The OakHeart Country Music Festival gets down this weekend

by Alicia Doyle

Saddle up for a wild ride, country fans. The OakHeart Country Music Festival is heading to town, and this year it’s expected to be bigger than ever. Serving a crowd of hundreds when it first started in 2012, OakHeart is now several thousand strong and boasts a lineup that covers every genre that falls within the country tent, including blues, bluegrass, Americana, folk rock, Southern rock and more. The Oak has grown mighty indeed.

OakHeart founders Brian Hynes and Troy Hale (both longtime residents of Thousand Oaks) envisioned putting on a country music festival in their own hometown where the community could gather for live entertainment, cuisine and camaraderie. Today, the grass-roots effort that involves hundreds of volunteers has earned a reputation for its top-class acts that raise money for numerous local and national charitable causes.

“We wanted to showcase our town . . . and we’re stoked about what we started,” said Hynes, owner of the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks. “It’s a homegrown event with all local people. And it’s grown in ways that we never expected.”

The first festival in 2012 brought about 800 attendees, and the fifth annual event on June 4 is expecting 6,000 guests. Local and national charities that will benefit include Manna Conejo Valley Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, K9s for Warriors, End Polio Now and other charities supported by the Rotary Club of Westlake Village.

“All the proceeds go back to the Rotary Club and they are dispersed to local and national charities,” Hale explained.

OakHeart has been bringing local and national bands to the Conejo Valley for four years now and donating its profits to multiple charities along the way, said Twyla Monti, who is part of the event’s public relations team.

“The festival comes together every year with the help of a huge team of volunteers who give tirelessly to carry on the tradition of the festival and ensure costs are kept low so the charities can receive the most possible,” Monti added. “The best part is how involved the community is. The event is a really special day for everyone.”

Line dance fans boot scoot to a performance by The Walking Phoenixes at OakHeart 2015.

Line dance fans boot scoot to a performance by The Walking Phoenixes at OakHeart 2015.

The festival at Conejo Creek South Park in Thousand Oaks will feature main acts Chase Bryant and Josh Thompson, who perform predominantly contemporary country music, as well as Rodney Atkins, known for the song “Take a Back Road” and the platinum hit “Farmer’s Daughter.” Acts donating their time to perform include Honky Tonk Boom Box, Ryan Bexley, Hannah Rose, Just Dave Band, The People and Rebel Heart.

Jake Parr of Thousand Oaks is voluntarily performing at OakHeart for the first time this year. He describes his music as modern contemporary country with a rock and roll influence. “It’s a great cause . . . also, I love music and I love playing music. So any chance I get, I’ll play anywhere — a gas station to a stadium,” Parr said. “And the fact that this is for a good cause makes it that much better.”

Jenna Ryin of Simi Valley first performed at the OakHeart Country Music Festival two years ago. This year, “It’s a great opportunity to . . . play music for a good purpose,” she said. Ryin is the lead singer of The Other Words, which performs music “you can really latch on to that’s authentic.”

“We’re a little bit more pop that has a blues feel . . . not straight country,” Ryin explained. “We perform a mix of great music, with banjo, mandolin and guitar, to create something special.”

The festival will feature 12 food trucks, all from Ventura County, as well as at least half a dozen dessert trucks. There will also be approximately 40 local vendors selling items from trinkets to clothing. No pets are allowed, and outside food and drinks are prohibited. Because of the large crowd expected, attendees are encouraged to carpool or utilize a driving service, Hale said. “There will be no overnight camping,” Hale said. “And we want people to share a ride, take Uber or a taxi.”

“People can bring their lawn chairs,” Hynes said. “It’s just like a concert in the park but instead of people covering amazing songs, it’s people that wrote them and will perform them.” Hynes added that Luners Production Services in Ventura donated a large LED video wall for the festival. “So people sitting in the back can see the show in front,” he said.

In addition to raising money for charity, the festival brings revenue to Thousand Oaks due to its large number of attendees. “These are people who are filling our hotel rooms and bringing cash dollars to our city,” Hynes noted.

Looking back on the tremendous growth of the country music festival, Hale credited the support of Harry Schad, a member of the Rotary Club of Westlake Village, who passed away in September of 2013. During the second year of the festival, when the event sold out with 2,500 guests, Schad attended the event despite his ailing health.

“Harry came out and (his illness) was getting the best of him and he wasn’t doing so good. We drove him on the golf cart because he couldn’t walk,” Hale remembered. “When he saw the crowd . . . that was the coolest thing that he actually got to see the growth. It wouldn’t have been possible without Harry.”

The OakHeart Country Music Festival will be held on Saturday, June 4, at Conejo Creek South Park, 1300 E. Janss Road in Thousand Oaks. Gates open at 1 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit www.oakheartcmf.com.