The weather was mellow and mild Friday, saving an audience of nearly 10,000 country music fans from a day of dehydration and dermal damage at the Sunfest Country Music Festival.
That’s good news for the four-day Lake Cowichan festival, which got underway Thursday at Laketown Ranch Music and Recreation Park and runs through Sunday.
It was sunny but temperate Friday — rendering the popular waterslide inactive, sadly. That might have been an act of mercy on behalf of the weather gods: Had the sun been sweltering, organizers with Duncan’s Wideglide Entertainment would have had their hands full, given the size of the event.
“The weather is perfect,” said festival manager Mike Hann. “It keeps people from being too hot or too cold. It’s perfect festival weather. People can enjoy themselves all day. They aren’t going to get too dehydrated or worn out by the heat.”
Four stages were in action Friday, with programming running until 2 a.m. Dozens of acts are on tap throughout the event.
Dallas Smith, Emerson Drive and Jojo Mason drew massive crowds on the mainstage during peak hours, with similar responses expected for Brett Young and Dustin Lynch (today) and Eric Church and Midland (Sunday).
Though the artistic element of Sunfest is top-tier, it faces stiff competition from the site itself. When in full swing, the sprawling, 172-acre Laketown Ranch site resembles a small village.
Nothing thus far has caused concern for Lake Cowichan RCMP.
“Were on par with last year” in terms of incidents, said Sgt. Stu Foster. “There’s nothing earth-shattering here. Wideglide does a great job and works hard, and each year continues to make it a better and safer event.”
Hann said that 75 per cent of the nearly 8,000 campers who booked sites were in their spots by Thursday, which made for an busy opening night. Campers will be checking in through the weekend, but early arrivals have become the norm rather than the exception, where Sunfest is concerned.
More than 40,000 are expected over the four-day event, Hann said. “We’re expecting record crowds for each day, compared to last year.”
Sunfest has been on an impressive run in recent years, with Keith Urban, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw and Little Big Town among the recent headliners. As a result, the festival — which operates with one of the biggest permanent outdoor stages in the province — enjoys prime-time visibility on Vancouver Island.
So when word spread on site Friday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be making a surprise appearance, the idea didn’t seem entirely out of the question (the Vancouver Sun reported that Trudeau would be appearing in Richmond, eventually squelching the rumour).
Sunfest debuted some new additions from a layout perspective, tops being an expanded camping area that stretches well into the forest at the rear of the site. Shuttle buses — actually tractors and trailers — move patrons around the acreage, saving their feet for dancing.
“It’s a testament to using the same site each year,” Hann said. “Everybody gets a little bit more dialled-in, and we keep adding to it each year, instead of building from scratch each time. It’s working well.”