Get high on music at Legends Valley festival

What: Legends Valley Music Festival featuring Sublime with Rome, the Sheepdogs, the Dirty Heads, Kottonmouth Kings, Funkdoobiest and more
Where: Laketown Ranch Music and Recreation Park, 8811-2 Youbou Rd., Cowichan
When: Friday through Sunday
Tickets: $49-$59 daily (general admission), $99 daily (VIP), $149 (general admission weekend pass) or $259 (VIP weekend pass) at legendsvalleymusicfestival.com

The site of Vancouver Island’s biggest ever music festival is back in action this weekend, but it won’t be country music on the agenda this time around.

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The inaugural Legends Valley Music Festival gets underway Friday, and will run through the weekend at Laketown Ranch Music and Recreation Park, the 172-acre patch of private land in Cowichan that houses the Sunfest Country Music Festival.

Sunfest drew more than 15,000 fans during each of four days last month, a total Legends Valley organizers don’t expect to match.

John Donnelly, of Vancouver’s Donnelly Events, which is producing the music side of the festival, has high hopes for the first-year event, however.

“There’s a lot of good people in the industry, so we were able to put together a good team. Our goal is to set a really high bar for the level of professionalism.”

Legends Valley pairs two separate events — a music festival featuring headliners Sublime With Rome, the Sheepdogs, the Dirty Heads, Kottonmouth Kings and Funkdoobiest, and a cannabis exhibition named Bio Cup Canada.

The cannabis growers’ expo is expected to draw plenty of people to the festival, given the rise in medicinal marijuana use. And while Donnelly booked acts whose audience aligns with pot, he hopes the focus will be spread equally between both sides of the event.

“It gave us a theme to work around. We were able to book talent that was friendly in that regard, and fun. We looked a little bit left of centre to find some unique acts.”

A revamped version of Sublime (with bassist Eric Wilson the only original member) has pushed sales of the event. The original iteration of the group, whose singer, Bradley Nowell, died in 1996, continues to draw heavy airplay on rock radio, and is closely aligned with the pot community worldwide. The remainder of the festival roster also boasts a strong connection to cannabis.

The festival will not feature marijuana sales — licensed producers will be there for educational purposes only, not to sell product. That’s an important distinction to make, Donnelly said. He wants the event to have a wide appeal.

“For certain, there is going to be a lot of people coming who don’t smoke and don’t use it, and who are just coming for the music. We want to be open and welcoming to everyone.

“Certainly there are people in the community who don’t understand it and think it’s just a pot fest. We want them to know this is a music festival first and foremost, with an expo that is all about education and community building.”

The Donnelly Events crew has plenty of festival experience. Its team includes the camping manager of the Squamish Valley Music Festival and the box office managers for the Pemberton Music Festival. The group will have produced seven large-scale events on the mainland by the end of this summer, including the Khatsahlano Street Party and Surrey’s Canada Day Festivities, but Legends Valley represents something new.

The immense Laketown Ranch boasts the biggest permanent stage in the province, if not Canada.

“It’s always a daunting task. There’s so many details you have to think through, especially when you add the element of camping.” Fans will have a lot to take in from the three days of programming spread over two stages.

Donnelly doesn’t expect many Legends Valley attendees to have been to Sunfest, so they will be surprised by the natural beauty of the new site. Legends Valley is just the second event after Sunfest to have used Laketown Ranch for an event.

“The reason we’re there is because of that incredible new site. I got a call from [ranch owner] Greg Adams, letting me know that he had this property going, and if I ever had anything coming to the Island please take a look.”

The festival will also feature the Bio Cup Canada Awards, hosted by the actors who play Randy and Mr. Lahey on The Trailer Park Boys. They will announce the winners of the 2016 Bio Cup, which will crown winners in several cannabis categories.

“It’s a medicinal cannabis expo, so it’s more about education and community building — for that industry, for the patients, for the exhibitors working in the industry,” Donnelly said.

“It’s fast-changing and a booming business. There’s a lot of benefits from [cannabis], but there are also lots of questions. A lot of new companies are investing in the industry and developing materials and information, so this gives us a unique identity for the event, and it creates an environment to bring this community together.”

Festivals today are light years away from where they were a decade ago. Legends Valley is evidence of that, Donnelly said.

“People love the festival experience and it has become big business. As a result, there’s more to choose from.

“The hard part is that there’s not quite enough talent for all the festivals out there, so prices have gone up, which makes it harder to create events that have meaning and a great identity. But we feel we have a lineup that is really compelling.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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