Record crowds expected despite wildfires

By on August 2, 2017
Willie Nelson will close out the festival with a set on Sunday evening. (Photo courtesy of Rockin' River Music Festival).


While wildfires rage across the province, the Rockin’ River Music Festival is aiming to be proactive and not add to the situation at its third annual event in Merritt.

“You can’t smoke on the grounds this year except in a designated smoking area,” said festival organizer Kenny Hess.

The new smoking areas are designed to mitigate the chances of a wildfire sparking during the festival, given the current dry conditions and fire danger rating of extreme for the Merritt area.

The festival has also acquired 250 sandbags from the City of Merritt, which will be used to fill up coffee cans for people to butt out their cigarettes.

Kacey Musgraves plays at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Rockin’ River Music Festival)

Going a step further, there are also 44 off-duty firefighters who will be on site to take care of any sparks that might occur.

“Everything we can possibly do to mitigate any risk, we’re doing,” said Hess. “We always have, [but] this year we’re just putting a little more effort into it.”

Hess believes the ongoing wildfires around the province have also kept ticket sales down this year.

“Ticket sales, because of the smoke and the fires, they’ve just stopped, but I believe that the people are going to come at the gate anyway — I really do — I believe 100 per cent that they’re going to come. It’s just they’re waiting to make sure there’s not a fire risk,” said Hess.

A shuttle bus will once again be circling through Merritt over the weekend to pick up locals and drop them off at the festival grounds. Stops are at the Merritt Desert Inn, Ramada, Comfort Inn, Super 8, Best Western Plus and the Knights Inn. The price to ride the bus will be $5 for a one-way trip or $25 for a weekend pass, which are all available at the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Chamber of Commerce and the hotels where the buses will make stops. Cole Wagner/Herald.

Hess said he still expects to sell about the same amount of tickets as they did last year, which was reported to be nearly 30,000.

While not sold out, this year’s event features some of the biggest names in country music, including Toby Keith who takes the stage Friday at 10:30 p.m. and Willie Nelson who will close out the festival on Sunday at 9:30 p.m.

“We’ve got a terrific lineup, including — of course — Willie Nelson, who I think everybody’s the most excited about,” said Hess.

Crews were on site earlier this week to get the site ready.

“Our facilities are all set up, the grounds have been laid out and we’ve got some new stuff,” said Hess. “We’ve built a special raised area for all the reserved seats, we’ve expanded our patios, we’ve brought in a bigger stage, a zip line [and] a kids zone.”

He said they’ve also added an environmental crew that will monitor the river to ensure trash doesn’t get carelessly discarded into it.

The Band Perry headlines Saturday night’s shows. (Photo courtesy of the Rockin’ River Music Festival)

“We’ve tried to take as many steps as possible to make [the festival] environmentally friendly,” said Hess.

Given a crowd of about 30,000 expected to descend upon Merritt again this year, local RCMP will work additional shifts, but no out of town officers are being brought in.

“There’s kind of a formula based on the number of tickets sold and what type of issues we’re expecting,” said RCMP Const. Tracy Dunsmore, adding that the festival is responsible for policing at the grounds with their own security. 

“There’s only two of us that are out of town this weekend for the wildfires and the rest will all be in town working the music fest,” said Dunsmore.


This story was corrected from an earlier version that stated Tobey Keith performs Saturday at 10:30 p.m. He takes the stage Friday at 10:30 p.m. The Herald regrets the error.

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