Willie Nelson & Family at Rockin’ River Music Festival

photos:  Michael Potestio


Smoky skies lingering in the Nicola Valley couldn’t keep people away from what was the biggest Rockin’ River Music Festival to date.

The August long weekend event in Merritt saw some of the biggest names in country music grace the stage over the weekend, with the likes of Toby Keith and Willie Nelson playing to large crowds.

“I thought the show itself was amazing,” said festival president Kenny Hess. “I had my two favourites, that’s for sure. I thought Toby was good, but Willie was amazing… and I thought Brett Kissel did Canada proud.”

It was the 84-year-old Nelson’s first time in the Country Music Capital of Canada, and he was impressed with the atmosphere of the event.

“Willie personally told me, he said, what it lacks in people this year, it makes up for in vibe,” said Hess. “He said it’s just such a wonderful family feel.”

With the third year in the books, Hess said they had their largest crowd to date with about 32,000 people attending the festival over the August long weekend.

“We need to get it a little higher than that before we can start turning it into a business rathe than a hobby,” Hess said with a laugh.

The festival wasn’t in the black this year, but Hess said he felt they still made a lot of headway.

“We lost a little, but not enough to get us nervous. All along we said it’s going to be the fourth or fifth year before you make money and then it takes several years to pay back your investment,” said Hess.

The festival broke even last year, and Hess said he believes the smoky skies and wildfires around the province probably kept some would-be festivalgoers from attending this year

“We were on track to do quite a bit better than we did, but at the same time I’m not complaining. I was happy with where we ended up,” said Hess.

With Eric Church set as next year’s headliner, Hess thinks the festival’s attendance will rise drastically and they can turn a profit.

Hess said the festival’s volunteers play a crucial role in making the event a success.

“We were lucky,” said Hess of the 150 volunteers that helped out at the festival this year. “We got some really good local volunteers and some from all over. We had one from Switzerland and two from Germany, two from Ireland and one from New Zealand.”

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