Rockin’ River nominated for country music festival of the year

By on August 24, 2017
Festival organizer (and country music artist) Kenny Hess performs at the 2017 Rockin' River Music Festival in Merritt, B.C. (Cole Wagner/Herald).


The 2017 Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) awards are to be handed out in Saskatoon in early September — but there is a chance Merritt could be centre stage when the awards kick off next month.

The Rockin’ River Music Festival, which wrapped up its third — and most successful — year in Merritt this past August, but earlier this summer organizers were tipped off that the event had earned a CCMA award nomination for country music festival, fair or exhibition of the year.

“It was really exciting news and gave us one more little boost of energy going into our eighth season — our third one here in Merritt,” said Rockin’ River executive director Becca Hess.

Prior to the festival moving up to Merritt, Rockin’ River took place in Mission, Hess added. The growth in attendance prompted organizers to look for another venue, and settling on the country music capital of Canada was an easy decision for Hess and her dad Kenny — who played at multiple editions of the now-defunct Merritt Mountain Music Festival.

PHOTOS: Rockin’ Riverfest sees record attendance

Hess said the CCMA award nomination reflects the years of effort which went into establishing Rockin’ River as a family-friendly, country-focused event in Merritt. Four of the five nominees are identical from last year’s list, which includes the Calgary Stampede, and the Boots & Hearts Festival in Ontario (which has taken home the award in the category for the past three years).

“I think every year if you were to look back, these industry giants are listed again and again — and rightfully so,” said Hess. She added that being nominated alongside major, well established festivals “felt like it really validated the team and all the hardwork we’ve been putting in to continue on with our focus on the experience of a festival, rather than just the lineup.”

Part of the experience the festival aims to tap into is the city’s identity as the country music capital of Canada, explained Hess.

“We didn’t take our decision lightly when we decided to move to Merritt. We had nowhere else on our radar, we wanted to come back,” she said. “It feels like a coming home for us — I grew up watching dad on stage, he played there for eighteen years.”

Rockin’ River is slated to return to Merritt next year, after drawing around 30,000 attendees to the grounds in 2017 with headliners like Willy Nelson and Toby Keith. One headliner is already confirmed for 2018 — Eric Church — but Hess wouldn’t spill the beans on who else might appear on the bill.

Still, if history proves anything, this year’s awards gala could prove to be a pivotal point for new artists to be added to next year’s lineup. Hess said she locked in Rockin’ River’s 2016 headliner — Sam Hunt — thanks in part to a conversation that was started at a prior CCMA gala.

“Every year it turns into a bit of a reunion,” said Hess. “t’s nice to have some personal face-to-face time with people we work with all the time. But it is also an opportunity to make a personal connection with artists we haven’t worked with before.”

The 2017 CCMA awards are set for Sept. 10, and will be aired on CBC.

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