Kernaghan reflects on his career as an Australian country artist, and how the next generation is shaping the genre.
Few musicians, country or otherwise, have the reputation and cultural relevance of Lee Kernaghan. With a list of accolades as long as his discography, Kernaghan’s music has always been part of the Australian music zeitgeist, and we’d wager that most Australians can tie a Kernaghan hit to a specific memory in time.
With the Queensland-based hit-maker set to headline Lighthouse Country in May of 2024, his reign is far from over, with his mammoth 62-track 30th-anniversary album release The Very Best of Lee Kernaghan - Three Decades of Hits and his first ever live album, Lee Kernaghan Live At The Deni Ute Muster.
If it sounds as though Kernaghan is not ready to hand over the limelight, he’s actually animated when talking about the new talent climbing the ranks and adamant that they will continue to elevate the genre.
“It's a super exciting time. So many incredible artists out there like, like James Johnston, and The Buckleys, Brad Cox, The Wolfe Brothers. There are so many brilliant artists. So I think it's in really good shape, Australian country music right now. Maybe better than it's ever been.”
“James Johnston, we've recorded a duet with him, and we'll be releasing that I think next month. But I think back to the first time I saw him busking in Tamworth, he was only about 11 years old. Now all these years later, we've recorded a single and written songs together. So definitely think the world of him and The Wolf Brothers will forever be my damn good mates. And it's been wonderful seeing them reach higher heights in the Australian country.”
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Kernaghan makes no secret of his excitement that the Lighthouse Country festival is back for another year and located in Burnett Heads in Bundaberg. Reflecting on his live album and how it compares to seeing himself live on stage, Kernaghan notes that festivals like Lighthouse Country were important in connecting Australian country artists with their fans.
“It's a country crowd that turns out and makes it what it is. And being a part of that, of all of that is what really drives me. It's all about that moment of connection and hearing people sing along. It’s just awesome, you know. I just think the world of, you know, the bush countries in Australia and so, so much of my songs were inspired and written about the people and the places I've been to throughout my career, it's an ongoing debt of gratitude. So, yeah, Lighthouse Country is an epic event for Queensland and so I’m proud to be a part of it in 2024.”
Kernaghan’s rise to prominence was marred with challenges and opportunities that would be foreign to the current generation of country artists, and he mused on the loose style and lack of rigour that he and his bandmate implemented in those early days of no social media and shoestring budgets.
“Being a younger man and in those early days where you just, you know, it felt like you just threw something at the wall and saw what sticks. We used to have to do television campaign advertising a lot to let people know we've got some concerts coming. But now just one social media post lets the whole world know. So there are some great parts to it. Definitely the interaction side of it.
“Being a 27-year-old kid from Albury in a recording studio for the first time and not having a clue in the world what would happen when a single got released. We would have an hour to go before I had to leave the studio to get on a flight home, and back in those days, budgets were super tight and you couldn't just change your flight - that was unthinkable. You booked a flight, you had to be on that flight. So I had an hour left and got down to about half an hour and then finally poured out a few lines that turned out to be pivotal.
“And it was ‘We work the land, Through fire and flood, It's in our hearts, It runs in the blood.’ Those two lines are probably the most important two lines of any song I've ever recorded. Because it made Boys From The Bush, not just another party song but a true celebration.”
Kernaghan’s recent venture, Starkix, of which he is a part-owner, allows him to connect with Australians of all ages, all over the country. The app facilitates fans and artists connecting in a private, virtual setting, and Kernaghan confesses he has even learnt more about himself and his music from these spontaneous and enriching encounters.
“I had a great meet and greet with a young couple on a farm in Muswellbrook, and they were telling me that they were going to get married to Where I Want to Be, which is the song I recorded with Robby X. So you get a real insight into the depths of how deep the music goes through people's lives and even, you know, the generations from grandparents down to mums and dads and their kids. They've all grown up with country music, and it really becomes a huge part of who they are.”
Lighthouse Country tickets are on sale, with Kasey Chambers and John Williamson joining Kernaghan as headliners for the Queensland festival on May 4, 2024.