Kelly Timmermans looks at the calendar and prepares to host the 13th annual Manitoulin County Music Fest. This three-day festival staged this year August 8-10 in Little Current has continued to grow and thrive even in the face of other major music festivals staged at the same time around Ontario.
“When I started this festival back in 2007, my goal was to create an opportunity for people in this community not to travel five or six hours to see artists but to now see them perform in their own backyard,” noted Timmermans, known in the industry simply as KT. “I am a country girl at heart,” said KT. As owners and operators of Country 103, the local country station, KT and her husband Craig said: “It seemed a natural fit to add an event this community would be proud of.”
By her own admission, KT knew nothing about planning and executing a music festival back in 2007 with that first event going $70,000 in the red. “Booking agents and other industry people definitely saw us coming, Craig and I are just average people. We were devastated, but what do you do, we were not in a position to lose money like that but we made a commitment to make it work,” she noted. “We decided to continue on and by the second festival I was a lot sharper and by now I am a lot more aggressive, business is business and I stick to my budget”
KT notes that Manitoulin Island isn’t the easiest place to get to “there’s on a two-lane highway north from Espanola and the only entrance from the south is by ferry from Tobermory at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula, but we see it as a vacation destination rather than just a music festival. Manitoulin Island is the world’s largest freshwater island. There’s a bit of magic about this place.”
The festival has grown in stature, this year including the likes of Tanya Tucker, Clay Walker, Paul Brandt, The Recklaws, James Barker Band and Jess Moskaluke but just as important to KT is the festival’s ability to showcase new talent like Nice Horse, Petric, Emily Bashall and Drew Taylor.
“I like to think my crystal ball has worked well in spotting new talent,” allows KT. “Running a radio station allows me to hear who is popular and who the new up and coming talent is and when it comes to the Canadian Country Music Awards, I like to think our radio station is part of the industry’s farm system. “It’s great to see artists who have graced our stage, winning CCMA awards.”
Being based in a location which only boasts a resident population of some 1,500 people, the festival doesn’t boast any major national sponsors but it’s the ma and pa operations who donate a couple of hundred dollars plus local companies like Eastlink and Manitoulin Transport which have allowed the festival to grow, noted KT. “This is a tourism area so local businesses only make money between 12-14 weeks of the year, the rest of the time they are just scraping by. There’s little in the way of entertainment here, no movie theatres or concert halls so this festival has become an important fixture to this community’s social calendar.”
And if you’re not into country music, there’s always Rockin’ The Rock, a two-day rock music festival on the same Flat Rock Entertainment Centre site, the following weekend, Friday, August 16th and Saturday, August 16th.
This year features Platinum Blonde, Glass Tiger, Lee Aaron, The Box, Toronto and Trooper and hosted by comedian Derek Seguin.
“This is my husband Craig’s brainchild,” noted KT. “When The Rock N’ Roar event up to the road in Spanish ceased to exist a few years ago, we decided to pick up the slack and our first year was so successful we decided to continue it this year. “Rockin’ The Rock definitely attracts a different crowd but surprisingly a lot of patrons stay on after the County festival.”
Keeping in mind the size of the community they are appealing to, KT and her organizers make every effort to keep the event ticket prices reasonable. Understanding there is a severe lack of hotel accommodation, Country Music Festival tickets are based around a $150 site-specific camping and trailer rate (which allows for four people) and a non-specific parking rate of $125. Tickets for the two-day rock festival are $80 for the weekend, $50 for Friday and $60 for Saturday.
KT is aware of the challenges of staging festivals in a small location and claims she has no desire to run 20,000 to 35,000 people Festivals. “At the end of the day, we are a small community, we have two gas stations, two grocery stores, three restaurants and one hotel,” said KT. “But if we can attract 10,000 people to discover the beauty and serenity of Manitoulin Island, then yes we can do that.”