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Merritt country music festival’s ‘crazy-ass scene’ recalled in photographer’s new book

Campground C party zone and more remembered in Dee Lippingwell’s third book
Johnny Cash, June Carter and others pictured on a page from “Memories From the Mountain,” a new book that documents the history of Merritt Mountain Music Festival in photographs by Surrey’s Dee Lippingwell. (Photos: Dee Lippingwell)

Dee Lippingwell has “Memories From the Mountain” she wants to share.

It’s the title of her new, limited-edition book that documents the 17-year history of Merritt Mountain Music Festival, the popular country-music gathering once held in the B.C. Interior town.

A longtime concert photographer based in Surrey, Lippingwell was the festival’s official photographer from 1993 to 2009.

Just published, the 220-page softcover book features her photos of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, Randy Travis, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and other country stars, along with shots of festival moments.

Lippingwell’s yearly job was to “basically take photographs of everything on a daily basis,” she explains in the book, her third filled with concert photos.

“We looked forward to whatever the festival had in store for us – rain, hail, blistering sun, dust storms, just to name a few,” she writes. “But we came prepared for everything and were never disappointed at each year’s review, only to start planning for the next year and what would be done different or added. We were a family that included paid and unpaid participants, all of us anxiously awaiting the next Mountainfest.”

• RELATED STORY, from January: Surrey’s Dee Lippingwell has been shooting concerts since 1973.

PICTURED: Dee Lippingwell

The book’s intro, written by former Province entertainment reporter John McLaughlin, chronicles the festival’s infamous Campground C party zone, filled with cowboy hat-wearing guys (“Cody”) and bikini-clad gals (“Crystal”), tricked-out bars, pool tables, pools, DIY dance floors and lots of liquor.

“There were a lot of different customers that kept Merritt as a top summer event on their calendars every year, buffing up the RV and making plans to camp with friends,” McLaughlin writes. “Cody, Crystal and their many friends and all their cute, pink livers are actually what kept the place going all those years, kept the beer garden full and the party never ending. It was a crazy-ass scene until it wasn’t and, like starlings out the barn door, the kids swarmed off with some new distraction and just didn’t come back.”

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PICTURED: Country musician Keith Urban on stage at Merritt Mountain Music Festival in 2002, in a photograph by Surrey’s Dee Lippingwell.

McLaughlin tells the story of the festival’s “ignoble finale” in 2009.

“Add in the disaster of a brain boggling backstage cash demand from Kenny Chesney’s people, payable before his sold-out performance, which led to a mad scramble and left all the staff and freelancers, including our own Dee (Lippingwell), unpaid to this day. That left behind plenty of fury and drama, lawsuits flew like scared chickens but in the end, somehow, there was simply no money. Zip. It was amazing to see it go down, but down indeed went Merritt Mountain Music Festival.”

Only 250 copies of “Memories From the Mountain” are available (for $65 on, and each book comes signed and numbered.

Lippingwell, 75, photographed the festival with the help of her husband, Paul, and some hired shooters.

Over the years she’s catalogued images of the 3,500 rock, country and pop concerts she’s photographed since her very first, a Pink Floyd gig in Vancouver in 1973.

Lippingwell’s 1987 book, “The Best Seat in the House,” was followed in 2012 by the self-published “First Three Songs… No Flash,” a title that referenced the instructions typically given to concert photographers before a show begins.

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news for Surrey Now-Leader and Black Press Media
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