Country Fest entrenched in the Manitoulin calendar

The sixth edition, a pivotal one for Manitoulin Country Fest, is behind us.

By all reports, in spite of rainfall during Friday evening’s outdoor performance, the weekend was a big success and many happy campers, literally, will be back at the seventh event next year.

This is good news because it means that another major activity is firmly established on the Island’s events calendar.

The success to date of Manitoulin Country Fest is an interesting, perhaps casebook, study of a private business vision becoming established through a combination of local municipal, Ontario government, private sector and volunteer support.

The vision was, and remains, that of local impresarios Craig and Kelly Timmermans who, six years ago, began to think about a Manitoulin Island country music jamboree that would span several days and would showcase Canadian talent.

This year was the sixth such event over a five-year span and, significantly, Manitoulin Country Fest can be seen as having “arrived” as it was staged for the first time on its own property, complete with a purpose-built and permanent amphitheatre.

In its growth stage, over the initial five events, Manitoulin Country Fest was staged at the Low Island Park property that belongs to the people of the Northeast Town.

This was the event’s incubation period and the municipality saw such an activity located within its borders as a positive thing and so the use of the community park was donated as a place to host the event.

There was periodic controversy about some aspects of this arrangement, but successive councils felt encouraging such an endeavour, organized by people who are residents of the community, was important to support.

The positive community response to the very first event five years ago, together with this demonstration of tangible municipal support, almost certainly played an important role in Manitoulin Country Fest’s organizers being able to secure two substantial grants from Events Ontario over the years, money that was plowed back into the promotion of subsequent events to help build the brand and sell it to as many country music fans as possible and to encourage them to make Manitoulin a holiday destination in order to attend Manitoulin Country Fest.

The acquisition of substantial property (over 80 acres) right on the edge of Little Current a few years ago was a bonus and it gave the event a place to eventually move to.

This was a good example of the event investing in its own future and now, that’s exactly what has happened: Manitoulin Country Fest had been incubated on municipal property, the impresarios’ vision had been helped along with Ontario government event development funding and, this year, the private sector also came on board significantly when Manitoulin Transport assisted financially in the construction of the permanent amphitheatre stage (and in so doing naturally gained naming rights: the Manitoulin Transport Amphitheatre).

Many people who travel to country music jamborees come in motorhomes or other recreational vehicles, or are prepared to pitch a tent and stay in a community of like-minded enthusiasts close to where the music is played.

This year, all of this was accomplished and it is clear that the founders’ vision, early municipal support, Ontario government support, major private sector support together with the aid of the army of volunteers who help out annually have all conspired to turn Manitoulin Country Fest into a landmark annual event and have done so in a remarkably short timespan.

Manitoulin Country Fest is a private business. But it is an entertainment business and so has a particularly beneficial impact on its region, Manitoulin Island, and Little Current and area in particular.

It is always a good thing when events unfold in more or less the way that the people supporting them had hoped for.

It certainly appears that Manitoulin Country Fest has successfully grown through the happy congruencies of vision, support at many levels and being able to deliver an annual live entertainment product on Manitoulin for which there is clearly a ready market.