After months of speculation, hard work, excitement and a little trepidation, Sunfest Country Music Festival’s inaugural season is about to launch at its new home just outside Lake Cowichan. The town has opened its arms to embrace the new development—called Laketown Ranch—on the community’s doorstep, but even Mayor Ross Forrest admits just how everything will go down is still a mystery.
“I’m excited and I’m nervous as well. It’s going to have such an impact on the community, but I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “Economically there’s no doubt it’s going to have an impact. All our businesses are going to feel the impact.”
Sunfest’s headliner this year is Carrie Underwood, an American Idol winner familiar to and loved by millions of fans. Also on deck to strut the main stage are Chase Bryant, Dierks Bentley and Dallas Smith.
Forrest said there is a small number of area residents still opposed to Sunfest’s relocation, but he said those people remain a minority. He’s hopeful by the end of the weekend some of those viewpoints will have shifted.
“Socially for Lake Cowichan, I’m really proud of how our community has handled this,” he said. “There are over 100 volunteers that are going to be working all next week in town to ensure all these visitors have a good time and something do when they’re in town.”
Emmalee Brunt, public relations and marketing manager for Sunfest, said the festival has taken steps to reduce the impact on residents living close to Laketown Ranch, most notably: North Shore Road and Indian Road will be open to local traffic only.
“We really want to minimize the stress on them,” she said. “And absolutely no parking on those roads. If anyone parks on those roads they’re towed. We’re going to be very hard-lined about that.”
Another important traffic notice is a reduced speed limit on Youbou Road for one kilometre on either side of Laketown Ranch, a change from 80 kilometres per hour down to 60.
Unlike past years, Sunfest will have two entry gates for campers. Information about the two gates was emailed out to ticket-holders on Sunday and also posted to Sunfest’s social media accounts.
“We just want to let everyone know to have a look at that, know what gate you’re going to before you get on site,” Brunt said. “I think that will really allow the traffic to flow better. And of course, have your credentials ready.”
She said the same rules will apply as in previous years, and they’re asking people to stay on the shoulder of Youbou Road as they queue up.
In Duncan, traffic will be redirected off sections of Drinkwater Road to prevent congestion where it links up with Highway 18.
In another effort to reduce traffic congestion around Laketown Ranch, Sunfest has organized a number of shuttle services to and from Victoria, Duncan, Youbou and Lake Cowichan.
“From Duncan… people can either park at the exhibition grounds or Island Savings Centre and there’s going to be a lot of volunteers, a lot of signage, you can’t miss it,” Brunt said. “The shuttle schedules are posted on our website. They’ll also be posted within those parking lots as well.”
At Sunfest itself, Brunt said staff are going to be hyper vigilant when it comes to fire risks, especially with smokers.
“It’s fine to smoke, we also have designated smoking areas and you can smoke at your camp site, but just please put your cigarette out in a proper receptacle,” she said. “Anyone who drops a cigarette butt will be asked to leave the site.”
She also encouraged everyone to use proper footwear (avoid flip-flops) and bring flashlights because of the hilly terrain.
Brunt said Sunfest has substantially expanded their “activity zone,” which will include beach volleyball, a slip-and-slide, a spray-down area, a 3D printer, horseback riding, a zipline and more. She described Laketown Flats as the festival’s “social hub” with a marketplace, restaurants, vendors and line dancing. Country Grocer has even set up a full store there.
While the activity zone on site will be open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., there will also be activities going on in town throughout the day.
The Lake Economic and Activity Development (LEAD) will be transforming downtown Lake Cowichan into its own festival of sorts, with live music at Central Park, farmers markets, beer gardens, information kiosks and children’s games and activities in Saywell Park, too. LEAD volunteers in green t-shirts will be patrolling the streets, answering visitors’ questions and providing directions.
Betty Riel is LEAD’s volunteer coordinator and said they’re still looking for helpers.
“[We’re] looking for people to help with parking, and also people to help with the little shuttle buses … at the Sunfest site,” she said, referring to the buses that will be continually traveling between Laketown Ranch and Lake Cowichan during the day.
Riel said there’s a list at the visitor information centre of volunteer positions still to be filled, and anyone interested in helping out can pop by the centre and sign up.
On Saturday there will also be an all-day festival in Youbou called “West of Sunfest,” organized by the Youbou Community Association.
Lake Cowichan’s mayor said he is looking forward to all the newcomers in his town but he has a message for them.
“For people visiting Lake Cowichan for the first time, I truly want them to enjoy themselves, but please respect that it is our home and our community,” Forrest said. “And also appreciate the fact that we know there are going to be some problems of inconveniences we’ve overlooked because it is the first time for us.”