CannaFest ready to rock Grand Forks

CannaFest 2015 takes place Aug. 7 and 8 at James Donaldson Park. The show is put on by the B.C. Pain Society.

Chuck Varabioff

Tickets for the CannaFest rock ‘n roll festival are going fast. With legendary rockers such as Lou Gramm of Foreigner, Headpins, Jerry Doucette, Kenny Shields and Streetheart, Prism and Lee Aaron coming to Grand Forks, it’s sure to be a great time and a sell-out.

CannaFest 2015 takes place Aug. 7 and 8 at James Donaldson Park. The show is put on by the B.C. Pain Society, which has put on similar events before.

The event is being billed as “the hottest rock and roll festival in Canada.”

Head organizer Chuck Varabioff said plans have gone very well and he is ready for a great festival.

Varabioff is also a director with the pain society and ran the first CannaFest last year in Vancouver.

“It went very well and I was happy with it,” said Varabioff. “I was born and raised in Grand Forks and spent a number of years here. I figured an outdoor concert in the area I was raised would be awesome. ”

He said that with not many other musical events in the area, a large classic rock festival in Grand Forks would be a “no-brainer.”

The concert kicks off Friday when the doors open at 2 p.m., followed at 3:30 p.m. with the opening ceremonies. Local band Mad Dog takes the stage at 4 p.m., followed by Colin Wiebe and then hard rocker Lee Aaron. Prism hits the stage next and are sure to thrill the crowd at James Donaldson Park. Capping off Friday evening will be Kenny Shields and Streetheart.

Saturday the doors open at noon. The opening act, Whiskey Throttle, starts at 4 p.m. followed by rising band Franklins Dealers.

At 7 p.m. the deuce gets set loose as Jerry Doucette takes the stage. Following Doucette is the incomparable juke box hero himself—Lou Gramm, the voice of Foreigner. Canadian rock legends The Headpins featuring Darby Mills then take the stage to end the show.

Varabioff said that every band on the bill is all about classic rock.

“Even the cover bands, they play mid-‘80s rock and roll,” he said. “Franklins Dealers is an up and coming band but they do some mid-‘80s cover tunes. Their original stuff is absolutely incredible. It’s a modern classic rock sound.”

Varabioff said that making the event a classic rock show just made sense given the history of the area.

“The Yale, the Province, the Longhorn—you could go out anytime and listen to a great band back in the ‘80s in Grand Forks,” he said. “It just seems that bars and concerts and the classic rock is dying. I was born and raised around it.”

Varabioff is happy to help revive the genre. He has gotten to know many of the “old” rockers through his business in downtown Vancouver.

“Why not put together some classic rock because there’s nowhere you can see it,” he said, “and why not a festival with six or seven or 10 bands.”

He also said that the ball park at James Donaldson is an ideal location for a concert with lots of room for a big crowd as well as plenty of space for vendors and the beer gardens.

Varabioff added that the feedback regarding the event so far has been very positive.

“Ticket sales have been very good,” he said. “The last three weeks have been incredibly strong. I think we’ll have a sell out; if not in advance then certainly at the gate.”

Varabioff said working with the city on issues such as licensing, parking, camping and so on has been very positive.

“It’s great to see the city get behind it,” he said. “They know the economic impact that it’s going to bring. If you look at 2,000 people coming from out of town spending $500 each—that’s a million bucks in the economy.”

Varabioff said he could have run the festival in Vancouver again, but he felt the Grand Forks area needed the economic impact more than Vancouver.

“It’s a smaller place and it’ll be a much more intimate affair,” he said. “People are behind it 100 per cent. I’m glad to see that.”

Varabioff said he understood why the city wanted him to tone down the cannabis element to the festival; he stood firm on the festival name and theme but did agree that cannabis would not be sold on site.

There will, however, be a beer garden open from 5 to 10 p.m. and a separate smoking section.

Varabioff said the bands are happy to come to Grand Forks and play on a large stage again. He said there will be an autograph tent where the band members will be signing shirts and pictures and other items.

There will also be a couple of misting tents to keep audience members cool during the day when the sun’s out.

Varabioff said there will also be a CannaFest pre-party at the Station Pub the night before (Thursday, Aug. 6) starting at 6:30 p.m.

“All the bands that are in town that night will be there,” he said. “They might get up and play a song, they might not. It’ll be a lot of fun; an informal meet and greet. Come out and you might see some rock stars.”

Varabioff expects that hotels and motels in the area will be very busy as will restaurants, grocery stores and many other businesses. For those wishing to camp there will be the usual camping at City Park. The City of Grand Forks will also be opening up Dick Bartlett Park, behind the aquatic centre, for camping, as well as parking. For more information and rates for camping, go to

Varabioff is hopeful that attendees will be respectful of their festival’s neighbours by James Donaldson Park. “Not everyone is going to be on board with what we’re doing,” he said. “Having a loud concert, we don’t want people out there screaming and yelling and causing trouble.”

Varabioff said he had tried to get a shuttle bus for bringing people to the event but wasn’t able to get anything set up.

Selkirk Security from Trail has been hired to provide security at the event and Varabioff expects that although the local RCMP are not bringing in any extra officers, they will be in attendance.

Varabioff added that he hopes the nearby neighbours are at the festival having a good time or if not, enjoying the music on their porches or roofs.

“It happens once a year,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and pump a lot of money into the economy.”

Tickets for the event are still available and can be purchased online at or in person at Kocomo’s Coffee House, Jogas Espresso Café or the Source in Grand Forks, or at the Esso station in Christina Lake.

A few notes: pets are not allowed. Children are allowed as it is an all-ages event. Drinking and smoking will be contained to their respective areas.

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