This week marks the 20th anniversary of Eden Music Fest, an ambitious, impossible-seeming Alternative music camping festival held in an old racetrack site outside of Toronto. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO EDEN MUSICFEST
We were there.
We were 23 years old.
We were broke, struggling retail workers with no ambition who lived for the weekends, our friends, nightclubs and music. We were quite ordinary.
Our story matters. Does it matter more than the changing tides of once-official reports? Does it matter more than watered down pseudo-reporters of today trying to cull skimpy Wikipedia and old archives who weren’t there, who cannot do much research so rely on automatic aughts jaded snarkiness? Snarkiness. The enemy of sincerity, and less about humour, more about hate, everyday.
We maintain, garbage fires are a fairly regular thing to do out in the country on a Sunday night (partly in jest, but to undercut the critique of the high-handedness of that festival’s detractors, debating it with themselves, 19 years later).
We maintain, the Eden Musicfest line up was unprecedented, and something we still marvel at to this day. And we were there! The Cure. Bush. The Tragically Hip. The Watchmen. Porno for Pyros (Lollapalooza founder/invetor, Jane’s Addiction founder Perry Farrell’s side project) Live. Sloan. Goo Goo Dolls. Everclear. Spin Doctors (skipped that one). Rich in Canadiana but with a good balance of major U.S. headliners oh and The Cure. Who always win the day, who’ll always win the day. The Hip was so big and so on top of their power, building for a decade and a half of hard graft before that, that their crowds matched that of the eternal Cure.
We maintain, everything you need to have a special, wonderful adventure can fit into a compact car, and everyone can fit into one tent. And it can be done without cellphones. And what remains, is the memory, the music, the sunshine. The rest is noise.
In early 2015, Aux.Tv (a website) wrote a long feature on the “massive failure” of 1996’s Eden Musicfest. It is still unclear if the writer attended, but it seems assuredly not, for his narrative skews very far from both the exciting advanced plans laid out by radio’s Alan Cross, the published reports of the day (which we still hold as clippings and keepsakes) our own large group’s clear and happy memories, the numerous comments we’ve had to our article above, etc. etc. That writer’s angle is underscored by material from Alan Cross speaking with 20 years distance in a radically different musical climate (where Cross expresses a resoundingly negative viewpoint- for what fan ever ought to know or care about profits and losses?) and with the writer’s own limitations by the almost total dearth of online archives about this event. The article reads like someone had access to exactly one of the best resources (Cross) and none of the direct experience. It’s truly maddening.
Memory is a funny thing. We remember quite clearly, as we were then full-time retail workers who spent lives listening to in-store ceiling radio speakers (102.1 “The Spirit of Radio/Modern Rock”) when we could get away with it) and driving to and from shifts accompanied by 102.1 that Alan Cross, our generation’s cultural leader and beloved music guru, was at the time touting the promise of Eden fest far and wide, as people like us grew more and more amped and tried hard to save meager paychecks for that big, historic weekend in the middle of summer. Cross was a radio fixture reporting daily (it seemed) and stoked the flames of this big big groundbreaking festival while thousands of listeners on both sides of our Canada/U.S. border listened with the raptness of the more intelligent dog breeds waiting for those magic words they live for : instead of “walk” “car” “cookie” though, it was “secret gig” “secret headliner” “surprises” and reveals of marvels to come. It seemed to our 23 year old ears then that Alan Cross was as excited and hopeful as we were, not just a radio man doing his radio job (for his voice rang with truth, intimacy, authenticity and meaning, even when reading a station id or a scripted ad).We trusted him more than we did our dads.
The summer of 1996 was a watershed moment for young people, especially young women, in our region and country. We needed to celebrate, to want to live, to be able to be adventurous (again) and turn away from our dull and troubling reality more than ever before in Toronto, in Scarborough, in Burlington, in St. Catherines. We’d gone through years of media pornography over the “Scarborough Rapist” whose four years of terror we lived within ten minutes of all through our teens, before this sick little man escalated to drugging and raping numerous teenagers, finally killing three teenage girls, one his sister-in-law, the others, unfortunate innocents abducted from the streets, one at 4:00 p.m- before finally being turned in by his co-conspirator wife in 1992. Don’t let this one long run on sentence imply anything other than an empathic pain that will forever colour that time into near silence. The man’s wife’s sickening sweetheart deal led to his sensational trial and September 1995 conviction. The years and particularly the summer before, 1995, had been nothing but newspapers all turning tabloid (not just The Sun) raking in blood money and sweet moms raised on The Dick Van Dyke Show asking their daughters to explain sexual terms that no mom and daughter should ever have to discuss especially in context of abduction, murder, and dismemberment. And instead of living our carefree 23 year old lives, we broke our own self-bans to read the pitchfork wielding banshees Rosie DiManno and Christie Blatchford strain to break clear publication bans. The distasteful poetry they crafted as they described torture videos rattles us still. We would never read these writers again, but the damage was done. We had each left journalism school in order to not join the ranks of what the media was becoming, this ugly scrum, soon to become an uglier, anonymous digital mob.
But in summer 1996 our generation who’d come of age amid this terror and filth could finally view the world (the newsstand, the TV) without seeing the faces of two killers who terrorized us all, even if they had ruined so much of our youth. We were not conscious of this need then, the ugliness had rooted in for years to come, but we needed to run far from suburbia and into the world, wherever we could. And dance, and sing, and laugh, and fight, and get drunk. Young people will always need that. We think it’s a good prescription for older people too. The world is fraught and dark as ever, darker in some ways. The boogeyman keeps moving further from the places we expected him to be and changing his face and his weapon of choice. People are more inclined to stay behind closed doors, just as we need real community like air and water today.
The January 2015 Aux piece about Eden Musicfest’s “FBI Raids, No Shows and Garbage Fires” led to our writing a comment then Facebook post that turned into an article being edited that was accepted for publication on Aux.tv. We took it back as it was being edited out of all meaning and context: it was intended as a rebuttal piece, a story from people who were both there on the ground (as fans/now writers, not as corrupted or biased media of today) and who’ve worked in the media (and outside of it) and lived in this world in the 20 years since. What happened out of that Aux article and how much it disturbed everything we believe in and stand for as true, lifelong music fans, festival goers, even Canadians and media critics/writers/photographers was the impetus to finally get the ball rolling on this project itself. Step On Magazine had its mission.
We aim to be an independent voice of reason, informed authenticity, experience, and genuine positivity against a wall of noise that forms too much of current discourse (remember that word) and to be an alternative voice against a media that allows gossip and memes to replace information, reporting, music appreciation and informed criticism. We look at Setlist.com or Wikipedia only as a last resort, final check, with our brains, ears and eyes informing the rest of what we write, curate and photograph. We’re old school like that, but we still go out and gain direct experience, retaining relevancy, not becoming stale. We are forward facing even as we celebrate the truly great promise and successes of early to mid 90s music and music culture. Anyone embedded in that scene then knows too well that after 1996, things got very dark indeed for real music (and also radio, TV and print) and all it represents. And what side were each of us on when that slide happened? Where did our leaders, our media, land? And who’s leading the discussion today?
In 1996, during one special weekend at Eden Musicfest, the notion of community was automatic- we simply had one two room tent for 8 people who all piled in, it wasn’t even discussed. One lone girl roomed comfortably and safely with her male friends who were like brothers, the good type of guys, every last one of them. We stole contraband booze from each other with instant forgiveness. We shared crappy food. We shared money when the bank machines ran out. It was our Woodstock, it was all the Woodstock we were ever going to get in these parts and this era and if you missed it, no sour grapes please. Especially if you coulda-woulda-shoulda been there. We were rich. Rich in energy and friendship and ability to tolerate shitty sleep and we were open to possibilities, yet, just 23, in love, surrounded by young drifters like ourselves. Of course it was idyllic. The price of the tix were scandalously low, even semi- affordable for someone working for $10.33/hour. Those that couldn’t afford it and enterprising country boy types jumped fences and no one was hurt. All that does make some people mad, I guess, those that had coulda been there and didn’t go. Or had a free media ride and found nothing good in it, because of a silly overhyped secret festival closer we didn’t need anyway. That hype, coming from the radio and continuing all festival long, even as the more reasonable and well read ignored it as bollocks, was the cause of a less than happy note on the Sunday, leading to the fires that made the news. Non-serious fires. So odd to hear the source of the rumours now casting the experience itself in rumour and shade. We aren’t kids anymore, and we know better.
How anyone could miss the greatness of it who was there, we do not know.
How memory could change due to exterior factors, when one was both employed and seemed driven to call the faithful to attend and be a part, boggles the mind.
How reflective pseudo-journalism with one source and a few clippings could manifest a huffy, irritated, judgy anger that just rings of the falsehood of FOMO (oh, you definitely missed out, no doubt you still do miss out with frequency) and modern anxieties* that replace context are considered “print” worthy, even digital worthy we do not know.
And why the same outlet would actually tweet this week about the 20th anniversary of this same festival they hate and disdain so much – oh well- that we do know. Clickbait, the modern media disease that reveals the measure of talent, the measure of ability to actually provoke discussion, debate or informed criticism. Or lack thereof.
*(the only cure for those modern anxieties is to get out and also be present in adventures that please you whether music, festivals, canoeing, ax-throwing, or eating ice cream)
Which reason is Aux citing for there not being a second one? Was it the FBI raids? The No shows? The (gasp!) garbage fires? Aren’t those three reasons (at least)?
And as they might have said on the radio, when we listened, enraptured, after a commercial break : there’s a wrinkle to all of this. A big part of the reason that Eden Musicfest was being discussed, suddenly, in early 2015 was because of the very big news that someone out there, a newer promoter no less, was brave enough to try and mount something like this again in Ontario (Wayhome). In the 20 years since 1996, music festivals including camping fests have swelled and thrived in Europe and the U.K. while in the U.S. and Canada they’ve had more stops and starts, middling results and complexities, often led by bureaucracy and the modern plague of NIMBY-ism. Those of Woodstock-age in Ontario and city skimming towns around the country either did not go to Woodstock or perhaps just do not care about that or the drives behind such visions. They care about how their day to day concerns are going to be affected- including farmers struggling to make a living and overcrowded side roads on weekends- but also come from gripes of well-heeled cottage country property owners who can only tolerate noise that comes from their own parties and motor boats and not a large visiting group beyond their control, even if it does offer local jobs and give prestige to a region that deserves it. One wonders if local residents and weekend cottage owners have ever been so unified or had so much in common before.
It’s a difficult time to talk of love, of celebration, of experience, of artistry. Words like that are so overused and abused and degraded by advertising, by the state of so-called pop/ular music (corporate advertising/branding set to auto tune, with cynical red lipstick smiles more like) and its “channels”, wholy corporatized entities fronting as a variety of media voices with an illusion of 80s era checks and balances and editorial oversight implied. Music promoters, music festivals, musicians and music fans (and media who is authentically there to support and report) all fight against NIMBYism that continues to challenge Wayhome and other festivals happening outside of prescribed areas like stadiums or areas such as Downsview Park which is apart from most of the city of Toronto. And the fight continues, as it does for so much art and worthy cultural change. It’s worth fighting for. It’s ideological. It’s nothing new. But “the media” has a job to do and can do it responsibly or irresponsibly and with agendas hidden or stated. And ought to make it plain, as we do, were they there? Are they there now? Are they reporting live, from the scene? Or from the couch, on a phone? There’s a world of difference. One is real, and the other is fraud.
The churn of negativity doesn’t seem to affect the younger generation (teens and twenties) that don’t care what old media think anyway, still able to trust their ears and their friends as the only authority they need for taste, adventure, and fun. But where it does pay dividends in social currency, fueling anti-festival sentiment within communities and seriously threatening the chances of new initiatives in culture, since that’s what this is, important cultural development for our music industry and region, by grabbing the attention of those who weren’t there and want to feel solid in their bad decisions, anti-social impulses or fear, as well as their overall reluctance to go out anymore beyond the downtown core or burb (which is unlikely to be a hotbed of music or culture at all). It speaks to the “over 30s /over 40s” who buy into those stupid, dubious stats that people stop listening to music at this age. Some do stop. Some never cared. While others are bringing their baby bumps, their babies, and their cool little kids right now, to the surprise of anyone who follows the nays. Tired of Wonderland or Disney. Needing something new. Some have the fire, the music gene, some were born with it, as much a part of the magic, the equation, the work itself as the one musician you might call a genius. Some of us are real fans, supporters, loyal, devoted, true, cool, and adventurous. We don’t twist in bitter discomfort about our spending decisions and our sacrifices (which are significant) because we don’t cling to fragile, crumbling bandwagons full of snark and hate. Do you?
All of this rehash about Eden Musicfast, this Negative Nellyism and Debbie Downerism (in the guise of authoritative reportage and elder statesman warnings) was also a pointed critique at those who would dare, would try to do something again that scares and annoys people. Who would try to be adventurous, daring, visionary. It was a pointed critique at Shannon McNevin, the visionary founder of 2015’s brand new Wayhome Music + Arts Festival (way before it had a name) and the by now well-established Boots & Hearts country music camping Festival on the same site in Oro. It was a screeching cry from old media in impotent frustration at not being invited or at all necessary at the table for good reason. No one was needed at the table, but organizers, artists, and ticket buyers, with some local support and some alchemy via consultation and partnership with Bonnaroo’s own visionaries. It was new, creative, funded, secretive and cool. It found new radio (the radio among the most important media players in any medium working in Toronto today, Indie 88, which also focuses on future facing music and authentic personal experience) to promote its virtues, to call the kids down for supper, make that, for summer, to get outside.
This little media attack on the silent, long gone past in January 2015 was political, probably. Power games from back room players becoming less relevant everyday. And silent readers looking for information, assurances about staying home 20 years ago, got that from Aux. The readers who wanted information, assurances about going out (back then) their memories and experiences (validated and shared) who found our piece in our fledgling new magazine got that, too. But spotlight, funding, and reach are important to these messages also.
Naturally, we at Step On Magazine went ahead and embraced Wayhome Music + Arts Festival, from the second we heard the first rumour, for after all, we’d waited 20 years for this and here it was. It was a no-brainer. No time for modern anxieties and laziness to creep in. We hunted down information, reported and read all we could and hoped it could really be. We happily went to that inaugural weekend and were part of that crowd (and part of the media) and had a memorable, transformative time, so different and yet so resonant to that 1996 memory, two of us still together, as a team, sharing the ups and the downs of this new era of adventure. Camping out. Coincidentally, sharing a can opener and an air pump with a great bunch of new media folks at Indie 88, our campsite neighbors. All of us good neighbours in a newly formed nabe that sees into the future and doesn’t get hung up on the past, forgives the past, and so is at peace with all of it. Even the darkest parts. Something special, it is.
Live music in the open air and all we do to find our place in the field is a type of heaven, of noble adventure and of boldness. It forces you to live in the moment, to be present, to pack just what you really need and are willing to carry all day, to simplify. We maintain it has medicinal values and answers that can’t be found through tired traditional means, and is the antidote to problems that thrive in our isolation in the cluttery internet world of right now. And the people who make all these moves to get there are good, they aren’t the parking lot idiot or the uncivil city dweller, they are all at their best too. They are committed, refreshed, and different. All of us are, that’s the weird thing. That’s the point. That’s what you pay for, what you drive to, what the effort symbolizes and makes real. And if anyone isn’t vibing with us, there’s lots of places to move on to, we aren’t stuck in traffic or a tiny stadium seat or a line up. The only line up is for essential items- getting in the gate. Ice cream. Portapotties. But the music plays on all the time.
This year returning Wayhomies will be alongside old friends and new friends, gravitating toward friends who share their vision. Who count the pluses and don’t look for cracks. Wayhome 2015 was a resounding success. How often do you hear Toronto business people on Tuesday morning sharing their joy, just joy, with strangers on street corners. We were there. We are so lucky, and also, so smart. Even brave. It takes a lot to filter out the negative press (including inside your head), unless you’ve been working at it as long and as stoically as we have, and even doing it professionally, finally adding new and different messages of our own.
The adventure can’t happen if you stay home.
Experience is almost always worth the investment. Especially if you both plan realistically and follow your heart, truly.
See you there?