Rifflandia Festival tweaks winning formula with bigger stages, vendors' area

Bigger stages, vendors' area, at Rifflandia

For Rifflandia to grow and improve from one year to the next, festival director Nick Blasko knows he has to think bigger and better each time at bat.

So how does Rifflandia improve on its 2011 edition, which saw the 7,000capacity Royal Athletic Park introduced as the new home base for the hugely popular four-day festival?

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Small-scale tinkering with big-picture vision. Beer gardens? Bigger. Stage sizes? Bigger still. VIP area and vendors' area - both bigger.

"We have learned how to use the [park's] field more effectively," Blasko said of the changes. "Where the tents are placed, where vendors are placed. The whole bit. We're making sure we get the most out of it. Anyone who was there last year will recognize big changes."

The fifth annual Rifflandia festival gets underway Thursday with the first of four eclectic days of programming, a lineup that runs the gamut from rock (the Flaming Lips, Cake, Mother Mother) to rap (Everlast, Killer Mike) and electronic (DJ Shadow, Longwalkshortdock, Lunice).

The Royal Athletic Park venue won't open until Friday afternoon, but seven downtown locations -including Market Square and Alix Goolden Performance Hall - will play host to 31 acts beginning Thursday night.

All told, more than 120 acts will appear during the festival, making Rifflandia one of the biggest and most diverse events of its kind on Vancouver Island.

A large part of Rifflandia's appeal is the onewristband "super pass," which gives holders unlimited entry (subject to capacity restrictions) to each participating venue.

"Certainly if you look at the level of artists we're booking and the international calibre of our lineup, you could say we have a bigger footprint [than most festivals]," Blasko said.

"But every festival around here has its place."

Blasko and his team didn't have to do much to build on last year's runaway success.

Rifflandia 2011 drew between 4,500 and 6,500 fans each day at Royal Athletic Park, while each of the 3,500 nightclub passes were sold out. Festival organizers could have sold thousands of tickets this year with very little effort. That was never the plan for Rifflandia, Blasko admitted.

"It's a lot of balls in the air," Blasko said of the planning process. "But every year, it gets bigger and better, and that's exactly what has happened again this year."

Rifflandia runs Thursday through Sunday at various venues. Tickets and information are available at rifflandia.com

Follow us on Twitter for live coverage of Rifflandia: @tc_vicarts See Thursday's Go section for a full preview of Rifflandia.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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