Sun shining brightly on Cowichan

Crowds pack the barricade during this summer’s SunFest, headlined by country superstar Alan Jackson at the Cowichan Exhibition grounds. - Andrew Leong/file
Crowds pack the barricade during this summer’s SunFest, headlined by country superstar Alan Jackson at the Cowichan Exhibition grounds.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

Alan Jackson. Tim McGraw.

The two men have arguably been the biggest names in country music for many years.

The likelihood of either of them coming to Duncan? Until recently, most residents of the valley would have considered that an impossibility.

But Wideglide Entertainment has clearly put Cowichan on the map and elevated huge tourist potential during the weekend of the SunFest country music festival at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds by securing both men as headliners on back-to-back years, Jackson in 2013 and McGraw for Aug. 3 during SunFest 2014.

It’s a great coup for the area to get both men to play here. They naturally attract a huge following wherever they go and appeal to an all-ages audience, the exact thing SunFest has been striving for from the beginning.

Wideglide, it says on the Sunfest website, “is proudly committed to further the promotion and recognition of our great Canadian country talent, both domestically and internationally as well as being an ambassador to international musical talents from around the world. We believe that music brings us closer, therefore we strive to bring the music closer to you.’’

The hype surrounding McGraw has been incredible from the moment the announcement was made public receently.

“It’s pretty much through the roof,” spokeswoman Charlotte Fisher said in an article by colleague Ashley Degraaf about reaction to McGraw’s scheduled appearance.

“What it comes down to is the wait until when you’re allowed to release the information from his management. We’ve been verbally committed with McGraw since August. And if anyone wanted to put the word out, it was us.

“It was a real tongue biter,” she said.

“I was sitting patiently listening to JRfm online, and waiting for the 7:40 a.m. announcement,” said Cowichan’s Rachel Pugh in the same article by Degraaf. “I was pretty surprised as he’s a big name in country, and having him in Duncan isn’t something I ever thought possible.”

McGraw fan Megan Lowery agreed.

“Seriously, who would have thought Tim McGraw would be coming to Duncan,” she said. “I didn’t even think he would have been an option.”

But the sky is clearly the limit for SunFest now.

The Merritt Mountain Music Festival reached its peak in 2005 with a record number of 148,000 attending the six-day event. But it’s been downhill ever since and it was cancelled in 2010, came back for 2011 and did not continue in 2012 due to weak ticket sales.

The Bass Coast Festival has basically replaced it at a new location in the Nicola Valley, but now features electronic music in a one-day festival on B.C. Day.

Merritt once boasted a heavyweight lineup of country musicians, particularly in 2002 with Jackson, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood and Keith Urban all appearing.

Havelock Country Jamboree in Ontario celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and guess who the headliner is? Yes, Alan Jackson.

The Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose, Alberta is the other biggie in the country, with Miranda Lambert, Billy Currington and others appearing.

SunFest is now clearly on par with Havelock and Big Valley as a prime destination for country music fans. Merritt’s demise was due to a variety of factors, including financial.

SunFest organizers are well aware they can’t rest on their laurels. With careful management, they will keep this thing going and top entertainers have noticed the draw toward Cowichan.

Carrie Underwood played at Merritt in 2007. She would certainly be another huge draw to keep the momentum going.

In the meantime, SunFest continues to provide funds to many charitable organizations that benefit from the big show. It’s a win-win for the community in so many ways.

Don Bodger is the News Leader Pictorial’s sports editor.

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