Sunfest, B.C.’s largest country music festival, is coming, and country fans across the province are already packing up their gear, buying their tickets and counting the days until the music starts.
The festival runs Aug. 3 to 6 at Laketown Ranch Music and Recreation Park at Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island.
But before we get into any more of the details of the festival, it’s probably worth looking at why the event is so beloved.
In large part, it’s just the music.
Country music has been described by country songwriter Harlan Howard as three chords and the truth, but at its heart, it’s music that tells stories about things as they really are. Whether those stories revolve around love, regret, freedom or any other part of the human experience, the music is always about real people singing about real stuff.
County music has sometimes been maligned by folks who just don’t understand what it’s all about, but that lack of respect by some just makes country fans that much more dedicated to the music. It’s sort of an “If you don’t get it, too bad”, attitude.
Blake Shelton, one of the headliners at this year’s Sunfest, is the personification of that attitude.
“I’ve spent a lifetime in love with country music,” he said. “I moved to Nashville at 17 to make music, and since then I’ve put everything I have into doing it right.”
And as far as the country music attitude goes, Shelton maintains that he totally removes himself from any costumes, wardrobe, or choreography. “I couldn’t care less about that stuff,” he said.
This year’s festival lineup is stacked with big names. Starting on Thursday evening Jade Eagleson takes the stage, followed by Kenny Hess, Bobby Wills, and The County Line.
On Friday, Lainey Wilson headlines, alongside acts Kameron Marlowe, Willie Jones, Mark Ledlin, Danielle Ryan, Sport Mode, West Coast Slackers, Zach Thompson Band, Littlehead and From the Earth.
Saturday and Sunday’s lineups are just as stacked with country music star Blake Shelton, Cory Marks, Lonestar, Lindsay Ell, High Valley, The Porter Brothers and much more.
“This didn’t start out as a country festival, but in 2013 we saw that it was the music that people wanted to hear, and we just went with it,” said festival director Mike Hann.
“There are about 25 acts in total, appearing on three stages that are located around the site and the talent we’ve got coming out is just incredible. We’re unique in that we get high-level acts coming to Vancouver Island. These are stars that ordinarily might play Vancouver or Seattle and other large centres, but we have them all here, in one place.”
Hann expects a daily attendance of about 10,000 happy fans and a total attendance north of 40,000.
“There are shuttles running about every 45 minutes from Duncan and the Lake Cowichan area between 2 p.m. and 1 a.m.,” Hann said. “We also have a lot of people camping right on site, so they don’t miss a minute of the entertainment.”
The festival site is licensed with beer vendors, and there are plenty of food options available to help recharge during the breaks between all the cheering, dancing, and singing along.
There will also be some kid’s activity areas and giant slip-and-slides to help cool off from the afternoon sunshine.
“The atmosphere during this festival is very laid back and everyone is just there to have a great time,” Hann said.
There are also a few premium options available for those who choose to purchase a place at the lookout lounge where elevated sightlines, private bars, hor d’oeuvres, shade, and a private kick-off party on Thursday night are all included.
The VIP experience is even fancier, with catered meals, special premium side stage deck seating and more.
“We really offer something for everyone,” Hann said.
But whether you go for the exclusive viewing options or just want to camp out with the family or ride the bus from home, the festival’s heartbeat is all about the music.
It’ll be music that you’ll be humming for a long time as you count the days to the next Sunfest, according to Hann. Ticket information and full lineup for Sunfest can be found at sunfestconcerts.com.