Sunfest dropped some big news on its audience Saturday night, announcing that seven-time Grammy winner Carrie Underwood will headline the Duncan country music festival in 2016.
The announcement was made via video screen shortly before country superstar and American Idol judge Keith Urban took to the stage.
A second high-profile headliner has also been booked, but the festival is not yet ready to announce the rest of the 2016 program, said Emmalee Brunt, marketing and communications manager for Sunfest. Nonetheless, the addition of Underwood is a strong start for Sunfest’s next edition, she said.
“We’ve wanted to book a female headliner for many years, and for us this is huge. Arguably, we have the biggest female headliner in county music today. She’s pretty amazing.”
Underwood’s first-ever Vancouver Island appearance isn’t the only news for the biggest country music festival in the province. Sunfest, which is produced by Duncan’s Wideglide Entertainment and is expected to post attendance totals of 40,000 over four days this year, is also attempting to move locations next year.
The four-day festival is planning to set up on a 172-acre parcel of private land near Lake Cowichan — almost three times the size of its current home at the 62-acre Cowichan Exhibition Society Fairgrounds.
Pending approval from the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the new venue would be capable of accommodating up to 18,000 people, Brunt said. That’s an increase from about 15,000 fans who were on-site Saturday for a performance by Urban, the festival’s biggest booking to date.
Plans are in place to create a natural amphitheatre at the new site, where the festival’s main stage would be located. Much work still needs to be done to prepare the location, Brunt said, including plans for camping facilities.
The site has power, and the removal of timber has already begun. Construction of the stage area, however, is a two-month process, so any long-term delays could postpone the move until 2017.
Either way, Sunfest will be a go at either location next year — with Underwood 100 per cent on-board. “We can’t wait to bring her to the Cowichan Valley,” Brunt said.
Sunfest began life in 2002 as a one-day rock festival at Providence Farm in Duncan. Early bookings included Colin James and Spirit of the West. In subsequent years, the event shifted focus. In 2010, to coincide with the festival’s move to the Cowichan Exhibition Society Fairgrounds, it began booking country acts.
To date, the team at Wideglide Entertainment has brought Tim McGraw, Johnny Reid, Travis Tritt, Lonestar, Sawyer Brown, and the Charlie Daniels Band to the Cowichan Valley under the Sunfest banner.
The festival continues Sunday with sets from Thomas Rhett and Sam Hunt, among others.