Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big voices confirmed for Dauphin's Countryfest

Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts, Band Perry and more on the bill for 25th anniversary

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Dauphin's Countryfest will mix performers at the top of the charts with blasts from its 25-year past when next year's event kicks off June 26.

Blake Shelton, whose latest album Based on a True Story... rocketed to No. 1 on the country charts shortly after its release in March, will headline Countryfest's mainstage on Saturday, June 28, organizers said Monday at a press conference in Winnipeg.

In addition to his music career, Shelton is a known for his role as a coach on The Voice, a televised singing competition.

"Blake is probably one of the biggest headliners we've ever had," said promoter Rob Waloschuk.

The latest hit off Shelton's album is Mine Would Be You, co-written by Ontario singer-songwriter Deric Ruttan, another of the confirmed Countryfest artists.

He performed three songs at Monday's press conference after co-headlining the Your Town Throwdown shows at McPhillips Station casino over the weekend.

Ruttan recalled his first appearance at Countryfest about a decade ago, when he only had one album out and needed to play his first single twice because he didn't have a wealth of material to draw from.

"It was definitely one of the biggest stages I played at that point of my career," Ruttan said. "It was a career highlight."

This time around, he has four more albums under his belt, plus a host of songs recorded by artists such as Dierks Bentley, Eric Church and, of course, Shelton.

"Even if you are targeting a song for another artist, you're still pulling from your own life, your collective consciousness and life experience," Ruttan said.

If Countryfest fans get pumped up when they first hear the concert lineup, imagine the excitement at festival headquarters when organizers confirm an appearance of an act like red-hot U.S. trio the Band Perry, whose 2010 single, If I Die Young, has sold more than 4.5 million units.

"We're constantly talking about different acts we'd love to see," Waloschuk said.

Countryfest, which will mark its 25th anniversary next year by holding draws for ticket buyers on the 25th of each month leading up to the festival, also wanted to bring back artists from its early days who helped put Dauphin on the country music map and make the event an annual tradition for thousands of people.

One of those "throwback acts" is the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which performed at the first Countryfest in 1990 and will serve as the Thursday night headliner 25 years later. Another is the Kentucky Headhunters, who Waloschuk stretched the budget for to get them to play at the third Countryfest.

"Do we spend all that money?" he recalled being asked when they had to the chance to land the Headhunters back then.

There shouldn't be too many budgetary worries in 2014, as Waloschuk said organizers have roughly $2 million to cover artists' fees and concert riders.

That budget doesn't include any of the costs involved in running the festival, whether it's improving the stages and camping facilities or erecting a cellphone tower and hosting free charging stations for spectators.

Capacity at the concert site, which sits on the edge of Riding Mountain National Park, remains at 14,000, which means ticket buyers ought to act quickly Nov. 18 when tickets go on sale. Weekend passes, which go for $199 this year, sold out in 12 hours last year, Waloschuk noted, and he expects them to go as quickly as the website can process them this year, too.

"We could add more seats, but then we have to add the infrastructure," he said, referring to the extra camping spots, showers and fresh water availability that's goes along with every ticket sold.

And for people that can't wait until next summer, an MTS TV documentary about this year's event is currently in production and will be available free to MTS TV subscribers this winter.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2013 D3

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