Country music stampedes into Manhattan for 21 years

Wayne Rouse, president and general manager of Kicker Country Stampede, talks with the Collegian on June 16, 2016 from his office off Tuttle Creek Boulevard. Rouse created Kicker Country Stampede 21 years ago and has won multiple awards for bringing tourism to Kansas.(Evert Nelson | The Collegian)

Country Stampede is the largest country music festival in Kansas, taking place in Manhattan at the end of June every year for the past two decades. The three-day music festival was first created and coordinated by Wayne Rouse, president and general manager of Kicker Country Stampede.

Rouse began developing the idea of Country Stampede while working for a Wisconsin-based talent agency in 1995. A friend told him about the Country Thunder music festival, a relatively new event at the time.

“He called up and said, ‘You need to come over here and look at this; it’s really cool,’ so I went over and looked at it,” Rouse said. “It was very similar to what Stampede is today, so I decided I wanted to do one in Kansas.”

Rouse, who lived in Hays, Kansas at the time, said he was motivated in part by an article he read that stated Kansas’ tourism industry was ranked as one of the lowest in the U.S.

Rouse was able to develop the music festival with the help of venture capital, various connections he already had within the country music industry and the advice of the executive producer of Country Thunder. He was able to obtain the $500,000 needed to fund the first year of Country Stampede within a few days of completing his business plan in the summer of 1995, and he began putting out offers to performers that October. The first concert took place in June 1996.

According to Rouse, Manhattan was chosen as the location for Country Stampede because the city was known at the time for being a strong country music market – in addition to the help they were given by the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau in finding personnel for the concert.

“We looked at a few other places in the state to put Stampede, and the local Convention of Visitors Bureau helped us so much – it was night and day, regarding the other communities,” Rouse said. “(Becky Blake, then the director of the bureau) helped us network with K-State … we had a lot of people who already knew what they were doing when they came on board thanks to K-State.”

Rouse said putting the festival together is a learning experience every year, but that it’s a positive experience overall.

“(Country music) is a great area to work in, because the artists appreciate what they’re doing and their hearts are in it,” he said. “I really don’t have any horror stories. Most of them are very nice, down-to-earth people.”