With the inaugural Legends Valley Music Festival taking over Lake Cowichan from Aug 26-28, Team Rocktog figured it was high time we checked out the newly constructed Laketown Ranch Music and Recreation Park. Built specifically as a new site to accommodate BC’s largest outdoor music event, the long-running Sunfest Country Music Festival, the 172-acre property features a permanent amphitheatre, flush toilets and plenty of space for vehicle camping – even if a good portion of the grounds are a bit uneven and dusty. The trappings of Sunfest were evident as we walked up to guest services to collect our media accreditation. A replica western town with wooden storefronts serves as the box office and concessions, really putting the “Ranch” in Laketown Ranch.
While Sunfest drew about 15,000 fans per day over the August long weekend, Legends Valley, produced by the Donnelly Group out of Vancouver, could be considered more of a niche event, and to no one’s surprise it was much more sparsely attended, with daily crowds ranging between 3,000 and 5,000. Billed as a blend of music and marijuana, the festival was centred around the BioCup Canada Expo – a gathering of medical marijuana industry exhibitors – and a lineup of herb-affiliated musical acts.
The proceedings kicked off Friday, featuring mainstage performances by Daniel Wesley, Bif Naked, and the evening’s headliners The Sheepdogs, with lower card performances from the likes of Willa, Power Clown, and The Librarian taking place at the secondary “Roachella” Stage, located at the top of a hill on the north side of the grounds.
Our Rocktog crew rolled up for day two on Saturday afternoon, looking forward to headlining performances later that night from Dirty Heads and Sublime With Rome, but of course our first priority was to investigate the BioCup Expo, which was housed in the centre of festival grounds, sandwiched in between the two stages. Per the event organizers, the intent of the expo was to showcase licensed cannabis producers, seed companies, nutrient companies, hydroponic manufacturers, health and wellness providers, and many more. With that in mind, we went in expecting informational booths and pamphlets – we certainly didn’t expect to find a “dab” bar, with friendly offerings to try a free hit of the powerful THC concentrate known as butane hash oil (BHO). In fact, free highs (or highs by donation) seemed to abound, with other vendors handing out samples of various medicated edibles and beverages, concentrate vape pens and good ol’ fashioned joints. There was also plenty of swag being handed out, including t-shirts, hats, and rolling papers, as vendors sought new peer-to-peer marketing opportunities for their wares.
The whole situation seemed a bit surreal, with several attendees quietly questioning the legality of the whole thing. RCMP were on site, but didn’t seem too concerned. In fact, they appeared to be totally cool with the more laid back atmosphere that inevitably resulted from the mass intake of marijuana, as opposed to many of the other alcohol- and designer drug-fuelled music festivals that take place on the Island. That said, there was one group who didn’t seem to get the memo – the security company. While the organizers seemed to be openly promoting the use of cannabis, including an official daily 4:20 light up, security was all over people who were sparking up outside of designated smoking areas, forcibly requesting that concertgoers butt out their joints if they wanted to be near the stage, which created a real mixed message. They seemed to ease up by the end of the night, when they realized a huge portion of the crowd was now smoking, and their misguided mission to extinguish every joint would be fruitless.
There were also beer gardens, featuring Mill St. Brewery beers out of Toronto (an odd choice for a Vancouver Island festival, we thought, considering the plethora of regional craft breweries we have to choose from here), but with most concertgoers choosing to imbibe more in THC than alcohol, the result was a fairly subdued audience when it came to taking in the early evening performances. That said, with the festival site being geared toward a much larger crowd, the lack of population density at the mainstage and in the VIP area backstage (including a viewing deck above the stage) was actually quite refreshing compared to busier festivals. There were limited waits – if any – for washrooms, beverages or the various food trucks that were lined up next to the Bio Cup Expo.
The downside for the performers was that they were up on stage in front of an often scarce-looking crowd who didn’t seem overly enthusiastic to be there. This was no reflection on the quality of the performances – just that the crowd seemed to be a bit inside their own heads – a little too chill, if you will.
Following the 4:20 kick-off, Saturday’s mainstage lineup featured a through line of bands showcasing a signature Long Beach-esque sound, peppered with notes of ska, reggae, hip hop and rock. BC-based artists made up the evening’s supporting contingent, including Vancouver ska bands RedEye Empire and Los Furios, and Victoria folk-rocker Vince Vaccaro.
Meanwhile, the Roachella Stage, which featured music starting at 12:30 pm, showcased more intimate performances from bands such as Victoria’s Dope Soda and Northcote, as well as acclaimed Hamilton punk rockers Forgotten Rebels (an encore performance following their mainstage show on Friday night) and a multi-hour DJ set from Mat the Alien.
It wasn’t until Vancouver indie soul band The Boom Booms hit the mainstage that the energy in the crowd finally started to pick up. The group performed a high energy set, including a groovy cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. They were the first performers to make use of the stage’s thrust catwalk, allowing lead singer Aaron Ross to mingle with the crowd. He would later be joined up front by drummer Richard Brinkman during the band’s final song, as they worked the crowd together, getting everyone to first jump “to the left, to the left, to the left, to the left”, then “to the right, to the right, to the right, to the right” – you get the idea. Having ratcheted up the crowd’s enthusiasm, they did a great job setting the table for the headlining acts.
First up was Huntington Beach, California’s Dirty Heads, known for their fusion of reggae, ska, electronic and hip hop. Fronted by vocalist Jared “Dirty J” Watson and vocalist/guitarist Dustin “Duddy B” Bushnell, the group wowed the crowd with several of their bouncy hits, combining saccharine melodies with suave rap verses. They were joined on stage near the end of their set by Rome Ramirez from Sublime With Rome to perform their biggest hit to date, “Lay Me Down”.
Closing out the night was the aforementioned Sublime With Rome, a reincarnation of the Long Beach, California band that was re-formed in 2009 by original members Eric Wilson (bass) and Bud Gaugh (drums), along with new lead singer and guitarist Rome Ramirez, who was just 20 years old when he joined the group. Gaugh has since left the band, but Wilson and Ramirez continue to keep going strong, carrying on the music and legacy of former lead singer Bradley Nowell, who passed away in 1996, as well as releasing new material. The group delivered an engaging performance, including many classic Sublime tunes such as “The Wrong Way”, “Smoke Two Joints” and “April 26, 1992”. For the first time that evening, the crowd actually started to get quite rowdy, with Rome promoting crowd surfing, and encouraging folks to “come say hi” (i.e. climb up and stage dive). Several people took him up on the offer, which again didn’t sit well with security, who immediately beefed up their stage presence and took to trying to tackle stage jumpers. After that technique proved ineffective, they settled on simply knocking people off stage, back into the crowd. The scene took on a WWE atmosphere for a couple songs, but ultimately became a distraction from the performance. Security eventually stationed themselves in defensive positions around the thrust stage, and finally the stage jumping ceased and the crowd was able to enjoy the end of the set in relative peace. It was a worthy end to a strangely unique day in our concert-going experience.
Legends Valley closed out Sunday with extended performances from Funkdoobiest and Five Alarm Funk, when due to unforeseen circumstances Kottonmouth Kings had to cancel, as well as a special presentation of the BioCup Canada Awards, handed out by iconic Trailer Park Boys alums Randy and Mr. Lahey. This came on the heels of an apparent incident between security and some of the exhibitors Sunday morning, which resulted in the expulsion of several sponsors of the event. It remains to be seen if this PR hiccup will affect the future of the festival.