The milestone 10th anniversary edition of Groundwater CMF is going to be one for the history books.
For country music fans on the Gold Coast, this weekend is a pretty special one: not only is this year’s Groundwater Country Music Festival kicking off at 8am on Friday (October 20), but with the free event celebrating its tenth anniversary, the program is veritably stacked with some of the biggest names in modern country.
Running over 13 stages across a suite of iconic venues – with a full county fair being held amidst it – there’s a lot to see and do at Groundwater 2023. The full program arrived a few weeks ago, and at the time, festival director Mark Duckworth promised the same memorable experience he and his team have delivered since the very first edition in 2013. “For us,” he said, “Groundwater Country Music Festival is about celebrating all subgenres of the sound and being able to turn people on to different artists and music that they may not necessarily have heard before even though they're all country music fans.”
All in all, there are 56 acts set to perform over the weekend, with a solid mix of established heavyweights and rising newcomers. We know it can be a little daunting to face down such a hectic schedule, so to make things a little easier, we’ve pored through the schedule and whittled it down to the ten acts you simply must check out. Take a look at the list below, then head here to start planning your own weekend!
The country-pop supergroup of powerhouse siblings Robbie and Rachel Bostock (respectively on violin and guitar) and Jesse Emmanuel (on rhythm guitar), all three of whom share vocal duties and deliver soulful jams designed to get stuck in your head. Like we said last October, “The combination of showstopping musicianship, catchy melodies, dreamy harmonies and epic guitar and violin riffs and solos make Hinterland a standout act to watch.”
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Hinterland are one of the handful of acts playing three sets across the weekend – one on each day the festival is running – so there really is no excuse to miss them. They’ll first hit the Surf Parade Stage at 4:30pm on the Friday, performing an hourlong set. They’ll play for another hour on the Saturday – this time taking over The Kurrawa Big Top at 4:15pm – before wrapping up with an extended 90-minute set at The Broadbeach on Sunday.
We’d suggest starting with the two singles Hinterland have dropped this year – Fragile (which arrived in May) and To The Limit (which followed in August) – before moving on to last year’s trilogy of Treating Me Good, Stay In Your Lane and Strings Attached.
A fast-rising force to be reckoned with, fusing beautiful country rhythms with poignant themes and a rich connection to her heritage. Loren Ryan has been making music since the mid-2010s, but made her grand debut on the national circuit in 2020 (when she dropped the sprightly single Yilalu). Since then, she’s released a string of phenomenal standalone tracks, leading her to win the famed Toyota Star Maker competition earlier this year.
Like Hinterland, you’ll have three chances to catch Loren Ryan – first at 5:30pm Friday on the Oracle Boulevard Stage, where she’ll perform for an hour. She’ll play for twice as long on the Saturday, taking to The Market Stage at 2:00pm. And for early risers, she’ll play for 45 minutes on the Surf Parade Stage at 10:30am Sunday.
If you’ve been keeping up with the Countrytown Hot 50, there’s a good chance you’re well acquainted with Ryan’s single Suddenly. Released back in June, it stuck around on the chart for an impressive ten weeks, peaking at #21. She followed it up last month with Take Me Home, and in a recent interview with Countrytown, she revealed that her debut EP is shaping up well. “The songs are sounding quite pop [and] quite mainstream,” she said of the as-yet-untitled effort, “but we’re adding elements of musical theatre.”
A heart-melting singer-songwriter from the NSW Southern Highlands, who despite being a relative newcomer to the Australian country scene – releasing her first single, Fallin’ Off The Heartline, in March of 2022 – has already become one of the most buzzed-about names on the circuit. Raised on a healthy diet of diverse sounds, from Cat Stevens and Fleetwood Mac to AC/DC, Sara Berki writes uniquely striking country anthems, and performs them with an infectious spirit and zest for life.
Sara Berki will play three hourlong sets at Groundwater, starting with one on the Broadbeach Mall Stage at 5:30pm on Friday. Her next set will start at the same time on Saturday – except this time on the Oracle Boulevard Stage – with her last being another Sunday morning set on the Surf Parade Stage, kicking off at 11:45am.
The peak of Berki’s set will likely come when she breaks out her smash hit A Boy That’s Into Trucks, so you should probably start there. We’d suggest following it up with last month’s single Favour, then diving into her debut EP Heartline, which landed back in January and features the singles Fallin’ Off The Heartline and Good Enough.
Another regional NSW stalwart – hailing from the coastal wonderland that is Port Macquarie – whose heartstring-tugging country jams have made him a must-watch act on any stage he graces. Blake O’Connor has a solid string of well-earned accolades under his belt, including the top prize at the 2019 Toyota Star Maker competition, as well as the 2020 Golden Guitar Award for New Talent Of The Year.
Blake O’Connor is playing just one set this weekend, taking over the Surf Parade Stage at 7:30pm on Friday.
You can’t go past Blake O’Connor’s stellar second album, Finding Light, which hit shelves back in March (just under four years on from his 2019 debut, Everything I Feel). Among its highlights are the singles Willin’ And Ready, Soul Feeling, Kickin’ A Rock and Little Bit Longer.
A distillation of everything great about Australian country, with her songs leaning just as heavily on spellbinding storytelling as they do on earwormish melodies. Again hailing from country NSW, Tori Forsyth made her breakthrough in 2015 with the five-track effort Black Bird, earning her recognition from the likes of KIX, CMC and, of course, Countrytown. She’s since become a bonafide superstar among her crop, earning a stack of accolades (including an Independent Music Award in 2018) and regular appearances in the Countrytown Hot 50.
On the Sunday afternoon, Groundwater punters can watch Tori Forsyth bring the Surf Parade Stage to a riveting peak; her hourlong set will begin at 1:15pm.
Start with her latest single, the Shane Nicholson-assisted Sometimes (which she released at the end of September), then dive into her 2021 album Provlépseis. Her second album, following up on 2018’s Dawn Of The Dark, the 13-track effort saw Forsyth head in a heavier direction, inspired by rock legends like Nirvana, The Cranberries and The Pretty Reckless.
A Sydney-based alt-country outfit “reviving 70’s Americana in all it’s glory, but with a modern twist” (as per triple j Unearthed). Caitlin Harnett herself is a mainstay on the Australian country circuit, starting out in the mid-2000s with her eponymous solo project – and in 2014 she released the fantastic debut album The River Runs North – before linking up with The Pony Boys (Sam Montague on guitar, Nick Ryan on bass and Josh Piltz on drums) at the turn of the 2020s.
Once more, you’ll have a whopping three chances to catch Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys. They’ll play for an hour on Friday – their set starting at 5:30pm in The Kurrawa Big Top – followed by a slightly longer (75-minute) performance on Saturday, when they’ll play The Broadbeach at 7:30pm. Rounding out the weekend, they’ll play the Surf Parade Stage at 2:45pm on Sunday, cranking out one final hourlong set.
The obvious answer here is Harnett’s second album with The Pony Boys, All Night Long. It’s the most recent effort on this list, arriving last Friday (October 13) on the back of the singles Even Cowgirls Cry, I’ll Get By and Sidelines. Equally great is the outfit’s nine-track debut, Late Night Essentials, which they dropped in November of 2020.
One of the most revered artists on the Groundwater 2023 lineup, and for good reason. Casey Barnes first hit the road in the early 2000s, cutting his teeth in regional pubs and festival stages before minting his independent debut album, Say What You Feel, in 2004. He made it to TV screens in 2009, jamming his way to the semi-finals in the seventh season of Australian Idol, and since then he’s only continued to thrive as a bonafide road dog and stalwart songwriter.
Like old mate Blake, Casey Barnes is playing just once on the Friday night, wreaking havoc on the Surf Parade Stage from 9:00pm.
Barnes has a stacked catalogue to pore over, with four studio albums – the most recent being last year’s ARIA-winning Light It Up – and a handful of standalone singles under his belt. Thus far in 2023, he’s released three of those one-off jams: Summer Nights in February, Boys Like Me in May and Never Give Up On A Good Time in September.
As their band name suggests, the rip-roaring country-rock project of brothers Tom and Nick Wolfe. The Wolfe Brothers also made it big after hitting the airwaves, placing second in the 2012 season of Australia’s Got Talent. They’re more revered for their actual songwriting, though, having picked up two CMC Awards and six Golden Guitars (with a further 25 nominations for the latter), and regularly filling venues all around the country.
The Wolfe Brothers are also playing a lone set at Groundwater 2023, hitting up the The Kurrawa Big Top at 8:45pm on Saturday.
The Wolfe Brothers have a whopping six studio albums to explore, so their Groundwater ’23 set should cover a decent amount of ground. Start with their 2023 effort, Livin’ The Dream, then dial back the clock to 2013 and see where it all started with their debut album, It’s On. They also have the current #1 on the Countrytown Hot 50 with their Travis Collins collab Runnin’ The Country, which seems to be downright undefeatable right now.
A Gympie native with a heart of gold and songwriting chops forged from pure tungsten. She too cut her teeth on TV, winning fans around the country with her appearance on the 2014 season of The X Factor Australia. She followed it up the following year with her self-titled debut EP, before earning the CMC Award for New Oz Artist Of The Year in 2016, and releasing her first album, Songs On My Sleeve, in 2017.
Caitlyn Shadbolt is playing twice over the weekend, starting with an early set in The Kurrawa Big Top. She’ll play there at 10:00am on Friday, before taking to the the Surf Parade Stage at 3:45pm on Saturday.
Shadbolt’s third album, Bloom & Surrender – which she released back in June of this year – is easily her most intriguing, split into its two titular halves that respectively explore extraversion and introversion.
A head-turning songstress from Brisbane, whose alt-country anthems will simultaneously blow your mind and tug on your heartstrings. She started out playing emo-pop jams in the early 2010s, before shifting over to country in 2021. This year has been a huge one for Beth Lucas, re-debuting with her first two country singles and graduating from the CMAA Academy of Country Music as the recipient of the coveted Keith Urban Scholarship
Beth Lucas will perform twice at this year’s Groundwater – first at 2:00pm Saturday at The Lucky Squire, then 11:00am Sunday on The Market Stage.
Both of the only two songs Lucas has released, Life Of The Party and Home Town. Both were released earlier this year – in February and July, respectively – with plenty of new music still to come in due time.
Friday October 20 – Sunday October 22
Kombumerri Land (Gold Coast, QLD)
Adam Harvey & Beccy Cole
Asleep At The Wheel
Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys
DJ Colonel's Country Music Cottage
Doug Bruce And The Tailgaters
Georgia State Line
Haystack Mountain Hermits
Pete Cullen And The Hurt
Round Mountain Girls
Sons Of Atticus
That's What Mumma Said
The Pink Stones
The Weeping Willows
The Whiskey Mountain Boys
The Wolfe Brothers
Tyla Rodrigues Band
Vixens Of Fall
The Broadbeach Tavern
The Lucky Squire
TC’s Bar & Gaming Lounge
Fat Freddy’s Beach Bar & Diner
The Oasis Shopping Centre
More info: groundwatercmf.com