Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 26/6/2019 (211 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The circle remains unbroken at Dauphin’s Countryfest.
The festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a nod to the first event by bringing back the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band — headliners at the inaugural event in 1990 and booked again the next year.
"They still have relevance and they still sell tickets. They are popular with a lot of people, including the young people who come to our festival: they know Fishin’ in the Dark and Cadillac Ranch," says general manager Rob Waloschuk, who has been booking acts in Dauphin since the second festival in 1991.
Booking a group such as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band works on two levels for the festival: older fans know the band on the strength of its 1970s work such as Will the Circle be Unbroken, while younger fans get introduced to the music at Manitoba socials.
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Selo Ukraina Site, Dauphin
Weekend passes $279 (regular) to $699 (VIP deluxe)
The act of booking the festival is a balance that tries to take everyone into account from fans of old-school roots and Americana to those who lean towards country-pop and modern country acts that are making waves on radio, Waloschuk says.
"There’s a lot to take in: if you are a music connoisseur of country music, there is something here for you," he says.
"We pick through them quite finely and some you wouldn’t know some of them unless you had a chance to be here and see them."
Over the course of four days, more than 40 different bands and singer-songwriters will perform on three different stages at the Selo Ukraina Site, 10 kilometres south of Dauphin. The music starts today and ends Sunday.
Headliners on the mainstage include current chart-toppers such as the Brothers Osborne, Old Dominion and Jason Aldean alongside veteran acts such as Toby Keith, Terri Clark and Charlie Major.
As a celebration of the 30th anniversary, Sunday is filled with artists who have played the festival in the past, including Keith, Clay Walker, David Lee Murphy and Neal McCoy, who will serve as host.
"We’ll be celebrating all through the weekend with different things like a cake cutting, but Sunday is a throwback day… and I’ll be honest, that is one of our most popular days for day passes. People are looking forward to that," Waloschuk says.
The mainstage features some of the most high-profile artists of the weekend, while the two upper stages at the top of the hill allow the festival to take chances with an eclectic mixture of roots-rock bands, Americana acts and singer-songwriters with artists such as acclaimed Winnipeg songwriter Del Barber, swingin’ old-time country blues powerhouse Little Miss Higgins, Portage la Prairie favourites Doc Walker and indie-leaning B.C. group the Matinee.
The festival always adds a bit of classic rock into the mix, and this year Streetheart, Platinum Blonde and Guns N’ Roses tribute act Nightrain serve as the hilltop’s blast from the past.
After the live music ends, DJ Skene takes control of the party soundtrack.
The site also offers various other entertainment options including a beach volleyball tournament, a mechanical bull, helicopter rides, a marketplace, nightly socials with different themes and the second-annual bacon eating contest, which — surprise, surprise — proved to be a popular attraction.
"We started it last year centred around Canada Day: we thought, ‘What’s more Canadian that bacon and maple syrup?’ And it was such a hit we have to do it again," Waloschuk says.
In the beginning
Needless to say, there have been plenty of other changes at the festival site over the years.
For the inaugural event, performers and staff ate barbecue in an orange Hydro tent that kept blowing away until tractors showed up to serve as pegs to keep it in place.
Now, performers, staff, volunteers and VIPs eat catered meals in a deluxe dining tent.
The food service is just one of $2.6 million worth of improvements Countryfest has made to the site over the years.
Since those early days, the amphitheatre has expanded to 14,000 seats, the upper area has been paved, a VIP section was created, the permanent structures have been updated, the camping areas have been expanded to 4,500 spots — including an area for extra-large recreation vehicles — and the non-profit festival’s board bought a stage able to withstand anything Mother Nature throws at it.
"I remember on the 25th anniversary in 2014, we had torrential rains that destroyed places all over Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Highways were wiped out, but we never missed a show. That was the test of all tests," Waloschuk says.
In addition, the festival has put money into the city of Dauphin, with large financial contributions to its movie theatre, water park and recreation complex.
All of the volunteers at the festival are from local community groups who receive money for their time contributions.
"For a lot of them, this is their fundraising commitment for the year, so even if the festival just breaks even, it is a success for the community," Waloschuk notes, adding a study found the event brings in $9 million annually to the area.
"It’s made the community spirit behind it even stronger."
The festival has also established the Neil Peterson Countryfest Post-Secondary Scholarship in Music Education, named after the late director of programming who died in 2010, which is presented to a student planning to pursue post-secondary music studies or has already enrolled in the university music program.
Peterson and Waloschuk were friends who worked closely together over the years, as was Eric Irwin, the
"I often think of Eric. On a personal level when I’m making a decision or putting out fires, there are so many times I would ask myself, ‘What would Eric say, or what would Eric do?’" says Waloschuk.
"But I have a board of directors that’s extremely involved and it’s good. They are a big help."
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Another change since those early days is the cost of entertainment.
When Waloschuk started booking the festival in 1991, he had a budget of $150,000 for the entire lineup; this year the festival spent $3 million on talent.
In the end, it’s all worth it to Waloschuk when he sees the amphitheatre full and people singing along and having fun, he says.
"People who have never been to a festival here before, or who have just been to a festival in a field, say, the facilities we have here compared to festival in the entire country, this is not normal," he says proudly.
"And if you’re in the mood for all different kinds of music, this is the place to be."
Club Regent Casino and Event Centre Main Stage schedule