By Stephanie Brooks
The fun, the fans, the friends and the famous. All were out in full force July 31st-August 3rd at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, for the third annual Boots and Hearts music festival.
Tens of thousands piled into the 750-acre racing facility with their trailers and tents in tow to see Toby Keith, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Lee Brice and Hunter Hayes as well as a great cohort of Ontario artists like Jordan McIntosh, Tim Hicks, The Reklaws, Marshall Dane, Genevieve Fisher, Deric Ruttan, The Roadhammers, The Abrams Brothers, Open Sky and Northern Roads.
Thirty-four per cent of the weekend’s performers this year were from Ontario, let alone the throngs of fans. “Ontario is such a strong country market,” says festival founder Shannon McNevan. And while ticket sales drew from 26 states, every province and four foreign countries, the home field had the advantage. “Ontario, being as strong as it is, is our foundation.”
Fans aren’t just coming for the music, but for everything else that comes with the country festival experience – something McNevan says is a big focus. “We sink a lot of time and energy into creating an experience that’s a lot bigger than the music. If you love country, that’s awesome, and if you don’t, we really believe you will by the end of the weekend – there is something fun here for you.”
One fun addition to the experience is this year’s Fan Fair Village, where fans can get up close and personal with artists that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to see or meet, and, have access to signings, giveaways and contests.
Another unique event is the festival’s Emerging Artist Showcase for Canadian country artists – something McNevan says he is probably the most proud of. “It’s a crazy opportunity for people. It’s one thing to play in front of Hunter Hayes or Dierks Bentley in front of 25 or 35,000 people, but getting a single deal with Big Machine Label Group and working with the top writers and producers in Nashville and getting a CMT video out of it – for that to all come in one package is pretty remarkable.”
The showcase has been a signature element of the festival for Ontario artists from its first year, when Tim Hicks and Tebey participated and had help catapulting their careers.
Three years later, the festival in the fields of southern Ontario has quickly become Canada’s biggest country music festival, and has hopes of getting the title of largest in the world.
“The CCMA and CMAO have been really welcoming to us,” adds McNevan. “To the country family and fans in Ontario, a huge thank you – for one, to see how badly they wanted it; and two, how welcoming they’ve been.”
And to those who worry that growing will get rid of the event’s country roots, don’t fret. “To me, we’ve always been a country festival and we’ll always be a country festival,” concludes McNevan.