This year’s CannaFest is expected to grow compared to last year, with an expected 8,000 people taking in the entertainment on Saturday night. Pictured, the crowds on Saturday night in 2016. (Kathleen Saylors/Grand Forks Gazette)

CannaFest gets underway Thursday

CannaFest 2017 is officially up and running at James Donaldson Park

CannaFest 2017 is officially underway!

This year’s lineup, which includes names like Randy Bachman and Credence Clearwater Revisited, will be setting up camp in James Donaldson Park from until late Saturday night.

Organizer and owner Chuck Varabioff said he’s sure this year’s festival will be a hit.

“It is amazing. I see everything coming and I know when I get on the field, it will be overwhelming what we have done in three years. We have really stepped it up this year,” he said. “I think I will have surprised myself.”

This is the third year CannaFest has taken place in Grand Forks. Previously Varabioff hosted the event in the Lower Mainland, but thought his hometown of Grand Forks seemed like an ideal place to hold the event.

This year Varabioff said he is expecting between 7,500 and 8,000 people on Saturday night and between 5,000-6,000 on both Thursday and Friday. Varabioff said he estimates the economic impact of that crowd as upwards of $1.5 million over the course of the weekend.

Several local acts will be taking the stage this year, including “superstar drummer” Jonah Rocks, Grand Forks favourites Dr. Fun, and Mad Dog – a CannaFest tradition.

As always the festival has a charitable component, with six or seven charities benefiting from 50/50 raffle ticket sales. There will also be a draw for a 2016 Jeep Cherokee.

While the other charities are still under wraps, Varabioff said, the Bruins will definitely be benefiting from $10,000 for their new game bus.

Varabioff said this year CannaFest is also recognizing the passing of Kenny Shields, who played with band Streetheart in the first CannaFest in Grand Forks.

“We’re super sad about that and will try to do something in his memory, because he brought so much to the Canadian music industry,” Varabioff said.

The Elks will be hosting a pancake breakfast on Friday and Saturday mornings, and event camping will be located across the street from the venue.

Varabioff said one of the things he’s looking forward to most is seeing the setup come alive.

“The one thing I’m looking forward to more than anything is Wednesday night when setup is done and they turn on the sound for sound check for the first time, and seeing what we have built over the past year,” he said. “It will blow me and the volunteers away.”

As for Grand Forks residents, Varabioff said giving the performers a warm welcome goes a long way.

“If you see the performers, give them a shout out, respect their privacy, but make them feel welcome. I think it puts Grand Forks on the map,” he said.

Tickets are available in Grand Forks and Castlegar and online until Aug. 9. See cannafest.ca for details.