DAUPHIN — Mud, music and mayhem.
Bouts of rain weren’t enough to stop Dauphin’s Countryfest from living up to its reputation, and festivalgoers didn’t so much battle the storms as embrace them.
In the sea of camping trailers sprawled over Selo Ukraina — the festival site located south of Dauphin — some spent the wet Friday afternoon scrambling to find shelter, while others believed it was the perfect opportunity to go swimming in the mud.
However, not all of the 14,000 ticket-holders were so inclined. For Brandonites Rhonda and Terry Maksymetz, who have been coming to the festival for eight years, it’s as much about the music as it is to open their camper door to familiar faces.
While less-than-sober young festivalgoers wrestled in the mud, the couple sat back under their awning with a vodka-like home brew in hand and enjoyed the messy entertainment, happy to be back for yet another year.
"The kids here are so much better than in the city," Terry said. "Good farm kids and even the kids from Brandon change when they get here."
The couple have been coming to the same spot most of their Countryfest tenure, and Rhonda has become a sort of mother figure for younger people around them.
"If you’re passed out in a chair, I got bug spray and a blanket," she said with a laugh. "And we feed them breakfast."
Folks caught in the rain were on the lookout for any roof and a dry spot, and new friends were quickly made over a beer under soggy skies.
"Everyone is so friendly. If you don’t know the people, you just go over and talk to them," Rhonda said.
With the festival getting bigger and bigger each year, there are always new faces being added to familiar ones. But if someone admits it’s their first year at Countryfest within earshot of the Brandon couple, they might regret it.
"Another Countryfest virgin!" Rhonda yelled. "That calls for tequila!"
Next door, redneck pride was alive and well.
Marshall Manns and friends spent the afternoon competing in the Redneck Olympics, a series of challenges including a horseshoe toss with a toilet seat.
Festival security staff said Thursday and Friday’s rains dampened any serious trouble around the stages and while RCMP were present on the campground, it wasn’t obvious to many campers.
Each year, more people come from all over Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario to take in Countryfest. And this year’s festival has even more appeal, with big names such as Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley taking the stage.
In a conscious effort by organizers to cater to a wider audience, the scope of the music has also broadened with acts like Canadian electro-rockers Econoline Crush, Ontario folk heroes the Sadies and the Crooked Brothers.
Since the festival’s humble inaugural season 24 years ago, Dauphin resident Morris Halabisky has been coming back every year. As Countryfest’s size and reputation has grown to what it is today — a highly popular music festival with a $4-million budget — Halabisky has witnessed many changes.
In that first year, Halabisky and his wife had no tent — they slept in his Dodge Monaco.
"It was something," the 72-year-old said Friday in the comfort of his 27-foot trailer.
"A lot more young people now than then," he said. "There used to be a lot more old people coming."
Even after years of suffering from a bad knee that made it next to impossible to walk through the mud, nothing has kept the lifetime pass-holder from coming back year after year.
"It’s a nice place to be," he said. "Good neighbours all around. We’ll keep coming as long as we can."
The festival continues through tomorrow night, but tickets are sold out — they were snapped up over 12 hours in November.