LITTLE CURRENT—They came, they saw, they listened and then they danced the night away. Enthusiastic crowds enjoyed Manitoulin Country Fest 2018 from the first drum roll on Thursday night through to the final guitar chord on Saturday—while a lucky crew took to the water aboard North Channel Cruise Line’s Le Grand Heron for the Wednesday night country music cruise with the incomparable George Canyon.

The Manitoulin Country Fest main stage ignited with Genevieve Fisher who showed how she has earned six top 50 country hits nationally and earned Female Artist of the Year nominations at the 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 Country Music Association of Ontario Music Awards.

The high energy River Town Saints translated their small town Ottawa Valley roots onto the big Island and wowed the crowd with songs anyone with rural roots can relate to. The crowd really found a home in the band’s third single ‘Bonfire.’

But then Thursday night was all George Canyon all the way, as the Canadian country music legend brought his powerful voice and lyrics onstage to create a memorable Manitoulin Country Fest experience. There are an elite group of performers who capture the hearts and minds of an audience and hold them sacred in the palm of their hand—Mr. Canyon is one of those special people who can break down the star barrier to enfold fans into his family.

The second night of Manitoulin Country Fest had a high bar to meet, but starting out with the phenomenal Brea Lawrenson, who also hails from the Ottawa Valley, the scene was definitely set. An indie performer, Ms. Lawrenson is a storyteller of the first rank, able to weave emotions into words and notes to create a tapestry that kept her audience enthralled.

Beverley Mahood is the veteran songstress who has done double duty as mistress of ceremonies at Manitoulin Country Fest with an unflagging positive energy that helps feed the festival vibe. But taking to the stage with her friend Leah Daniels, she brought an energy and power to match. The two young women combined great vocals with an energetic performance that pulled everyone listening and watching right along with them. There was no mistaking that everyone, band members included, were having the time of their lives.

Oh, but Caroll Baker. Legendary seems too small a word to describe a woman who has been charting with country hits since the 1960s. Although all of the Manitoulin Country Fest performances were stellar, Ms. Baker was the only singer to receive a spontaneous standing ovation from nearly every member of the crowd seated from the back rows to the front when she exited the stage.

Ms. Baker engaged the crowd when she brought Little Current’s Mark Schraeder up on stage to impart a little relationship advice. Ms. Baker shared that she has been happily married for 50 years; Mr. Schraeder is working on his fifth anniversary and is aiming for 50.

Aaron Goodvin has made the leap from songwriter to all-round performing artist and Manitoulin Country Fest came out the winner. Mr. Goodvin is an up and coming mover in the country music scene and he had the crowd bouncing as a lead up to the force of nature called Billy Ray Cyrus.

Mr. Cyrus was a perfect cap to the Friday night scene, refusing to take himself too seriously (“Don’t tell anyone that Hanna Montana’s dad was up here talking s**t”) but touching on plenty of serious topics all the same. Mr. Cyrus turned over his time in the spotlight to US Navy veteran Derek Jones, who he was promoting as “the next big thing, you heard him first here.”

Mr. Cyrus noted that he owes much of his success to a Vietnam veteran who wrote his smash hit ‘Achy Breaky Heart.’ “That song changed my life,” said Mr. Cyrus, who dedicated his song ‘Some Gave All’ to veterans who have died serving their country.

Country 103 Indie Highlight Contest winner Kyle Dunn opened the final day of Manitoulin Country Fest and the singer/songwriter from Kingston’s single ‘Open Road’ proved to be a big hit, as did his latest ‘We are the North,’ a celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.

The powerful voice of Dani Strong rings out from both her Ontario and British Columbia homes, especially since her debut album ‘Time to Breathe’ reached number one on the iTunes country charts. The Manitoulin Country Fest audience members who were not yet familiar with her work quickly warmed to the engaging singer and her new single ‘Rollin.’

Sudbury’s Andrew Hyatt has gone from the nickel mine to mining his passion of country music and the ore on display at Manitoulin Country Fest was both rich and deep. It’s nice to see a home boy (well almost, Sudbury’s pretty close) doing so well and the crowd was clearly willing to adopt Mr. Hyatt as one of their own.

Leaving Thomas has been to Manitoulin before, having served as entertainment on board the cruise ship Pearl Mist when it tied up in the Port of Little Current a couple of years ago. Since then the duo has not looked back and they have moved from being a cover band to writing and performing their own material. Judging by the reception they received, the world will soon be their oyster.

Dan Davidson’s crew may hail from all points of the compass, but when they get together it is pure magic. The band rocked the stage with a vengeance, bringing a youthful exuberance that establishes country is in good hands.

A moment of true romance took to the stage when festival organizers Craig and Kelly Timmermans escorted Nick Eveleigh and Israel Miron onto centre stage. Ms. Miron seemed curious as to why the couple were there, but her curiosity quickly turned to shock and delight as Mr. Eveleigh bent down on his knee before her and presented a ring.

A few moments later a jubilant Mr. Eveleigh leapt to his feet to proclaim “she said yes!” The crowd cheered enthusiastically as the couple embraced and Ms. Miron showed friends stageside her new diamond ring.

Emerson Drive may have topped the country music charts in the US with ‘Moments,’ not to mention placing their first two singles in the top five, but they quickly established that the rest of their repertoire can please the crowd as well.

The Saturday night headliner Lee Brice demonstrated why he is known for “raucous live shows” and proved his ability to dominate the stage as he capped a solid Manitoulin Country Fest 2018 weekend.

Stephen Wood of Tehkummah won the coveted Manitoulin Country Fest guitar signed by the festival artists and Shanna Harrington won the Manitoulin Country Fest Fan Experience prize package.