Dauphin’s mojo has returned.

Dauphin’s mojo has returned.

The western Manitoba city is abuzz this week as it prepares for Dauphin’s Countryfest, a kooky combination of country music and thousands of hearty partiers letting loose amid hundreds of campers, tents and RVs of all shapes and sizes.

Countryfest schedule

Thursday, June 30 (Bell MTS Stage)

3 p.m.: Chris Micheal
4:30 p.m.: Karissa Hoffart
6 p.m.: Banned and Outlawed
7:30 p.m: Jade Turner
9 p.m.: Charlie Major
11 p.m.: Corb Lund
12:30 a.m.: DJ Johnny Rivex

Thursday, June 30 (Bell MTS Stage)

3 p.m.: Chris Micheal
4:30 p.m.: Karissa Hoffart
6 p.m.: Banned and Outlawed
7:30 p.m: Jade Turner
9 p.m.: Charlie Major
11 p.m.: Corb Lund
12:30 a.m.: DJ Johnny Rivex

Friday, July 1 Mainstage

3:30 p.m.: Don Amero
5 p.m.: Jess Moskaluke
7 p.m.: Washboard Union
8:30 p.m.: Terri Clark
10 p.m.: Paul Brandt

Saturday, July 2 Mainstage

2 p.m.: Nate Haller
3:30 p.m.: Jade Eagleson
5 p.m.: The Reklaws
7 p.m.: Chad Brownlee
8:30 p.m.: Dean Brody
10 p.m.: Dallas Smith

Sunday, July 3 Mainstage

1 p.m.: Madeline Merlo
2:30 p.m.: Tyler Joe Miller
4 p.m.: Doc Walker
6:30 p.m.: Michelle Wright
8 p.m.: Hunter Brothers
9:30 p.m.: Johnny Reid

"It’s huge to have Countryfest back. It’ll not only be great for Dauphin but for businesses in and around the community. It’ll be exciting," says Dauphin Mayor Christian Laughland. "Countryfest is a huge economic piece to the City of Dauphin. It’s one of the drivers that makes our community go."

The influx of country music fans from across the country transforms Dauphin, an agricultural and retail hub of 8,500 people, into party central, where Countryfest campers fill up the local big-box stores in search of camping supplies, food and beverages to last the weekend.

"You really see it on Main Street… I grew up in Vancouver, so it’s kind of cool to see that big city come to the small town," Laughland says. "It’s an influx of about 10,000 people-plus for an event like this. I think people around the city really like it, and love to see people come in and enjoy what we live around 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

The event, which begins Thursday night and runs until late Sunday night at the Selo Ukraina concert site south of the city, is a Canada Day tradition in Dauphin that’s been missing since 2019.

The 2020 Countryfest was one of countless entertainment events around the world wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2021 event faced the same fate a year later.

So it’s been three years since Countryfest staff and volunteers have had to prepare for Manitoba’s biggest party — but general manager Rob Waloschuk says getting back on the horse hasn’t been too much of a struggle.

"You find yourself a little rusty, and then you think to yourself ‘Didn’t we do this last year?’ It’s a little weird, but we’re getting there," Waloschuk says. "It’s just a matter of getting it all back together and remembering how we used to do things. It’s like riding a bike, though."

CHELSEA KEMP / THE BRANDON SUN FILES</p>'It’s an influx of about 10,000 people-plus for an event like this,' Dauphin Mayor Christian Laughland said.

CHELSEA KEMP / THE BRANDON SUN FILES

'It’s an influx of about 10,000 people-plus for an event like this,' Dauphin Mayor Christian Laughland said.

After the 2020 event was cancelled, Countryfest announced it would go with an all-Canadian lineup for its next show, fearing difficulties bringing American acts across the border amid the pandemic’s uncertainty.

The decision may have kept tickets and campground passes sales down compared with pre-pandemic days when the likes of Keith Urban, Dwight Yoakam and Florida Georgia Line performed at Countryfest, but Waloschuk says the 6,000 to 7,000 attendees each night in 2022 will provide plenty of enthusiasm for headliners Terri Clark and Paul Brandt (Friday night), Dean Brody and Dallas Smith (Saturday) and Johnny Reid on Sunday.

"You can’t say we don’t have the best of the best of this country coming here this year, and some of them haven’t played in a couple of years either at this scale. They’re all excited, and we’re all excited," says Waloschuk. "It goes without saying Johnny Reid is just a guarantee for us every time."

Also on the weekend mainstage bill are up-and-coming Canadian country acts such as Winnipeg’s Don Amero (Friday, 3:30 p.m.) Ontario’s the Reklaws (Saturday at 5 p.m.) and B.C.’s Tyler Joe Miller (Sunday at 2:30 p.m.), whose singles Pillow Talkin’ and Sometimes I Don’t, But Sometimes I Do became No. 1 country hits in the pandemic’s early months of 2020.

<p>SUPPLIED</p><p>Dallas Smith closes Saturday night’s show.</p>

SUPPLIED

Dallas Smith closes Saturday night’s show.

A bunch of Manitoba acts play on the hilltop stages over the weekend, including Doc Walker, Boy Golden, David James, Kendra Kay and Desiree Dorion, who grew up near the Countryfest site and still lives close by.

Smith, who closes Saturday night’s show, says Canadian country artists can put on just as good a party as their American counterparts.

"Country music in Canada here, we can stand on our own 100 per cent, so it’s about time we have these kinds of days," Smith said in an interview with the Free Press prior to a concert in May in Winnipeg. "I’m glad it’s happening."

The Vancouver-based singer has a soft spot for Dauphin. His first appearance at the Selo Ukraina’s mainstage was in 2012, his first year on Canada’s country festival circuit after leaving the grunge group Default.

"I cut my teeth at the Countryfest. I played the 2:30 p.m. slot on the mainstage in the heat, played a 30-minute, 45-minute set, and it was one of my first shows as a solo artist," Smith remembers. "That night we played up on the beer stage, on the hilltop, and I remember being new to the genre and there was a young, drunk crowd who really liked what we were doing."

AMBER BRACKEN / CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p>Corb Lund will perform exclusively for Countryfest passholders who chose to hang onto their 2020 tickets for two years rather than taking a refund Countryfest offered.

CP

AMBER BRACKEN / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Corb Lund will perform exclusively for Countryfest passholders who chose to hang onto their 2020 tickets for two years rather than taking a refund Countryfest offered.

While mainstage performances begin Friday, the fun traditionally begins Thursday night at the hilltop stage that overlooks Selo Ukraina’s steep grandstand and stage.

This year, though, Corb Lund and Charlie Major will perform exclusively for Countryfest passholders who chose to hang onto their 2020 tickets for two years rather than taking a refund Countryfest offered.

It’s a tip of the cowboy hat to the 3,000 to 4,000 die-hards, Waloschuk says.

"We can’t thank them enough, such loyal fans for us, members, and those who just said, ‘We’re going to go anyways, keep our money — you guys survive so we can come when it’s ready to come back,’" says Waloschuk. "This is our one way of trying to do a little bit for them."

The break in the action at Selo Ukraina — it’s also home to Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival, held on the August long weekend — has allowed the site crew to build new stairs on the grandstand, renovate bathrooms and upgrade showers in the Countryfest’s campgrounds.

<p> MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES </p>
A long break in the concert action on the Selo Ukraina grounds has allowed the site crew to build new stairs on the grandstand, renovate bathrooms and upgrade showers in the Countryfest’s campgrounds. The backstage area has also been renovated for artists, says Rob Waloschuk.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

A long break in the concert action on the Selo Ukraina grounds has allowed the site crew to build new stairs on the grandstand, renovate bathrooms and upgrade showers in the Countryfest’s campgrounds. The backstage area has also been renovated for artists, says Rob Waloschuk.

"Not that the public sees, but the backstage area has been all renovated for artists too, so things are looking quite nice," Waloschuk says.

Countryfest organizers decided it will follow provincial pandemic guidelines, and the province’s decision to scale back COVID-19 restrictions means masks will not required at the outdoor event — Waloschuk says attendees are welcome to wear them — and there will be no requirements to be vaccinated.

Smith returned to a regular concert schedule in 2022 and has noticed all the fans looking to shed two years of pandemic anxiety — at least for a long weekend.

"I think everybody’s ready to spend some fun time together, celebrate live music and have some fun," he says.

alan.Small@winnipegfreepress.com

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small
Reporter

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.