By Keith Sharp
Thursday August 6th 2015 is a date forever tattooed across KT Timmermans’ cranium. Up to that point, Timmermans and her husband Craig had successfully built a small but growing country music festival around their ownership of Country 103 radio station, the only radio station on Manitoulin Island, geographically located in Lake Huron.
Yet as the festival began to flourish, the Timmermans realized they needed bigger names to draw the 9,000 fans to their island retreat – so they booked Johnny Reid as the first night headliner. Not a bad move except that the only main highway onto the island from Lake Huron’s North Shore, Highway 6 is just a two way strip of asphalt, further complicated by a one-lane swing bridge which accesses the island itself at Little Current which is totally out of commission for 15 minutes at the top of each hour to allow entrance to marine traffic.
Yes, the well heeled can boat into Little Current, fly in to nearby Gore Bay airport in their private craft or take the MS Chi Cheemaun car ferry across Lake Huron from Tobermory to the south. But for the most part, the only access to Rainbow Country is via that two-lane highway from Espanola. So you can imagine the havoc caused when some 9,000 country music fans decided to descend on the Flatrock Entertainment Centre at the same time!
“It was like nothing I had seen before,” remarked Timmermans who is set to execute her 12th Manitoulin Island Country Fest August 9-11 with a lineup which includes the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus, River Town Saints, George Canyon and Carroll Baker. “We had never experienced that kind of congestion. But it was a learning curve for us. We now try to mitigate the situation by offering free parking spaces a couple of days before the festival to ease the incoming flow on the highway.”
“Putting 9,000 people on Manitoulin Island is a logistical nightmare to put it bluntly but it is something we are coming to terms with,” she added. “The local people have been amazingly co-operative. They realize the economic benefits to the community easily off-set any short term disruptions and they have learned to work around any congestion.”
The initial idea for the country music festival germinated when KT and Craig assumed control of classic rock station CFRM in 2001 and changed format to Country 103. “We were looking at ways to promote the station on the island and we felt that a local country music festival would be successful,” KT noted. So we participated in the Manitoulin Island Trade Fair in 2007 that attracted 10,000 visitors and that gave us the encouragement to launch our first festival three months later.”
From a one-day festival which featured five Canadian bands, Manitoulin Country Fest has now expanded to three days and features 16 acts combining established domestic talent with key newcomers and one or two international artists.
“It’s kinda like planning a wedding each year for 100 guests,” allowed KT. “Except I have a wedding for 9,000 guests and 16 brides.”
Launching the festival Thursday August 9th is George Canyon, the River Town Saints and hot newcomer Genevieve Fisher. Friday’s lineup includes Billy Ray Cyrus, Aaron Goodvin, Carroll Baker, Beverley Mahood and Brea Lawrenson while Saturday’s finale features Lee Brice, Emerson Drive, Dan Davidson, Leaving Thomas, Andrew Hyatt and Country 103 contest winner Kyle Dunn.
Tickets for the three-day fest are $150 for patrons 16+, $110 for a youth ticket and all children under the age of 9 are admitted free.
Timmermans is fully aware that it would be impossible to compete against more established festivals like Boots And Hearts but she believes she has created a special party atmosphere while paying homage to Canadian Country icons like Carrol Baker, George Canyon and Prairie Oyster. “And then, of course, there’s the natural beauty of Manitoulin Island, it really is a unique destination.”
And to prove they are gluttons for punishment, the Timmermans are going to turn it all around and do it again the following weekend (Friday August 17th and Saturday August 18th) when the same Flatrock Entertainment Centre stages their first ever`Rockin The Rock’ classic rock music festival.
Featuring Big Wreck, Prism, Helix, The Headpins and Harlequin plus a couple of local talent contest winners, this two-day event, presented by Sudbury classic rock station 92.7 continues a nine-year legacy initiated by Spanish resident Ron Stolar who had been running his Rock N Roar event just north of Manitoulin.
“We had been sharing production staff with him so when Ron decided to put a hold on his event, we had a decision to make, do we lose the event altogether or do we relocate the festival to Flatrock,” Timmermans explained. “We know it might be much to stage two festivals back to back but we do think there is enough support on the Island for a two-day rock festival and Sudbury 92.7 have been doing an amazing job promoting the event.”
Tickets for the festival are $69.99 for both days and there is a 19 age limit for attendance. For further information on either festival, contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.