by Sheldon Birnie
Sunburnt and filthy as all get out, I’ve finally recovered here from my weekend out at Dauphin’s Countryfest.
While intermittent downpours maintained the muddy squalor of the backwoods music festival throughout the weekend, the sun was out plenty enough to provide a rocking base burn leading up to the Winnipeg Folk Festival next week. The quality and diversity of acts throughout the weekend was top notch. With plenty of good ole boys & gals and friendly faces, the weekend was “one for the books,” as my new pals from NCI declared.
I arrived Thursday, with just enough time to climb the hill to hang with the JD Edwards Band and catch up with the Sweet Alibi. For both acts, it was their first Countryfest experience.
“It’s pretty wild,” Amber Nielsen, from the Sweet Alibi, told me after their first set. “It’s a lot of mud sliding.”
“It’s a huge festival, it’s crazy,” added Michelle Anderson. “We’re really excited to be playing it, there’s tons of people here. My dad was talking about it, he loves country music, so he’s like ‘Wow! You’ve made it!'”
Despite torrential downpours, Justin Townes Earle, Lukas Nelson, and Shooter Jennings pulled no punches delivering their sets to the crowd at the mainstage later that night. Eric Irwin, president of Countryfest and also mayor of Dauphin, was particularly excited about Thursday’s line-up.
“I think they’re fantastic,” he told me Thursday afternoon.
Friday brought buddies Blake Berglund, Del Barber, and the Reverend Rambler to Dauphin, and they entertained the crowds with their respective brands of downhome country and folk music, while the F-Holes and Bad Country showed the Parkland what was up through to Sunday. Their performances had the crowd up and line dancing, two-stepping, and howling. I heard more than a few folks talking about Jimmy James’ roof scaling antics.
It was good to share a beer with those boys, and I hope it ain’t too long before we can do it again!
The rest of the weekend was a blur of music, beers, superstars and friends playing all over the hill and mainstage. Luke Bryan and Carrie Underwood completely packed the amphitheatre for their respective mainstage performances, and the roar of those crowds was deafening.
“There’s a reason that Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, and Luke Bryan have some star power,” Eric Irwin explained. “Because they put together really good shows.”
“I’m an old roots guy myself,” admitted Irwin, “so I really like that kind of music. Commercial country, well, it’s great, but it sometimes doesn’t have as much soul as the other stuff.”
To make up for it, Countryfest booked just about the best roots show you could hope for on Sunday afternoon. Hayes Carll, Ridley Bent [who gave Stylus a preview of his new album, Wild Card; look for that Feature to come later this summer], and Corb Lund rocked the mainstage hard on Sunday with “non-hit” after “non-hit” that had the gritty-country faithful hollering for more.
[photo by Todd Pederson]
“This is my third time [at Countryfest],” admitted Ridley Bent, as Hayes Carll played at the Corral Stage Sunday night. “It’s the only festival that’s quite like it. It’s … it’s crazy.”
All in all, the folks behind Dauphin Countryfest displayed why they are the longest running country festival in Canada, and one that continually commands the respect of local, national, and international acts year after year. Look for me to be there next year, friends.
And with that, it’s time to start packing for the Winnipeg Folk Fest. I’ll be posting a preview next Wednesday, before I hit the Highway on my trusty ten-speed and attempt the organized cycle from the Forks to Birds Hill for the first time. Don’t worry; I’ll be fully “hydrated” for the ride.