DAUPHIN — It’s no secret that country music fans have been making memories in Manitoba for 24 years. Now, in honour of Dauphin Countryfest’s 25th anniversary, a new documentary reveals the excitement and tradition behind the music and mayhem.
"Countryfest: The Story of Canada’s Longest Running Country Music Festival" tracks the unlikely growth from humble grassroots beginnings to becoming the longest running country music festival in Canada. Viewers can watch it on MTS Stories from Home on MTS TV.
The 44-minute documentary was directed by Steve Langston of Dirty T Shirt Productions — who grew up in Brandon — and produced by Howard Wirch of Dauphin. Countryfest has been part of both their lives and communities for the past 24 years, and they wanted to share the festival’s unique story with others.
"We wanted to show people who have never been to Dauphin’s Countryfest what it’s all about," Langston said.
"We also wanted to connect with fans of Countryfest to find out why they keep coming back year after year, and what the festival means to them today. For those reasons, we made this documentary."
Dauphin’s Countryfest is now an iconic summer event in Manitoba, said Cam Bennett, executive producer at MTS TV. "The film captures the spirit and history of the festival beautifully. It’s the next best thing to being there."
Eric Irwin, president of Dauphin’s Countryfest, said festival officials are "very proud of Steve and the work he has done ... We’ve known for a long time how special our festival is, and now with this documentary, the rest of the world will know about Countryfest, too."
The festival was launched in Dauphin in 1989 when a group of local citizens devised a plan to help the community preserve an amphitheatre just south of the town. They hatched the idea for an annual community-owned country music festival to help draw tourists to the area.
Countryfest now attracts the biggest names in country music, including Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Zac Brown Band, Reba McIntyre and Carrie Underwood.
With a capacity of 14,000, the unique outdoor amphitheatre built into the side of a naturally occurring hill provides every patron a perfect view from any seat in the house.
Dauphin’s Countryfest is a not-for-profit organization that consists of a 12-member volunteer board of directors and a membership of more than 2,000 loyal supporters.
Organizers credit more than 2,000 volunteers who work tirelessly each year providing essential services for the festival weekend while fundraising for their respective community organizations. Countryfest contributes approximately $150,000 annually toward these organizations for providing these services.
Countryfest was named a finalist at the prestigious Canadian Tourism Awards in 2013, nominated for Tourism Event of the Year. The festival was also awarded the 2012 Philanthropist of the Year Award from the Dauphin and District Community Foundation, given to individuals or businesses that show the true spirit of philanthropy and giving.
For his documentary, Langston and his team used swooping helicopter shots to show the scope of the massive festival. Then they take viewers into campgrounds to hang out with lively characters who have parked themselves and their RVs for their favourite weekend of the year.
Finally, they duck behind-the-scenes for glimpses at the volunteer parking assistants, cleanup crews and many other volunteers — all of whom are integral to keeping the massive operation running.
Watch the official trailer of "Countryfest: The Story of Canada’s Longest Running Country Music Festival" on YouTube.