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Countryfest parties it up in a big way

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Usually the guest brings a present to a birthday party, but at Dauphin’s Countryfest, gifts of all kinds were handed out.
Canada’s longest running country music festival celebrated its 30th birthday over four days with headliners Old Dominion, Jason Aldean and Toby Keith, June 27 to 30.
“It’s been exciting. You know it’s a lot of reminiscing, a lot of people coming up saying we’ve been here for so many years,” said president Ann Ransom, adding board members were pleasantly surprised at the number of people who announced it was their first time at the festival.
“We don’t usually hear that anymore. The newer generation, we usually hear from, but the older generation that’s saying, ‘this is our first time at Countryfest’, that’s kind of cool.”
While the festival was not sold out, Ransom said the estimated 9,000 festival patrons occupied 3,500 campsites.
“Our camping numbers were the same as last year. We didn’t sell out, which has some pros and cons,” she noted.
“The pros are the camping units are getting larger and larger and larger and larger and it’s getting harder and harder to accommodate them. So by not having everything sold out, we were able to accommodate those bigger units a little bit more.”
The board will consider a reconfiguration of its campsites, Ransom said, as it was last mapped out about a decade ago and needs an upgrade.
“It’s one of those questions of how are we going to do it and still accommodate all our members who have sites and making sure that they still have the site that they’ve always had for the 30 years that they’ve been members. That’s the tricky part of it,” she added.
The site does have a premium camping area, she said, where patrons with larger units, such as buses, or 53-foot motor homes can be accommodated, but numbers are limited.
Going into the weekend, Ransom said, total sales of weekend passes were down from the previous year, but daily ticket sales increased.
“You know it’s just the way things are going. It’s very last minute purchasers and waiting to see what the weather forecast is. We were very fortunate we had a great weather forecast. So even though our weekend numbers are down, our dailies are better than what we expected. So it almost kind of evens it out, which is good for us,” she said.
Weather this weekend was a mixed bag of gifts, from high temperatures to rain and stage-clearing thunder storms.
Citing safety first, Ransom said both the Reklaws and Terri Clark’s sets were cut short due to lightning storms and patrons were cleared from the ampitheatre, along with upper stage performers.
She credited the Countryfest app for aiding in the process efficiently, as attendees were informed with push notifications to evacuate and then re-enter, twice Saturday evening.
“I was up in the social hall checking on things and all of a sudden, people were like, ‘oh we can go back to the ampitheatre’ and they were kept informed. If people are informed, they’re good. It’s when they don’t know, that is when they get frustrated,” Ransom said.
“We just found that was just a really useful use of our app for us. So it’s a nice communication tool, not to mention being able to give all that information about our line up and everything else.”
She anticipates some changes to the app, making it more user-friendly for patrons and staff, but credits a partnership with Bell MTS to install a booster tower two years ago as a big part of its success.
The tower improved connectivity for anyone on the hill, Ransom said, pointing out Selo Ukraina is used by the community, offering access at other events such as Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival, the Manitoba Mud Run and the upcoming 2020 Manitoba Games powered by Manitoba Hydro.
“So it’s kind of a nicety and also a necessity in that we definitely need it for our events,” she added.
Dauphin’s Countryfest gave an exclusive birthday present to its members offering weekend passes for 2020 to include free VIP bar upgrades.
Membership in the non-profit corporation supports the festival, Ransom said, and the upgrade was another way to say thank you. It costs $250 to become a member, she explained, which guarantees a campsite and the purchase of two weekend passes prior to general sales.
Currently, Dauphin’s Countryfest has approximately 2,500 members, Ransom said, compared to the total site population of 15,000.
Another gift to patrons required some effort, but Ransom was pleased with the roll out of the Trash for Treats program.
Dauphin’s Countryfest often receives negative publicity about the condition of some campsites, she said, so the program rewards patrons for cleaning up by offering a small gift for a bag of garbage, plus a ballot to enter to win tickets for next year.
The treats were donated from the community and corporate sponsors, Ransom said, such as a coupon for ice cream at Coffee Creations or a beer cozy from Molsons.
“We were overwhelmed with the uptake in it. OSS has been fabulous in that they come and take it away and it gets recycled,” she said, adding separating recycling earned extra ballots.
The program exceeded expectations, Ransom said, as it was launched in the lower campground, but patrons from the upper campground delivered their trash, in order to participate.
A vendor in the lower campsite also handed out reusable beverage containers and had a water refill station.
“I just talked to them today (Sunday). They said they gave out 780 refillable bottles, just yesterday. And then they have a big tanker truck that they’re filling them up again and they said people have just been coming back with them,” she said.
“Not only do we have an economic impact on our community, we’d also like to lessen our environmental impact on the community. So if we’re doing reusable, there’s less plastic going into our event. So that’s something we always like to see, too.”
Ransom offered kudos to the Dauphin Ochre Band Parents Organization and the Royal Canadian Air Cadets #50 Lt Colonel Barker VC Squadron for taking on site cleaning.
“They do it so well and so efficiently. And yes I know it’s a fund-raiser for them, but it’s a hard job,” she added.
“You know it’s not an easy task and they just do it with a lot of pride and they do such a great job. But then also, I know it’s not all going into my community landfill site. As a community citizen, if we can reduce that impact, the better it is for us.”
Ransom handed out more praise for approximately 1,500 volunteers from about 50 volunteer organizations involved in various capacities from gates, to clean up and sales.
“It’s been a busy and long weekend and kudos to all the volunteers, because it’s been a hot weekend to keep everybody upbeat and going,” she added.
Another gift to volunteers and festival patrons has been the addition of RFID (radio frequency identification) bracelets.
Currently an industry trend, the RFID bracelet has offered the festival several efficiencies, Ransom said, making entering the site quicker.
For example, she said, Wednesday afternoon, traffic backed up to Hwys. 5 and 10 was cleared in 45 minutes, improving the safety of patrons on the highway and keeping the main entrance clear throughout most of the weekend.
With the RFID bracelets, she noted, check in required less volunteers, so many were utilized elsewhere.
The board is investigating other options for the bracelets in the future, such as scanning it to purchase alcohol and eliminate liquor tokens.
The final gift from Dauphin’s Countryfest this year, is approximate $150,000 raised by volunteer organizations in the community.
“I wonder if people understood if Countryfest wasn’t here, what are you going to replace it with? So you’ve got all this fund-raising happening, what are you going to do if it wasn’t supported by the festival,” Ransom asked.
“And the same thing for Countryfest. We’re supported by the community. Luckily, we’ve got some great accommodations in town, so we’re able to put up people, we’ve got catering that’s able to help, we’ve got all this stuff at our disposal.
So it’s just how connected we are and that we’re all supporting each other. So as much as it’s a festival, it’s a really huge community economic development project, if you want to put it that way. So yeah, it’s interesting just to sort of see how we’re all connected.”

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M. A. Nyquist
REPORTER
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