DAUPHIN — The mainstage acts don’t start until tonight, but Dauphin’s Countryfest was already buzzing Thursday, as eager country fans piled into the Selo Ukraina Heritage Site near Riding Mountain National Park, where Countryfest is hosted every year.

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DAUPHIN — The mainstage acts don’t start until tonight, but Dauphin’s Countryfest was already buzzing Thursday, as eager country fans piled into the Selo Ukraina Heritage Site near Riding Mountain National Park, where Countryfest is hosted every year.

Lines of RVs, campers and cars spilled onto the highway as wristbands and camping passes were handed out at the front gate; the rows moved slowly, but no one seemed to care.

Once inside, most of the action wasn’t happening near the two active music stages, but rather in the campground, as many groups of friends and families spent the evening setting up their spaces, preparing for the weekend ahead. Oddly, the parties could be heard more than seen: the relentless heat seemed to be keeping festival-goers in the comfort of their campers.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Martin Ruf, lighting director, sets the lights up on the main stage for Countryfest.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Martin Ruf, lighting director, sets the lights up on the main stage for Countryfest.

Opening day was blessed with near-perfect weather, though the sparsely clouded sky didn’t provide much shelter from a glaring sun that heated the area to a spicy 28 C, a temperature that lingered well into the evening hours. The sun and heat aren’t expected to last long, however, as the forecast looks much less kind for the rest of the weekend: rain is on the radar for today and Saturday.

The sweet sounds coming from the two stages did entice a sizable crowd to make the very steep trek (and we’re talking steep here; numerous people needed to stop halfway to catch their breath) up to the main festival grounds to check out what opening night had to offer.

The reward for the walk was a good one; food trucks of all varieties were at the ready to serve up some grub, the bars open for business, and, of course, the music program was in full swing.

The biggest group of listeners had gathered to hear the all-female four-piece Nice Horse of Alberta. The fine-tuned and perky performers know how to work an audience, and even had a few people up dancing by the end of their 75-minute set. This is the group’s first time at Countryfest, said vocalist/guitarist/banjo player Katie Rox, but given the cheers that ushered them off stage, it’s not likely to be their last.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The main stage at Dauphin's Countryfest sits empty in anticipation of the thousands of fans that will fill the seats this weekend.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The main stage at Dauphin's Countryfest sits empty in anticipation of the thousands of fans that will fill the seats this weekend.

As the temperature finally began to drop, more bodies began to emerge in anticipation of the night’s headlining act, the Road Hammers, who were set to take the stage several hours later, at 11:45 p.m. The Road Hammers are Countryfest veterans, having performed at the festival three times, most recently filling the same opening night role in 2015. The band has long had an affinity for the festival, with guitarist Clayton Bellamy telling the Free Press in 2015 the venue is "at the top of his list every year."

Countryfest continues today with Florida Georgia Line, Dallas Smith and the James Barker Band headlining the mainstage later this evening.

Music on the daytime stages starts at 3 p.m., and mainstage festivities begin at 3:30 p.m. with Winnipeg duo Petric.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

 

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Manager of audience engagement for news

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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