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SunFest shines as the best in the west

SunFest’s headline performer Tim McGraw dazzles the crowd during Sunday night’s set. Keith Urban is up next in 2015 as the main man at the country music festival that’s drawing people to the valley in droves.  - Andrew Leong
SunFest’s headline performer Tim McGraw dazzles the crowd during Sunday night’s set. Keith Urban is up next in 2015 as the main man at the country music festival that’s drawing people to the valley in droves.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Record crowds, great weather, awesome acts, and scads of security made this year’s SunFest the best in its 14 years.

Sunday’s sold-out crowd, carpeting Cowichan Exhibition grounds with all-ages’ fans for superstar Tim McGraw’s valley debut, iced a sweet weekend that gave folks what they came for.

And Saturday’s announcement Kiwi cowboy Keith Urban is next year’s July 30 to Aug. 2 headliner proved host Wideglide Entertainment has no plans to curb the success of its family festival.

Fans Francine Travers and Tracy Haugland predicted Zac Brown, Brad Paisley, and maybe Miranda Lambert could lead B.C.’s biggest country festival in coming years.

They were ready to enjoy this weekend’s four-day bash as much as McGraw.

“I’m gonna stay here for the rest of the summer and play every night,” McGraw joked with adoring fans from the main stage’s catwalk.

Other standout acts included rambunctious Blackjack Billy, jumpin’ Jake Owen, and colossal singer Cassadee Pope.

Naturally, SunFest’s huge beer garden, holding thousands of mostly behaved partiers, was hopping Thursday through Sunday.

“The beer garden is definitely more improved,” said Nanaimo’s Donna Cote.

“There were no waiting lines this year.”

But she had pointed comments about festival campgrounds.

“Camping is a cluster-fubar, with everyone packed in there like sardines. But overall, we’ve had an amazing time.”

Kris Vanlambalgen agreed, but noted though she paid for a particular campsite “you got what was left over.”

“Also, you can’t carry a drink in the camping area, but you’re allowed to drive in there.”

Lorrie Cullen added event bathrooms were “much cleaner than last year. It’s been awesome weather and nice people.”

Vanlambalgen summed: “Everyone’s well behaved.”

Not quite.

With SunFest’s sheer volume of folks, mischief reared its ugly head before being quickly quelled by a constant presence of police and security guards.

A few fights and drug abuses, as reported by security staff, were handled so smoothly few fans knew anything had happened.

Clear message: SunFest is a no-nonsense event, as some soon discovered; rowdies were rightly kicked out to prevent anyone from getting hurt.

The folly of liquid courage heard in George Canyon’s tune Drinkin’ Thinkin’ rang true.

Metal, glass, and outside liquids were also banned by gate guards who efficiently greeted fans all weekend.

Wideglide’s crew and slew of volunteers ran a safe SunFest like clockwork — right down to details such as water-drizzling fans, comprehensive recycling, information booth, and more.

A stream of creative costumes, and safe shenanigans spanned body painting, comical T-shirts, fancy belt buckles, proud tattoo displays, pretty cowboy boots, artistic redneck touches in campgrounds — all swimming in a seeming sea of cell phones.

While safe fun was job one, most fans still wore no ear plugs — standard equipment among security guards, roadies and musicians.

SunFest isn’t a runaway hit for nothing: Wideglide welcomes solid suggestions and fine tunes them to make things even better.

Visit sunfestconcerts.com.

Country-music festival rating: 10 stars out of 10.

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