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Merritt Mountain Music Festival book captures memories of hot summer nights

Click to play video: 'This is BC: Merritt Mountain Music memories' This is BC: Merritt Mountain Music memories
Jay Durant talks to a photographer who captured the highlights of the Merritt Mountain Music Festival, once one of the biggest country music festivals in North America – Aug 26, 2021

For years, the Merritt Mountain Music Festival was a summer highlight for many British Columbians.

Dee Lippingwell, who was a staff photographer for the country music festival, has captured 17 years of memories in a new book, “Memories from the Mountain.”

During those days, Lippingwell was always on the move, pointing her lens at basically anything that moved.

Click to play video: 'One-on-one with country music star Aaron Pritchett' One-on-one with country music star Aaron Pritchett
One-on-one with country music star Aaron Pritchett – Jul 1, 2016

“It was an adventure every year,” she said. “Every year I’d come away, I had have to sleep for a week.”

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The festival, which featured top artists from the world of country music, had something for everybody, including families.

“Lots of people would meet at Merritt, and they would get married,” recalled Rona Goodman, who handled the festival’s marketing and publicity. “And they would have kids and their kids would come to Merritt.”

Read more: Dierks Bentley headlining Merritt Rockin’ River Musicfest

There were also plenty of spots for those looking for a party. Tubing and cooling off in the Coldwater River was a chance for at least some to recharge after some wild nights.

“You had your Campground C, which was just crazy,” remembers Ron Armour, lead singer of the band McQueen, said. “That was the restricted area, if you know what I mean.”

Country music’s top acts took the stage and Lippingwell, who is a rock photographer by trade, was blown away by some of the stars she photographed, including Keith Urban.

Click to play video: 'From 1968: Johnny Cash on recording ‘At Folsom Prison’, his own arrest and becoming a country music star' From 1968: Johnny Cash on recording ‘At Folsom Prison’, his own arrest and becoming a country music star
From 1968: Johnny Cash on recording ‘At Folsom Prison’, his own arrest and becoming a country music star – Jan 10, 2019

“He came on stage and it was like, ‘Whoa!’ OK, I know this fellow is going to make it really big,” recalls Lippingwell

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Then there was the legendary Johnny Cash.

“Backstage, at the side of the stage he sort of looked at me and I thought, ‘I want to get a shot of him with the crowd,” Lippingwell recalls. Cash responded with a sneer and pointed at her to let her know snapping a photo was not a good idea.

The festival drew close to 150,000 people in 2005, a huge jump from its humble beginnings back in 1993.

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Global BC’s biggest brushes with fame over our 60 year history – Sep 29, 2020

It all came to an end in 2009, after Kenny Chesney’s management demanded to be paid a huge sum in cash upfront.

“The story is they asked for a million dollars,” Lippingwell said. “I don’t know if that’s true or not, but they just went and cleaned out the money. There was no money left. They took every cent.”

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Read more: From the Global BC archives: Johnny Cash on how 1968’s ‘At Folsom Prison’ revitalized his career

People who attended the festival have told Lippingwell the book brings back a lot of memories. For one woman, it revealed a brand new revelation from one of those hot summer nights.

“She said, I can’t thank you enough, because some of this stuff — I don’t even remember seeing Dwight Yoakam,” said Lippingwell, breaking out in laughter.

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