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Roster of musical legends on tap for week two of Rifflandia

Rifflandia is known for its artistic breadth, especially with regards to its programming at The Park
Diplo performs Saturday at Rifflandia. AD DECENT


Where: The Park at Royal Athletic Park, 1014 Caledonia Ave.

When: Friday, Sept. 15 through Sunday, Sept. 17


The annual Rifflandia music festival is known for its artistic breadth, especially with regards to its programming at The Park. And true to form, the 2023 lineup set for Royal Athletic Park this weekend does not deviate.

Rifflandia has assembled an impressive list of headliners for its second week, from a punk legend Iggy Pop and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mavis Staples to jazz icon Herbie Hancock and top-tier DJ Diplo. “That’s our ethos,” said festival founder Nick Blasko. “We’re not trying to go down one lane all the time. This is what we do differently than a lot of other festivals. The bookings are what really set us apart.”

The first of three days of all-ages programming at Royal Athletic Park gets underway at 3 p.m. Friday, and serves as the daytime/early evening counterpart to the 19+ area at Electric Avenue, the festival’s late night instalment. Electric Avenue, held at the Matullia Holdings land adjacent to Phillips Brewery, drew a record crowd of 8,000 last week during its Saturday finale, setting a single-day record for Electric Avenue attendance in the process.

Blasko said he expects a similar turnout for most days at The Park this weekend, which would set a new overall attendance record for Rifflandia.

“We could come out of this with an all-time record. We’ll see.”

Grammy nominees Run the Jewels and social media favourite Paris Hilton, who remained on site for an hour following her DJ performance to sign autographs and pose for photos with fans, were effusive in their support of the event following their Electric Avenue sets, Blasko said. “For the artists, the festival is big enough but it is also intimate. Everyone feels very taken care of. The thing about playing Victoria, you’re not playing in front of a group of people who are seeing a concert every day of the week. You have people who have been waiting decades to see some of these artists.”

That level of success was not seen as a guarantee, as Blasko and his team thought long and hard about the decision to split the event — formerly held over four consecutive days — into a combined six days of events over two separate weeks. But it wound up being the right move. Having days off between Electric Avenue and The Park also meant the stage crew could set-up the Royal Athletic Park site ahead of schedule for the first time ever, Blasko added.

“It affirms our hunch that this format works.”

No amount of advance planning can eliminate sudden lineup changes, however. Rifflandia announced Tuesday that rising Afrobeat star CKay would not appear Sunday as scheduled, due to scheduling problems. As a replacement, Blasko booked ex-Spice Girl Melanie C for a DJ set, which marks the first time a member of the best-selling girl group in history has ever performed in Victoria.

That’s a recurring thread throughout this year’s lineup. Many of the performers will be new to Vancouver Island audiences, which could result in boffo box office through the weekend. “Every year that gets easier as our reputation in the agent and artists and management community builds,” Blasko said. “Those people are prioritizing this event.”

The Park site will remain largely unchanged from last year, but a few tweaks will be evident. There’s an expanded seating/shade area near Cook Street, which will create more space in the centre of the field. Alcohol point-of-sale stations will occupy a big footprint, but attendees will have additional options for the first time ever at The Park, according to Blasko.

Patrons can have cannabis delivered to the site through on online kiosk, while those who do not wish to imbibe can visit Rifflandia’s non-alcoholic bar, So:Bar, one of the first beverage areas of its kind at a festival in Canada. “We’re reacting to the needs of society,” Blasko said. “We’re trying to mirror the things that are available to you outside the gates, and have them available inside.”

The trend for festivals of this magnitude has been to increase ticket prices, in order to offset rising productions costs. Blasko said he looked at other ways to increase revenue, without passing rising expenditures onto consumers. That has the festival well-positioned heading into its final weekend.

“We’re looking really good. Tickets are still available, but Saturday is definitely on track to sell out, and Friday is, too.”

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