"I can promise you that it’s not the lure of awards and accolades that keeps me going back, nor is it the chance to to see (or feel like) a country music star on the red carpet or the big stages."
This year marks my fifteenth consecutive Tamworth Country Music Festival. That might seem like a lot, but there are artists (and fans) in their early twenties who’ve been to more than me. It’s pretty rare and unique for an event to not only attract folks to check it out once or twice but actually compel them to return time after time - particularly when it’s in a place that is quite difficult to get to and notoriously hot at this time of year.
Now I find it pretty hard to imagine not going to Tamworth in January - despite the fact I live in a lovely place near the beach and I seem to be away from home for almost all of the rest of the year. I can promise you that it’s not the lure of awards and accolades that keeps me going back, nor is it the chance to see (or feel like) a country music star on the red carpet or the big stages. Rather, I put my Tamworth addiction down to plain ol’ Fear of Missing Out.
When my band, The Wildes, and I first went, we took off in a 12-seater rental bus with a bunch of guitars and amps and a handful of tents. We camped at the City Lights Caravan Park on the outskirts of town, played late-night sets in rowdy bars (where we were way out of our depth) and found we’d lost our voices from the dust and dirt (and too much talking-over-loud music) by about the third day. We didn’t impress many people, but boy, we clung on to those we did; each compliment bought another burst of energy, and each CD we sold scored us another beer, a sausage in bread, a packet of Soothers and a little fuel money for the journey home. We sweated ourselves even skinnier on the outdoor stage at The Longyard Hotel and (at least some of us) drank to excess at The Albert and The Courthouse and The Tudor. We found much to love and some to loathe on that first pilgrimage, but we were fairly sure we’d go back the next year.
The band and I stuck out like sore thumbs in those days in Tamworth - or at least we liked to think we did. Truth is, there’d already been dozens of like-minded, left-of-centre acts paving the way for so-called ‘alt country’ or ‘Americana’ for decades. I didn’t know about The Dead Ringer Band (I thought Kasey Chambers was just a pop star with a twangy voice), and I’d never heard of Kevin Bennett or The ReMains or The Junes or Kim Cheshire. I did meet Caitlin Harnett that first time around - she and her family were already a decade ahead of me in terms of Tamworth pilgrimages and they really took us in and showed us the ropes. It’s truly great to see how she’s emerged as the Queen of Tamworth (and Sydney) underground in the years since.
I remember wondering at the time why the Harnetts, who seemed to me to be exemplars of musical credibility and taste, were so enamoured with a festival that, through the eyes of a sheltered Melburnian hipster-snob like myself, had always come across as a bit daggy. However, over the years I’ve realised that almost every single presumption and generalisation about Tamworth is wrong - including those clung to by know-it-alls like myself.
I’ve explored each nook and cranny of Tamworth over the years and engaged with just about every scene, from the daggiest to the most cool and credible (I’ll let you decide which is which or where I fall on that spectrum). I’ve learned so much in that town via a continuing series of beer-and-adrenaline-fuelled week-long bursts - not just about music but also poetry, politics, companionship and community.
Join our community with our FREE weekly newsletter
I may not stay in tents any more, but I’ve crashed everywhere, from couches to pub floors, hotel rooms, friends’ houses and park benches. However, if I were to sum it up, I’d say that in fifteen years of this festival, I haven’t slept very much at all. There’s always just too much going on, and I am terribly afraid of missing out.
If you’re going to be there this year, this is where you can see me play:
MONDAY 22nd at 7:30pm - The Pleasures at Americana in the Park
WEDNESDAY 24th at 10:30pm - Lachlan Bryan’s Drunken Piano Bar
THURSDAY 25th at 2pm - guest spot with The Weeping Willows (Capitol Theatre)
THURSDAY 25th at 2:30pm - Henry Wagons at Lachlan Bryan at The Tamworth Hotel
THURSDAY 25th at 7pm - The Pleasures at The Tamworth Services Club
SUNDAY 28th (all day) - Nundle Rocks Festival (an hour out of town in Nundle)