This is the festival that stands as a model for all other events of its type in Canada and beyond.
Dauphin’s Countryfest yesterday announced country music superstar Carrie Underwood — one of the hottest female recording artists in the world at the moment — will headline the Sunday night lineup at the 24th edition next year.
And for an event that was started to support the Selo Ukraina site dedicated to promoting the awareness and preservation of Ukrainian heritage and culture, Countryfest is now Canada’s longest-running country music festival and one of the largest outdoor music events in Manitoba. Over the year, it has featured such acts as Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Terri Clark, Toby Keith, Bachman & Turner, Charlie Major, Kim Mitchell, Reba, Joe Ely and Nazareth.
Some 12,000 people can be often found on the site each day of the festival, which attracts the widest range of music fans imaginable. From young, wild partiers to older, grey-haired country music fans. And while there are always a few incidents — some tragic — at the site to keep police and media busy.
And it wasn’t always a smooth ride for organizers.
Countryfest was the biggest festival in the province throughout most of the 1990s, when commercial country music hit its peak. It attracted 10,000 fans a day and could have packed in more if the festival didn’t place a cap on attendance.
When turnouts began to thin out, Countryfest beefed up its roots and traditional component in an effort to improve both the quality of the music and bring in a few more fans from the province’s only large urban centre.
The hope was to attract some more Winnipeggers with a slightly re-focused music roster, which eventually came to include rock acts on the secondary stage.
After 14 years in operation, Countryfest needed and received a shot in the arm from the province.
At the time, Countryfest attracted 7,000 to 8,000 people to the Selo Ukraina site on the slopes of Riding Mountain, 10 kilometres south of Dauphin. So it received $20,000 from the province after turnouts started to thin out, the Winnipeg Free Press reported at the time.
And the move worked (it still receives some government funding as well as sponsorships from several crown corporations).
The non-profit event’s annual economic impact on the Dauphin area is pegged at $9.8 million. Festival profits are invested in site upgrades — such as a new sports bar in the on-site ‘mini mall’ — and donated to community projects.
For example, just a while back Countryfest contributed $400,000 to replacing Dauphin’s old movie theatre, which burned down, with a four-screen, community-owned multiplex.
And performers and fans at the 23rd Countryfest performed under a new $650,000 permanent steel roof, stage floor on the outdoor stage.
And without that rental cost, large concerts could be feasible to produce at other times of the year, festival president Eric Irwin (who is also the mayor of Dauphin) told the Winnipeg Free Press last year.
While the four-day Countryfest has thousands of loyal fans, it’s not the instant sellout it once was. But it’s a steady draw and a boon to the City of Dauphin and the Parkland region as a whole.
The 2013 event runs June 27-30. Tickets for 2013 Countryfest go on sale Nov. 19.
Oh, we almost forgot to mention — Countryfest was awarded the 2012 Philanthropist of the Year Award from the Dauphin & District Community Foundation.
So while the event has a reputation for being a bit rowdy at times, the tenters and motorhome crowd rally do seem to get along.
And Countryfest delivers so much to the community, it’s an event that deserves to be supported.
Especially if it can land such big-name acts as Carrie Underwood.