Jest note of respect

Ferg Mitchell (right and left) welcomes country music fans to the 25th anniversary of the Merino Country Hoedown in Omarama yesterday. Photo by David Bruce.
Ferg Mitchell (right and left) welcomes country music fans to the 25th anniversary of the Merino Country Hoedown in Omarama yesterday. Photo by David Bruce.
"Double trouble," someone muttered as Ferg Mitchell posed with a life-sized portrait of himself outside the huge marquee put up for the 25th anniversary country music hoedown, which started in Omarama yesterday.

But the joking comment was a tribute to Mr Mitchell, who has helped organise the event now known as the Merino Country Hoedown for all of its 25 years.

It started at the Hakataramea Hotel in 1986, with about 50 to 60 - mainly friends and relatives - turning up, some in campervans or caravans because accommodation was tight in the small Waitaki River community.

It shifted for a couple of years to Otematata, outgrew the venue, then was held for the first time in Omarama last year at the Countrytime Hotel, with part of the hotel's grounds and the neighbouring Omarama airfield used as a campervan park.

Tonight about 1000 people are expected to pack into a giant marquee for the premier event, the Country Showcase.

About 200 caravans and campervans will be parked next to the marquee, with fans coming from all around New Zealand.

Mr Mitchell said campervans started arriving on Wednesday - by noon there were about 50, although officially the park did not open until Thursday.

By mid-afternoon yesterday about 100 had arrived, with about the same number expected late yesterday after people finished work or early today.

Last night, the music started in earnest and today performers will busk between 1pm and 6pm in the Omarama town centre, turning it into a festival.

The Country Showcase starts at 7pm. Music starts again at 10am tomorrow and goes all day with a jam session at night.