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Sunfest country-music festival sets attendance highs

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The festival at Laketown Ranch has featured Lainey Wilson, Jess Moskaluke, Jaimey Hamilton, Lonestar, Billy Currington and, on Sunday, will star Blake Shelton.

Attendance records are being broken at the Sunfest country-music festival in Lake Cowichan, and more are expected to fall today by the time the four-day event comes to a close.

An estimated 13,000 people were on site for a headlining set by Lainey Wilson, the supe‑star-in-waiting who brought the Laketown Ranch music and recreation park to capacity ­Friday. Fellow country star Billy Currington was on deck Saturday, and on Sunday, Blake ­Shelton, one of the biggest names in modern country, is scheduled to close out the festival.

Previous daily attendance highs have been announced at around 9,000.

Sunfest got underway Thursday, though the main stage, the biggest permanent structure of its kind in the province, was not in action. The site has three stages in play during Sunfest.

For a site with close to 2,000 camping spots, each with a capacity of five people, Laketown Ranch runs surprisingly smoothly. On-site RCMP reported zero complaints. Festival director Mike Hann cited smooth sailing during Wilson’s record-breaking performance.

Adding to the excitement was an on-stage announcement prior to Wilson’s set that Keith Urban, the four-time Grammy winner and husband of Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, would be appearing at the festival’s 2024 edition. The online buzz over the announcement was palpable, with another on-stage announcement due for today prior to Shelton’s set, Hann said.

“The reaction has been amazing. We were supposed to have [Urban] in 2020 and that didn’t happen because of the [pandemic]. To be able to have him back, is great. He’s a consummate professional.”

Extreme heat was an issue during last year’s festival, and while it was very muggy during the afternoon Saturday, ­temperatures were a manageable 25 C.

Organizers had taken steps to beat the heat with new shade sails offering some respite. Also new this year was the absence of plastic portable toilets, which were replaced with wood-housed units. Laketown Ranch also provides a number of flush toilets, and plumbed shower facilities, which adds to the guest experience, Hann said.

Some people spend up to six days on site during the festival, which makes the improvements key to the user experience.

“A lot of the improvements that we’ve made from our side have really paid off,” Hann said.

Almost every tier of ticket is sold out, including camping spots. It’s a good problem to have, Hann said.

“The crowd is really, really easygoing compared to what you would often get with a crowd of this size. Everybody’s been super polite.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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