“It’s the only festival I’ve ever performed on where it cost the artists more to attend then what they make"
Tamworth Country Music Festival is facing an accommodation crisis, with artists taking to social media as price gouging combines with petrol hikes and increased cost of living, effectively "locking out" up and coming artists from attending.
Country folk duo, Great Aunt wrote in part on Twitter, “Unpopular opinion… Last time we Tamworth’d, we played the big, televised stage as session players. We made friends for life there over the years BUT the reality is the festival exploits artists, don’t pay well, if at all.”
Unpopular opinion…Last time we Tamworth’d, we played the big televised stage as session players. We made friends 4lyfe there over the years BUT the reality is the festival exploits artists, don’t pay well, if at all, & queers are a novelty or best kept quiet. Spesh 4 STRAYA DAY— Great Aunt (@greatauntmusic) January 14, 2023
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Their sentiments were also echoed by multi-award-winning songwriter and performer, Allan Caswell, lamenting the expense of attending the event as a performer.
“A week in Tamworth is as expensive as Las Vegas. With exorbitant accommodation, cost of living rises and ridiculous gas prices, it’s tough on everyone,” he shared.
His post received praise from fellow artists Melinda Schneider, Andy Penkow, Damien Baguley from The Viper Creek Band, Chris Rieger from Simply Bushed, Dan Henwood, Allison Forbes, Christie Lamb, Kate Hindle and more.
“As an up-and-coming artist, it’s hard!!!,” Hindle commented. “For the first time in literally years I won’t break even, but I feel if I don’t come, I’ll get forgotten about… and that’s even harder for my career. I literally feel for all the artists and it’s hard on everyone!! But I really hope things pick up over the next year or so and I and everyone else gets to make up for this year’s financial loss!”
In January, Tamworth’s population almost doubles with around 50,000 people flocking to the regional NSW town for the yearly event. Spanning over ten days, with free shows on throughout the festival, music lovers can potentially go ten days without having to pay a cent for any live music.
“The Tamworth Regional Council have set themselves up as concert promoters and their heavily sponsored free park entertainment, while providing a service, is killing off the other venues and artists who actually don’t want to play in a paddock,” Caswell added.
One successful session musician who asked not to be named told Countrytown that Tamworth simply didn't stack up for working musicians. "I have three gigs across the week and by the time I accommodate myself and get there, after I get paid for the gigs I end up losing about a thousand bucks!"
Motels, hotels, campgrounds, short-term rentals and other properties are booked out months in advance. An article by ABC News claims the price of motels almost double about two weeks out from the festival. A 2020 article by Domain reports one short-term rental that changes $2000 a night during the festival before dropped back to $800 a night for the remainder of the year.
While the price of accommodation increases around every major event worldwide, the gouging on prices means that most artists are taking a major loss to be part of the event – not taking into account flights and/or petrol costs, food, venue and band hire etc.
“It’s probably safe to say any artist that has to pay for accommodation when at the festival (maybe the big stars don’t),” Great Aunt admit. “Council ran stages like Fanzone are unpaid performances (unless you’re a big star), as an example of what it’s likes to be an artist there. Most artists we know have scaled back. Do one show and get out so you don’t leave broke.”
Many fans have also expressed that going to the TCMF is now too expensive, with many, as well as some artists, now deciding to stay in nearby, more affordable towns and drive in to save money.
Akers wrote, “It’s the only festival I’ve ever performed on where it cost the artists more to attend then what they make otherwise I would love to stay [in Tamworth] the whole [festival week].”
“Artists have been complaining for years but it goes unheard while ever we still attend. The council can’t really do much about what the accommodation venues charge, it’s out of their hands.”
“Every year, less and less artists and musicians are going to the festival… this is not sustainable. As the spirit and variety of the festival deteriorates so will its sustainability,” Caswell says.
Last year, the Academy of Country Music, admitted they are aware that “plenty of artists lose money by going to TCMF and we agree that it’s an issue that should be addressed by the organisers of the festival.” Adding, “Our Academy has no influence over how TCMF is run.”
Since 1997, the Academy has mentored, supported and contributed to the careers of hundreds of young performers from every corner of Australia and New Zealand. It’s a professional development initiative of the Australian Country Music Association, the same organisation responsible for the organisation, promotion and staging of a number of TCMF activities, including the Golden Guitar Awards, along with the Tamworth Regional Council and various sponsors.
Without artists, a festival cannot run. Without fans, a festival will not run.
So, what, if anything, can be done? After all, the TCMF is the second biggest country music festival in the world, after the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, and that should be celebrated.
“It’d be great if the local council subsidised accommodation for artists, and for all performers to be paid when performing on their stages. I mean that’s how most other festivals work as a minimum,” Great Aunt suggests.
Caswell adds, “I don’t claim to have all the answers but if we all buy a ticket for something (myself included), it will go some way to encouraging artists to keep coming to Tamworth and to venues to keep using their talents.”
As all country music lovers would agree, the Tamworth Country Music Festival is an incredible event and an amazing institution backed by equally incredible artists, organisers and fans. Discussions around making it even more inclusive to be enjoyed by even more artists and fans, regardless of their economic status can only be a positive for what is the highlight of the country music calendar.