Country Rock Festival patron Dennis Marsh was surprised during a show in Paihia with a platinum album award for his 2011 CD, Maori Songbook.



Marsh's performance was interrupted by festival organiser Shirley May, of Pakaraka, who sprang the surprise on behalf of Rajon Records.



The Patumahoe-based builder turned singer, whose iwi affiliations include Ngapuhi and Ngati Hine, is now New Zealand's best selling country musician of all time.



His Maori Songbook CD hit number one in the national charts last year and outsold 2011 releases by international stars Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Adele in New Zealand.

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Mrs May said other highlights of the May 10-12 festival included "voice in a million" Eddie Low of Christchurch and New Zealand's best female country artist of 2010 and 2011, Tami Neilson. Australia's Royden Donohue and Aaron Jury of Kaitangata had also "gone down amazingly well".



A no-show by a headline act from Texas, The Gloria River Band, turned out to be a boon for fans of Kiwi country veteran Brendan Dugan when he stepped in to fill the breach. Mr Dugan was at the festival as a tour guide for Waikato country music fans but had not been expected to play.



"He's a legend. A lot of people still love him," Mrs May said.



Mrs May said she was grateful to the Bay's accommodation providers, who put up the performers without charge, to the six venues, and to Fullers for providing free ferry transport for the musicians.



With the festival struggling in recent years with rising costs and falling turnout, country music fans had been warned to "use it or lose it".



With about 1800 tickets sold, 200 up on last year, the event's survival is now more secure.



From August 10-12 Mrs May will organise her 20th Bay of Islands Jazz and Blues Festival, which is facing the same challenges.



"As long as the festivals are supported, and as long as I'm still standing, I'll keep going."



An economic development report for the Far North District Council in 2010 said the Country Rock and Jazz and Blues festivals pumped $1 million a year into the Bay of Islands economy.