Cannafest 2018

by Amber Jensen


As we say farewell to the long light and warmth of summer we also bid adieu to one of our favorite past-times – festivals.


No matter the community, there are usually arts and music festivals as well as local fairs and events. When CannaFest founder, Chuck Varabioff, first got the idea of hosting Canada’s biggest classic rock festival, it started with much humbler beginnings.


Chuck Varabioff, Cannafest Founder. photo credit: Peter Kalasz Photography.


When Varabioff opened his medical use marijuana dispensary in Vancouver, three years ago, he found himself brainstorming ideas for promotions that would drive business his way.


Varabioff picked up an idea to hire a band to promote the opening of his dispensary while listening to the Howard Stern show. It seemed like the perfect thing to do and he immediately got the idea rolling. Varabioff hired a band, gave out about 20 tickets and was excruciatingly disappointed when maybe 40 people showed up.


Not one to be defeated, Varabioff decided to try again. This time he hired three bands, rented a hall with 1,000 seat capacity and heavily promoted the event that was, in turn, meant to promote his dispensary. Roughly 400 people showed up.


When asked why he kept pushing to make CannaFest happen, he said simply, “I had to. I knew I wouldn’t be defeated and I couldn’t fail. I had to go big or go home. So I went big.” He decided to take his promotional idea to his hometown of Grand Forks, BC, and make it the biggest and hottest classic rock festival in Canada.


In 2015, CannaFest’s first year in Grand Forks, BC, brought almost 3,500 people through its gates, with six bands and small hometown community spirit. Varabioff did more than break even. He sparked a movement. CannaFest 2017 boasted over 15 bands and an attendance of 26,000 people.


The root of the festival is still to promote the dispensary.  Varabioff is passionate when he speaks of medical alternatives and his goals for providing education to the community that creates growth around the use of medical marijuana. His greatest hope, in growing CannaFest and spreading the word, is that people will fully get for themselves that CannaFest is a movement, a space of education, connection and entertainment.


Loverboy at Cannafest 2017. photo credit: Peter Kalasz Photography.

When asked about next year’s lineup he replied, “Well, we’ve had mostly Canadian musicians so far, but we’re adding some American big names to next year’s lineup. Big. Like I said, I’m not stopping… go big or go home.”


When asked about the medical aspect of his dispensary business and CannaFest, he said, “We have to get the word out. Patients have to know that they have options. Healthy options. Non-chemical options. That’s why I do it. And to show people that the idea of a ‘stoner party in Canada’ just isn’t what is going on. It’s bigger than that.”


CannaFest may have started as an attempt at promoting a medical marijuana dispensary but it’s turned into an event that has something for everyone. With designated “smoking” areas as well as a beer garden and plenty of areas for attendees that prefer to be entertained without partaking in either.


To learn more about CannaFest or to buy tickets (they sell out) to be one of the projected 50,000 patrons at CannaFest 2018, visit



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