Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - EN­TER­TAIN­MENT -

The rain started at 1 p.m. Satur­day af­ter­noon and didn’t let up un­til coun­try star Blake Shel­ton took the stage. “It’s a chal­lenge but the show goes on,” Ir­win says. “We still had 500 diehards out there this af­ter­noon for the singer/song­writ­ers. They’re here no mat­ter what.” Ir­win fig­ures it’s the worst weather the fes­ti­val has seen since 1993, when flash floods wiped out roads.

While there are cer­tainly fes­ti­val-go­ers such as Fi­dler who stick to the camp­site, they seem to be in the mi­nor­ity. The am­phithe­atre was packed Satur­day night, fans danc­ing, singing and scream­ing in the rain.

Shel­ton’s set was a fes­ti­val high­light, the talk of the beer lines. Dal­las Smith, for­merly the lead singer of De­fault, was a sur­prise Satur­day night; coun­try sounds good on him. And he does a pretty de­cent cover of Lorde’s Roy­als. The vibe was sim­i­lar Fri­day night,

Jor­dan Fi­dler, a 19-year-old Univer­sity of Man­i­toba law stu­dent, and his bud­dies are trudg­ing through a par­tic­u­larly thick patch of mud. One of them has lost a flip-flop. “If I were to give any ad­vice, it’d be bring good shoes,” Fi­dler says. “My feet are (ex­ple­tive).”

It’s his first time at the fes­ti­val and he’s been par­ty­ing ev­ery night un­til 7 a.m. He’s shirt­less and cov­ered in mud. There’s even mud on his chin. “I haven’t ac­tu­ally been to any con­certs yet,” he con­fesses.

His friend, Tyler Chem­bell, 20, has been com­ing for a cou­ple of years. For him, it’s about the mu­sic and the peo­ple. “Ev­ery­one’s here for the same rea­son,” he says. In­deed, mu­sic fes­ti­vals can be uni­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. So can tor­ren­tial down­pours.

A trio of young women — El­lary Austin, 20, of Bois­se­vain, Maryssa Za­jaros, 18, and Kris­ten Cyr, 20 of Winnipeg — are wan­der­ing the camp­ground in the pour­ing rain, tak­ing in the sights. Za­jaros and Cyr have just met Austin. Fast friend­ships form here. “I’m com­ing un­til I’m old and wrinkly,” Za­jaros says of the fes­ti­val. It’s her sec­ond year. First-timer Cyr has been con­verted. “It’s of­fi­cial,” the young roofer says. “I want to start look­ing at trail­ers.” Wise woman. when Black­jack Billy, Lee Brice and the Band Perry had rev­ellers out danc­ing in the rain. Juno win­ner Brett Kis­sel packed out one of the hill­top stages af­ter the main­stage had wrapped up and the rain turned to mist.

This writer’s Coun­tryfest discovery was the Boom Chucka Boys, a blaz­ing coun­try-rock act out of Red Deer, Alta. This was a home­com­ing for lead gui­tarist Joel Rath­jen; in 1977, he was named the sec­ond-cutest baby in Dauphin.

Ir­win cred­its the qual­ity of the mu­si­cal pro­gram­ming with the fes­ti­val’s longevity. “We’ve worked hard to cre­ate a re­la­tion­ship in terms of cus­tomer ser­vice and peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate that — but how many bod­ies does that re­ally bring in? But then you add Blake Shel­ton. We try to bring in in-de­mand coun­try acts.”

By Sun­day morn­ing, the camp­ground looked like a flooded apoc­a­lyp­tic waste­land — com­plete with zom­bies — lit­tered with beer cans, aban­doned flip-flops and di­lap­i­dated tents. Peo­ple sur­veyed their del­uged sites and traded sto­ries about the night be­fore. A trio of row­dies floated on a pool raft, toast­ing the ever-per­sis­tent rain with Jack Daniel’s. If the show must go on, so must the party.

Nicole Dorge, 56, and her fam­ily ac­ci­den­tally found them­selves in the no­to­ri­ous Back 40, which she chalks up to lack of ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s en­ter­tain­ing, though,” she says, rais­ing a brow. She and the fam­ily were hang­ing out Satur­day af­ter­noon, tak­ing shel­ter from the rain un­der her trailer’s awning.

“I’m sur­prised at how many kids are here. I had no idea.”

The Lorette res­i­dent said the kids are mostly well­be­haved. “They come and in­tro­duce them­selves. They say, ‘Hi neigh­bour.’ ” They don’t ex­actly of­fer re­prieve from the party. “You maybe get a break be­tween 6 and 8 a.m.” Still, she’s not both­ered by it.

“They’re hav­ing a good time,” she says. “We were all kids once.”

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