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Boots on the ground

Superstars align for 27th edition of Dauphin's Countryfest on 150th Canada Day weekend

Tim Smith / Brandon Sun</p><p>Country artist Johnny Reid.</p>

Tim Smith / Brandon Sun

Country artist Johnny Reid.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/6/2017 (1064 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Since 1990, Dauphin has gone from a sleepy Prairie town to one of Canada’s places to be on the Canada Day weekend.

That’s the power of Countryfest, Canada’s longest-running country music festival, which celebrates its 27th anniversary when it kicks off Thursday afternoon at the Selo Ukraina amphitheatre just south of the city of 8,400.

The festival began in 1990 with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as the headline act, and since then it has grown into a three-stage buffet of music and good times that’s become an important stop for country artists the world over. The list of all the performers who have come to Countryfest is a who’s who of country, folk, roots and rock ‘n’ roll, from Dwight Yoakam and Ian Tyson to present-day chart-toppers such as Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum.

Chris Pizzello / Invision</p><p>Keith Urban headlines Dauphin's Countryfest.</p>

Chris Pizzello / Invision

Keith Urban headlines Dauphin's Countryfest.

This year’s party has the makings of being the biggest Countryfest yet, as organizers will be bringing in Australian superstar Keith Urban, Nashville sensation Luke Bryan and Canadian crooner Johnny Reid to perform Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, respectively.

"Without a doubt, I would challenge this lineup to anybody in this country to match or better it. It’s the biggest and best we’ve ever had in Dauphin," says Countryfest promoter Rob Waloschuk. "At any given time there’s a place for acts this size. There’s a hundred places these acts could be playing. For Dauphin to get two of them on the same weekend.... Was there a bit of luck involved with it this year? Definitely, there was a bit of luck involved.

"At the same time, these two artists have been here; Luke’s been here once before, Keith’s been here twice before. That part made it easier. You don’t have to sell them on the event."

The big names mean more logistical demands on Countryfest organizers not just to placate some of the music industry’s best-known acts, but also to meet the growing expectations of fans.

"When you have over 40 bands it becomes overwhelming at times just trying to juggle and co-ordinate things," Waloschuk says. "Limited resources in Dauphin, too. It becomes a bit of a challenge.

"Bigger names like Luke Bryan and Keith Urban, they come with a complete entourage, all of which are necessary because they want to put on the best show they possibly can.

"An act like Luke Bryan is bringing four semi loads of his own stuff to put on stage to put on a show, and that, of course, comes with his own crews. It makes for a heck of a show, but the behind the scenes can be pretty hectic."

They also bring in truckloads of hits. Urban recently won four trophies at this year’s CMT Music Awards, including Video of the Year for the hit Blue is My Color. Away from the stage, he’s known notably for being the husband of Australian actress Nicole Kidman; the couple celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary on June 25.

But Waloschuk says Urban’s personality resembles the down-home attitudes of his fans rather than the rarified atmosphere of music celebrity.

Chris Pizzello / Invision</p><p>Luke Bryan</p>

Chris Pizzello / Invision

Luke Bryan

"I tell you what, that guy is the real deal," he says. "He is one of the most talented singers-musicians-entertainers in the industry today. And he’s truly genuine, as well. There’s a lot of guys who have a lot of hits, but when you see Keith Urban’s show, man that guy is great. He can do it all."

Bryan’s country music accolades are just as impressive as Urban’s, with his 2015 album Kill the Lights helping him earn the Top Country Artist honour at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards.

Reid has become a Canadian country music phenomenon starting in 1988, winning four Juno Awards and co-hosting the 2014 awards’ television gala in Winnipeg.

"Johnny Reid has been at Dauphin, I think this will be his fourth or fifth time," Waloschuk says. "He started as not even a headliner on one of our upper stages and and he worked his way up and worked his way up."

Countryfest organizers are pumped about Urban, Bryan and Reid performing this year, but their excitement pales in comparison to Countryfest newcomers such as Byron Falk and the Half-time Cowboys, who play Countryfest’s Bell MTS Stage Friday afternoon.

The 28-year-old Grunthal singer released his first EP Tuesday night at Winnipeg’s Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club, and his reaction to getting a Countryfest invite is not a lot different than a professional golfer getting his first chance to play at the Masters.

"I think it’s a game-changer for me, that’s for sure," says Falk, who spent the last year penning tunes and working with Winnipeg guitarist Grant Siemens, who played on and produced the record. "As hard as it is to get a featured spot on stage, it’s also pretty cool that they’re supporting Manitoba acts."

Countryfest’s mainstage, which has bleachers to accommodate 12,000, is built onto a hillside, and at the top of the hill there are two other stages — covered, a big bonus if it’s raining. The music begins at 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 29, with Portage’s Doc Walker headlining at 11:45 p.m. The James Barker Band has the prime slot on Friday night — they take the Bell MTS Stage after Urban’s mainstage show with Vancouver’s the Washboard Union filling the same role after Bryan on Saturday night.

For the Washboard Union, 2016 winners of the CCMA Rising Star Award, Countryfest is one stop on a cross-country blitz of country and roots music festivals this summer.

"It’s always a festival we’ve wanted to play, and we’re so excited to be coming this year, let alone playing on Canada Day," says vocalist and banjo player Chris Duncombe. "It’s a festival with a long tradition and we’re honoured to be invited to play."

Countryfest was initially launched to raise money to develop the Selo Ukraina site, which is used for several other community events every year. For 2017, organizers have adapted to the growing size of recreational vehicles and added a new premium campground that can take on the bigger units, Waloschuk says.

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

Alan Small

Alan Small
Arts and Life Editor

Alan Small was named the editor of the Free Press Arts and Life section in January 2013 after almost 15 years at the paper in a variety of editing roles.

Read full biography


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