The 24th edition of Dauphin's Countryfest began with some concern about incessant rain and mud, but it wasn't long before thoughts turned to the music and the biggest party of the summer.
Fourteen-thousand music fans enjoyed some of the biggest names in the music business, not to mention some of the cooler acts around.
Both Thursday and Friday were plagued by intermittent wet stuff.
On Friday, after Emerson Drive played their 7 p.m. set, the skies really opened up, postponing Kip Moore's performance by 10 minutes. But the sea of yellow rain gear stayed put for songs such as Hey Pretty Girl, Something 'Bout a Truck and Beer Money (which concertgoers seemed to be spending a lot of all weekend).
The rain eventually subsided before returning headliner Dierks Bentley told the crowd, "I know who you are. I've been here before."
He turned in a solid performance, motivating the crowd with ballads such as Home and kickers such as What Was I Thinking.
Countryfest isn't just a big deal in Manitoba. It's a hit in the country music industry as well.
After their Dauphin debut on Saturday night, Countryfest publicist RoseAnna Schick said members of Florida Georgia Line told festival manager Rob Waloschuk Dauphin is among their top three shows ever. Schick added husband/wife duo Thompson Square tweeted Countryfest "rocked their world" and ranked it among their "top five crowds."
Saturday's headliner, Luke Bryan, totally blew the crowd away with a hit-filled set and a killer band. He told the crowd, "I ain't never seen a crowd this crazy in my life."
Perhaps that was the inspiration for spraying the audience with beer prior to saying his final good night. Another song might have been more welcome but the crowd seemed to lap up everything the Academy of Country Music's Entertainer of the Year dished out.
After Bryan's set, festival-goers got a chance to rock out with the Trews, who played an energetic and solid set -- or got their "yee-haw on" (yes, that's a phrase now).
Although the annual event is called Countryfest, there were a few rockers both old and new on the bill -- the Odds, Econoline Crush and Yukon Blonde joined the Trews, performing for a boisterous crowd at midnight Saturday.
Other fans late Saturday chose to enjoy the truly engaging Corb Lund, who spoke about Countryfest being one of his all-time favourite places to play.
Countryfest also was a chance to check out a wealth of Manitoba talent, including Sweet Alibi, the JD Edwards Band, Ridley Bent, the F-Holes, Bad Country, Crook, Del Barber, Don Amero, Grant Davidson, Jason Kirkness, Kimberley Dawn, Sweet Alibi, the Crooked Brothers and even DJ Co-op & Hunnicut, who kept the dance-hungry crowd grooving each night from 1:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Sunday began with the traditional mainstage gospel show but what was unusual was the entertainment. First up was Crewcifyed 8:38, a band that included four members of the stage crew who have worked Countryfest for a decade or more. They were followed by former CFRY/NCI announcer Kevin Mills, who now lives in Virginia Beach, Va.
The rest of the afternoon showcased some of the finest roots and alt-country anywhere, with Lund, Manitoban Ridley Bent and Texas singer Hayes Carll. It was a lineup as imaginative as Thursday night's, which featured Justin Townes Earle, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and Shooter Jennings.
Sunday night began with a solid set from Alberta-based brother trio High Valley, who incorporated some pop covers alongside their positive country set and laughed about being referred to as a "boy band" by some.
B.C. native Dean Brody got the Canadian Girls (and guys) wound up before headliner Carrie Underwood gave a stellar performance. She played her many hits without resorting to a big, flashy stage show or being buoyed by dancers as some other performers do.