I survived Boots and Hearts

Hearing a popular country song on the radio the other day reminded me of my experience at last year’s Boots and Hearts Country Music Festival.

Too put it simply, I survived Boots and Hearts. Not a small accomplishment considering I was a 50-something in the midst of a drunken mass of 20-year-olds.

For those not familiar, Boots and Hearts is an annual outdoor country music marathon at Burl’s Creek Campground, just outside Barrie, Ontario. It used to be at another venue, but in five years, it outgrew Mosport Park near Bowmanville and moved to a larger space. It attracts some of the biggest names in country music as well as attracting an atmosphere of non-stop drinking, music and excess. 

My buddy Chris is my best friend and also 50-something. He is a diehard Boots and Hearts veteran. He takes his tent trailer to the event every year, and stays from Wednesday to Monday. The year earlier, he told me I was too much of a lightweight to survive Boots and Hearts. However, when faced with an extra ticket, suddenly I was worthy of attending. I reluctantly accepted the challenge - and as a tenderfoot, I went up on Friday.

Picture this, a sea of tents and cars, traditional rows of outhouses, as well as tractor-trailers containing showers that you could use for $10 each. I think most people passed on the showers for two reasons, too expensive and too long of a line-up. It was a lot simpler to fill up a container from one of the massive water storage units on site and just have a touch-up shower in front of your neighbours.

We were “fortunate” enough to have a tent trailer, which meant a bit more privacy within our compound. However, directly beside us was an RV which loved to run its generator all night, a trailer behind us which created that boxed-in feeling and neighbours in front of us who converted the back of their pick-up truck into a mini-swimming pool.

It wasn’t a question of whether or not to get drunk each day, the bigger question was how early in the day it would happen.

Hey, but I’m not complaining. The whole scene took on the feel of a circus and I was the wide-eyed old man who had never experienced an event of these proportions.

I’m not a big country music fan, but it was hard not to get caught up in the scene. Everyone dressed in cowboy hats, western boots and blue jeans. Everyone was wandering around with a drink. Let’s not forget this is conservative Ontario, so to walk around with a beer, as an OPP vehicle passed by was kind of a unique thing.

But this was just at the campground; I hadn’t even been into the area where the entertainment was happening. The rules were simple, no outside booze within the confines of the concert area. However, you could buy drinks inside, everywhere. Organizers also had a brilliant system for making purchases. No money was accepted inside. Everything was done through an electronic wristband that you wore. The good part was that you didn’t have to carry money around. The bad part was that you didn’t have to carry money around. I quickly realized that having a bank around my wrist could be very dangerous. Want a beer? Tap your wristband on the electronic pad. Want a Philly cheese steak sandwich? Tap your wristband. Want to purchase official Boots and Hearts cowboy hats for you and your five friends? Yeah, it happened.

I spent way too much money, but it was worth every penny. As I mentioned before, I’m not a big country music fan. It’s not that I don’t like it; I just never listen to it. That has changed since Boots and Hearts. There’s nothing more exciting than hearing a band for the first time and being blown away. Some examples were Cam - a young woman with a huge future - and a local band called The James Barker Band. Fantastic. I preferred these two bands to the headline acts of Blake Shelton and Tim McGraw. There was just a sense of hunger and enthusiasm in the young acts that the big names couldn’t provide.

Once again I have to tip my hat to the organizers who spared no cost when it came to stages (three separate venues), and incredible sound systems and lighting. Everything was first class.

The only aspect of the event that needs improving is the mass exodus on Monday morning. We sat in traffic trying to leave the campground for almost three hours. Apparently, OPP were giving Breathalyzer tests to drivers on the way out. Many campers were up all night not ready to say goodbye to the madness. There was also a disgusting amount of garbage left by the campers - including $40,000 in beer empties.

Will I go back again next year? Right now I am saying no, only because I’m no longer 20. But maybe it’s like a woman giving birth. After the first child, you vow to never go through it again. However, the passing of time can erase the pain of delivery.

And hangovers.


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