Manitoulin Country Fest offers a boot tapping good time at new venue

LITTLE CURRENT—Despite the rainy weather, thousands of country music fans flocked to Little Current for Manitoulin Country Fest last weekend, with an estimated high of 5,000 attendees Saturday night, said organizers Craig and Kelly Timmermans.

“It was amazing,” said Ms. Timmermans when she spoke with The Expositor Monday. “We received great feedback about the new venue. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and we were really happy about how this year went.”

This is the first year the Timmermans hosted the event at their new venue on Harbour View Road, a self contained 83-acre parcel of land, complete with a parking area, camp grounds, and the new Manitoulin Transport Amphitheatre.

Country Fest kicked off Thursday night with the opening ceremonies, featuring special guests Northeast Town Mayor Joe Chapman, speaker Geordie Odjig, the Wiky Singers and the Manitoulin Island dance troupe.

“I am so pleased to be here at this wonderful new facility,” announced Mayor Chapman. “Country Fest is a wonderful weekend that provides a great event and stimulates economic activity in our community. It is always well attended and has become a staple of Manitoulin Island.”

After Mr. Chapman’s speech, Ms. Timmermans introduced the evening’s other special guests.

“Manitoulin has a phenomenal aboriginal community and this year we wanted to share that with you,” announced Ms. Timmermans.

As the new stage was smudged, the Wiky Singers drum group began their song, accompanied by a performance by a jingle dancer, hoop dancer, and men’s traditional dancer.

“We are very glad to share our way of life with you,” Mr. Odjig told the audience. “Chi-meegwetch (thank you very much).”

Concluding the opening ceremonies was Jennifer Valentyne from CityTV’s Breakfast Television, who did a live ‘tweet’ (Twitter message) from the stage, before introducing the first performer, Ryan Laird.

Following Ryan Laird, Tim Hus took to the Manitoulin Transport stage with Jimmy Rankin, ending the opening night.

“I came here once as a kid on a camping trip,” revealed Mr. Laird during an interview with The Expositor on Friday morning over breakfast. “I’m happy to be back and it was great opening up the show and an honour being the first act on the new stage. Manitoulin is so scenic, it’s been a really nice place to revisit.”

Mr. Laird was a fan favourite at this year’s Country Fest, having just released his self-titled debut EP on June 5, as well as being nominated for the Canaidan Country Music Awards (CCMA) video of the year for ‘I’m Your Man’ and the CCMA Rising Star award.

“The crowd was great,” concluded Mr. Laird. “Very attentive and singing along to the songs, which was really neat.”

The Friday morning of Country Fest began with a live broadcast from Jennifer Valentyne on CityTV’s Breakfast Television, along with a community breakfast hosted by the Southeastern Manitoulin Lions Club (who raised just over $600 from the breakfast’s silver collection) and intimate musical performances from Mr. Laird and Tim Hus.

“Everyone here has been so great,” Ms. Valentyne told The Expositor. “It’s the first time the show has been north of Wiarton and we have been having such a good time. I’m a big fan of music, and the live music last night was wonderful.”

Ms. Valentyne revealed that she had arrived on Manitoulin via the MS Chi-Cheemaun, visited the Little Current Swing Bridge, had dinner in downtown Little Current, and even had tea in one Country Fester’s trailer.

“It’s been a great time,” she added.

During her segment, Ms. Valentyne interviewed Ryan Laird and Tim Hus, caught a live sing-along with fans singing with Ryan Laird as he played ‘Country Roads,’ and even learned the meaning of ‘Haweater.’

“It’s my fourth time playing on Manitoulin,” said Mr. Hus. “I’ve played at Burn’s Wharf, the recreation centre in Little Current, the Kicking Mule Ranch and now Country Fest. I always really like performing here and the new stage looks great.”

Friday’s musical line-up included Manitoulin’s own Ben Lentir, Dallas Smith, Chad Brownlee and Emerson Drive.

Starting off the evening, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha and Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes took to the stage to welcome festival goers.

“Craig and Kelly have always risen to the challenge, supporting various fundraising efforts throughout the region,” said Ms. Hughes, referencing 100.7 The Island’s recent campaign to raise funds for the Elliot Lake relief fund.

“Persistence is a big fancy word for not giving up,” added Mr. Mantha, also commenting on the Timmermans’ determination and courage. “You have built a foundation for this community and the region.”

Both Ms. Hughes and Mr. Mantha requested a round of applause for the Timmermans before presenting the couple with a bottle of vintage wine for all their hard work in establishing Country Fest, as well as a new musical venue for the area.

The Expositor caught up with Mr. Brownlee prior to his performance.

“It’s my first time on Manitoulin, but it’s been really nice so far,” said Mr. Brownlee. “The venue looks great and I’m excited to play.”

Mr. Brownlee, a former sixth round draft pick by the Vancouver Canucks, said he really got into country music after a shoulder surgery affected his hockey abilities.

“I just wasn’t the same player after, and singing and country music was a passion of mine,” explained Mr. Brownlee. “It (country music) just chose me in a way and I’ve been happy ever since.”

After Friday’s line-up, Mr. Brownlee joined local band ‘Double Barrel’ in an impromptu performance at the Anchor Bar and Grill.

“The band was setting up and we (Mr. Brownlee and his band) just started jamming with them,” said Mr. Brownlee after his ‘jamming session.’ “It was fun and a great way to unwind.”

On Saturday, 13-year-old Cheyenne Saucier started off the music performances, followed by Naomi Bristow, Brett Kissel, Pear, and Jake Mathews.

The rain lifted Saturday night, just in time for High Valley, a trio of brothers from Blumnort, Alberta, who took home five CCMA awards last year including Artists of the Year and Group of the Year.

“The crowd was just awesome,” said Brad Rempel from High Valley after their performance, as he and his brother visited with fans and signed autographs. “It’s so great when the audience is singing back your songs. 100.7 The Island was one of the first radio stations to support us when we were first getting started and we see KT and Craig every year at the CCMAs, so it’s nice to be here.”

The real highlight of the weekend was country music superstar Terri Clark, one of the biggest names in country music.

Judging by the large crowd, dancing and singing, it was clear to see that Ms. Clark was the crowd favourite of the weekend.

“She’s my favourite artist,” commented Leslie Richmond of Toronto. “She gave such an amazing performance.”

Country Fest concluded on Sunday with performances from the Canucky Bluegrass Boys, followed by the Abrams Brothers.

“There were a lot of good acts,” Ken Upton from Barrie told The Expositor on Sunday. “Jimmy Rankin and Terri Clark were my favourites, but the whole show was great.”

Ms. Timmermans announced that the winner of the Manitoulin Country Fest CCMA Fan Experience prize pack was Sharon McDougall of Gore Bay.

“She was so excited she was shaking,” revealed Ms. Timmermans.

Ms. McDougall will join the Timmermans for the 10th Annual CCMAs in Saskatoon this September, courtesy of the Great Spirit Circle Trail.

“We have already confirmed Aaron Pritchett, Adam Gregory and Blue Rodeo for next year’s Country Fest and are looking forward to another year of great music and family fun. We would like to thank all of our sponsors for their continued support and especially our wonderful volunteers.”