bonnaroo represents the best in music and overall music festival experience. Burning Man was about community, camping, weirdness. And the Nuit Blanche angle was about art, spectacle, energy.
Republic Live bought in. The festival was real. The only snag was the name. Starseed just wasn’t working for anyone. It was the name of an idea that wasn’t fully formed at the time it was presented. They needed something better. For many studios, this realization might lead to a formal naming project involving lots of coffee, Sharpies, Post-it notes, and maybe a dictionary and thesaurus to get the ball rolling. For Puncture though, they decided that the first step would be a camping trip.
The practice of naming a product sounds simple. We’ve all sat around, potentially after a few drinks, waxing poetic about the perfect band name, song title, or maybe even what their never-to-be-released autobiography might be called. Ideas can flow easily in those situations, sometimes appearing ingenious in the moment, then horrendous the morning after. But anyone who’s been a part of naming a real product to be sold in the world knows how complex the process can be.
Naming and ownership live hand in hand, and in a world that demands your attention from every possible angle through constantly changing media, owning a name that people not only remember but love is half the battle for many brands.
There are several factors to consider: Who’s your audience? Is it easy to spell? Easy to pronounce? Are there other products in the world that share the same name or something similar? Are you trying to fit in? Or stand out? Can you copyright it? Is it offensive? Is it too funny? Not funny enough? And in today’s oversaturated digital media landscape, is the ideal web domain available? If not, are you willing to pay the owner for it? Same goes for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and whichever other social networks you want to use to start conversations with your audience.
Naming and ownership live hand in hand, and in a world that demands your attention from every possible angle through constantly changing media, owning a name that people not only remember but love is half the battle for many brands. Given all those factors, how is it that WayHome can be such a simple and familiar name, and still manage to be unique, memorable, and ownable?
August 2014. End of summer. Boots and Hearts has just wrapped up for another year, and the focus of Puncture and Republic Live is starting to turn more and more towards this new, exciting festival that everyone loves but that has no name. Around this same time, Republic Live had just finalized the move to a new property two hours north of Toronto that would become the new grounds for Boots as well as this new festival.
Spencer / We procrastinated on the name for a while. Eventually, after Boots and Hearts was wrapped up, we just agreed that hey, everybody who is emotionally invested in this brand in some way… let’s all go out to the new grounds and camp there for the night.
Rashad / We drive up. We get a tour of the most ridiculously beautiful grounds we’ve ever seen. We go to this one secluded area that’s squared off with trees. It’s just beautiful. We park our cars, set up our tents and everything, and then we crack open some beers. And we just started playing games and enjoying the space.
Having worked with these guys in the past, I know this is very much a part of their process and what brings such great energy to their work. They need ideas to flow naturally from experience. Spencer has said many times that he can’t force ideas into reality. More often than not, he’ll create an experience that allows him to naturally come up with ideas — hence this last-minute trip to experience the new grounds. The idea of going on a camping trip with a client as a means to kick off a project may sound outlandish, even frightening. For Puncture and Republic Live, it just made sense.
We all kept talking about how this needs to feel like a place where you feel safe, where you can be yourself.
There are two other key characters in this story. One is Charles Bierk, a painter from Peterborough. He grew up with Spencer and Rashad, and they’ve all stayed close. Charles has worked on Boots and Hearts for years and introduced Spencer and Rashad to its co-founder Shannon McNevan — the other character and also the executive director of Republic Live. At this point in the story, Charles, Shannon, Spencer, and Rashad have all packed into their cars in search of a bite to eat before settling back into their tents for the evening.
They eventually end up on a patio somewhere in Orillia, Ontario.
Spencer / Eventually we all got down to business and really started fleshing out naming ideas, basically just throwing words out there over more beers and seeing what stuck. Because we had all made the decision to go the grounds, we all started talking about the place itself. We all kept talking about how this needs to feel like a place where you feel safe, where you can be yourself and all of these kinds of potentially cheesy but very emotional and raw things.
So, Charlie’s looking out over the parking lot across from the restaurant, and there was The Home Depot. The sign’s lit up. He’s like, “Home.” And he starts talking about the idea of home and we were like, Wow, home. This thing’s got to feel like home. You need to feel like you’re coming home.
I’d love to tell you that the name WayHome suddenly popped into one of their heads, they all raised a glass to the new name, and then they all went back to their tents and dreamt of the festival that would eventually welcome tens of thousands of excited fans. But in my experience, that simply isn’t how good ideas come to be. This was only a small spark on an empty patio in Orillia. What comes next in the development of a good idea is a lot of hard work.
Home was the heart of the idea, and now came the task of pushing the concept further. Is home just the idea? Or is it in the name itself? Is the word home enough on its own? Can we make home ownable? Are people excited about going home? Or is that too comfortable? Too familiar? If it is, how can we build excitement into it? What are all the ways that home can be an amazing place? An amazing feeling? There were dozens more questions to answer, and all of them eventually led to a variety of language exercises that I sat in on. One asked that everyone around the table smash words together to make new words. There were no bad suggestions at this point. In the naming business, this is known as portmanteau. After dozens of ideas, weeks of deliberation, and hours of legal and trademarking research, the WayHome Music & Arts Festival was born. All the ingredients were there, and now it fell on Puncture to develop the visual and tonal recipe — otherwise known as a brand — for how it all came to life on paper, onscreen, and on-site.
In any creative industry, inspiration is discussed constantly, but it can be tough to pin down. When asked about it, some artists might respond with a combination of deep thoughts and poetic exaggeration, creating a sense of mystery around how artists and creative thinkers conceive of original ideas almost out of thin air. Puncture, on the other hand, are clear and straightforward about how they develop their ideas. Spencer strikes a fine balance between the visual research he absorbs from the world around him and his own intuition when he’s putting ideas down on paper or experimenting on an artboard in Illustrator. For this project, it seemed clear when the first moments of inspiration emerged.
Spencer / There were two really big pieces of inspiration for the brand. You know the store Little Burgundy? They put out these great magazines, and we picked up one called the Illusion Issue, and it was just beautiful, and bright, and fun to look through. Tons of crazy patterns, thick stroke weights, really punchy. The designer behind that was Amanda Mocci. Her stuff is really amazing. The second point of inspiration was this book a friend gave me that was all about art and design work that used neon. That was huge. It really reminded me how far you could push a concept with colour, and festivals inherently just have tons of space for colour.
Visually, those points of inspiration were a place to start. And like any intense design project, there were others. One technique both Spencer and I picked up from working at Bruce Mau Design was the use of large four-by-eight-foot foam core boards to put research and ideas on. Pin-ups, as we’d refer to them, are open discussions around a series of ideas in development that are displayed on boards for all to see. Any input tends to be fair game. A good pin-up will turn into a working session, with new sketches and Post-its being added constantly. New ideas emerge that push the work further, and in the end, the team is left with a visual map that shows the way forward. At this point in the development of the festival, the Puncture team had filled two or three of these boards with countless points of inspiration. They remained on display to encourage discussion and reference, and were constantly reorganized when some ideas succeeded and others failed.
When you’re in year one of a festival, no one’s heard of yet. You really have your work cut out for you to create original content to build excitement…
Often, the development of good brand work is led by the logo. Spencer had already begun this work, as it was needed to offer a flavour of the festival when it was first presented. The logo and main brand elements had a starting point, but the supportive elements still needed more work. And for a brand new festival particularly, these supportive elements are critical for launch.
Rashad / When you’ve been running a festival like Boots for a few years, the brand elements are definitely still important, and you still want the freedom to evolve them. But to be honest, a huge amount of the marketing and establishment of the look year to year comes from the previous year’s photography of the event itself. So festivals like Coachella already have tons of marketing materials to choose from. When you’re in year one of a festival, no one’s heard of yet. You really have your work cut out for you to create original content to build excitement and generate ticket sales. That’s a scary place to be.
Their answer was to develop dozens of patterns that could be deployed anywhere they wanted — everything from stage graphics to social media backgrounds. For any piece of marketing where an established festival would typically place a photo of the previous year’s excited fans, pattern would be the solution for WayHome. Patterns were developed for their website and the first artist announcement posters. They also designed a separate set of patterns, inspired by all of the artists that were playing the festival. This is where Puncture took a unique approach to the work. Ultimately, they’re really just big fans of the festivals and the artists they’re designing around. They felt personally involved in the project and pressured themselves to create work that was connected to the artists and their fans. They developed a pattern for each of the artists. In some cases, the artists used them in animated form on large digital screens surrounding the stage as they performed. This part of the process was probably the most involved I became with the work personally, and I remember Puncture cycling through tracks by every artist on the bill, obsessing over the nuances in their music that might inspire a pattern that would match their energy when they took the stage later that summer.
But even before they could truly imagine that moment at the festival itself, they needed to focus on a much tighter deadline that was fast approaching: the artist announcement. This moment is critical for any festival, whether new or established. For WayHome, it would be the first big moment where people get to experience the brand and see what kinds of artists the festival can book. For a new festival, it’s also the biggest opportunity, aside from the festival itself, to make a statement about what they’re trying to accomplish. With that in mind, Puncture had several ideas. None of them were conventional.
What you’ve read is only half of the story. The mysterious envelope above kicks off the second half. Things get crazy — in a good way. We want to make sure this feature piece is available to discover online, but we also believe original content is worth paying for. If you enjoyed what you read, consider heading to our online shop today to order a copy of our inaugural print edition of Frontier Magazine. You won’t be disappointed.