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.”