The Cowichan Valley was awash with country music over the weekend as more than 40,000 fans made their way to the Sunfest country music festival in Duncan.
The sold-out festival, which ran Thursday through Sunday at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds, notched its biggest four-day audience to date with help from sets by Tim McGraw, Cassadee Pope, Dean Brody and Jake Owen, among others.
“Without a doubt, it was our busiest Sunfest ever,” said Charlotte Fisher of Wideglide Entertainment, the Duncan-based company that produces the event.
“Before, we were on the radar. Now we’re firmly planted on the map.”
Sunfest is now at or near the top of the Vancouver Island festival circuit, in terms of attendance. The longtime festival, which focused on rock acts during its earlier editions, began booking country acts in 2010 — and has never looked back.
Nowadays, no Canadian country music festival outside of Alberta can match Sunfest in terms of size. While exact audience totals were not available at press time, Fisher said in the neighbourhood of 15,000 fans were on site when Tim McGraw closed down the festival on Sunday night.
The Grammy-winning husband of Faith Hill was the weekend’s big draw, but McGraw wasn’t the only act to make waves. Some of the performers retreated to the public beer garden after their sets and wound up taking photos with fans.
“It was a great group of people,” Fisher said of the lineup.
With thousands commuting to and from the site each day, lineups were to be expected through the weekend. But according to Fisher, nothing from an organizational standpoint caused festival producers much concern. North Cowichan and Duncan RCMP could not be reached for comment at press time, but Fisher said she had not been notified of any problems regarding alcohol consumption, either.
The biggest delays were for those entering the campground to set up for the first time, but that is unavoidable, Fisher said.
A single lane of the Trans-Canada Highway near the festival site was temporarily closed during peak hours, which helped mitigate car crawl while thousands of campers checked into the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds.
“It would be lovely if we had a separate exit and entrance road, but unfortunately we have to share it, so that led to some congestion loading campers in,” Fisher said.
Things will only get bigger for Sunfest in the coming years, it would appear. Festivalgoers were given a surprise on Saturday night when American Idol judge Keith Urban was announced as the headliner for the festival’s 2015 edition, which is slated for July 30 through Aug. 2.
“The crowd went nuts when that was announced,” Fisher said. “That’s going to big.”