Rockin’ out to country

Large crowds enjoyed the performances at the 2010 Rockin’ the River Festival at Mission Raceway Park. Several big-name acts will perform this year

When Mission’s Kenny Hess was a kid, he dreamed of playing music for a living.

But when he began playing gigs as a teenager, he figured he’d only play for a few years before having to get a “real job.” Luckily for country music fans, that day never came.

“I’m almost 50 and still singing for my supper, so life’s pretty good,” said Hess, while talking about his life, his music and the Rockin’ River Music Festival which he’s co-organizing.

The festival began in 2008; this year, Rockin’ River is set to host its biggest expected turnout at Mission Raceway Park beginning Aug. 12 with a great line-up.

Emily Taylor Adams from Langley and Chad Brownlee of Vancouver both won B.C. Country Music Association’s best vocalist this year.

In fact, quite a few of the performers have won awards, but none have accumulated the kind of hardware as Maple Ridge’s Rick Tippe.

“You couldn’t carry him in a pickup, the amount of awards he won in B.C. and Canada,” joked Hess.

The son of country music hall-of-famer Elmer Tippe, Rick will be joined by Elmer’s grandsons at the festival, the Johnson Brothers, rounding out the family affair.

Hess said the elder Tippe is retired from his fiddle-playing days, but still comes out to the event every year.

There are some big names, too, with Travis Tritt headlining Saturday night, and the always entertaining Sawyer Brown.

“Travis Tritt is honestly one of the best performers you’ll ever see,” said Hess, who just returned from a tour in Arizona where country music is king. He said many Canadian singers make a good portion of their living doing shows down south, but events like the Rockin’ River Music Fest brings awareness to homegrown talent.

And there’s plenty of that, too. Main stage performers like Merv Tremblay, Brent Lee and Ken McCoy are just a few of the performers who call Mission home.

Hess said it was difficult to get fans out the first two years, but with bigger name stars and word-of-mouth people are seeing Mission as a country music destination.

And Hess has guaranteed nobody is going to be mad at his choices this year.

Hess has released 11 albums over the past 20 years while receiving eight consecutive awards for best traditional artist of the year in the B.C. Country Music Awards, and will also be performing at the festival.

Hess says he’s really looking forward to sharing his style of old-time country music with fans, which he calls his “Merle Haggard-style.”

But through all the accolades, Hess has remained a humble man from Mission.

“I feel very lucky to be able to do this and I get embarrassed, actually, talking about awards. The sawmill worker doesn’t get an award but he has a job to do, too. I  do this because I love it.”

The festival begins Friday, Aug. 12 at 2 p.m. in Mission Raceway Park. Tickets and information are available at www.rockinriver.com or by visiting a Lower Mainland Lordco outlet.

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