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This article was published 30/6/2016 (1306 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
During its 27 years, Dauphin’s Countryfest has gained a reputation for booking top-notch country acts and attracting hard-partying country music fans.
It doesn’t take long for the festival’s sprawling campground to turn into party-central, but on Thursday morning festivalgoers were still setting up the sites that would be their homes for the next four days.
The party games, however, were already in full force.
"People get really excited about it," Kristen Timmerman said while explaining the Wheel of Fortune-style drinking game set up on the edge of her campsite. "Sometimes we get huge groups and last year Blackjack Billy came by and spun the wheel and hung out with us for a while."
Walking through the rows upon rows of motorhomes, trailers and tents, it’s obvious that the party-game culture has become an ingrained part of the campground. At every second site, people holding red plastic cups are crowded around games like ladder ball, bean bag toss and flip cup.
Venturing further north into the Back 40 section of the grounds, a group of campers were busy erecting a shade tarp while their friends played a monster game of beer pong — with red spray-painted garbage cans acting as the cups and soccer balls standing in for larger-than-life ping pong balls.
"It’s a great way to meet people all around you because everyone wants to play," said Paige Kohlenberg, who made the game at home and lugged it all the way from Winnipeg.
Kohlenberg has been coming to Countryfest for nine years and is camping with a group of 21 friends this year. She says the festival is usually the best part of her summer.
"I love going to the creek ... and the concerts are always so great," she said, adding that she was looking forward to seeing Alberta’s High Valley play on Friday. "Once you come here you can’t not come back, everyone’s so friendly."
In the middle of the raucous campground, Hughie Beals and his wife were busy setting up their motorhome in a quiet stand of trees on Thursday. The couple from near Swan River have been coming to Countryfest for the past 15 years and they’ve snagged the same secluded campsite for 10 of them.
"We hear the partiers but it’s not right next door to us," Beals said, adding that his kids and grandkids were also coming up for the weekend. "We don’t see as much of it anymore because we’re here, we did lots of partying ourselves back in the day."
On Thursday, Countryfest was a couple thousand bodies short of its 14,000 person capacity.
"I call it a schizophrenic organization," Countryfest president Eric Irwin said. "Some years we sell out in the first hour and we spend the rest of the winter fielding phone calls ... when it’s just a bit of an off year, we spend the year marketing like crazy."
Irwin says the four day festival costs roughly $3.5 million to put on, more than half of which goes towards paying artists — something that was particularly expensive this year because of the low loonie. Despite all that, the president — and mayor of Dauphin — still expects to turn a profit.
Last year, a scheduling commitment meant Countryfest took place the week before Canada Day. Irwin says he’s happy to be celebrating the country’s birthday again, especially considering this year’s Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Main Stage lineup.
"You’ve got Autumn Hill and High Valley and Dallas Smith and Dean Brody, between them they won all of the awards at the (Canadian Country Music Association Awards) last year," Irwin said. "There’s Canada Day across the country and we have a little community of 10,000 and all of the award-winning country music artists are here — that’s pretty amazing."
Saturday’s lineup includes main stage acts Thomas Rhett and Lady Antebellum, with artists like Aaron Prichett, JJ Shiplett and Leaf Rapids playing on side stages throughout the day. Countryfest wraps up on Sunday with headliners Dwight Yoakam and Terri Clark as well as a tribute to the late American country singer, Merle Haggard — who was scheduled to play Countryfest this year, but passed away suddenly in April at the age of 79.
Tickets are still available online and at the gates, visit countryfest.ca for more information.
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