Tuning in to Tamworth

Visitors to Tamworth’s Country Music Festival brave the heat, waiting for the opening concert to...
Visitors to Tamworth’s Country Music Festival brave the heat, waiting for the opening concert to start. PHOTOS: LOUISE FRAMPTON
After attending Tamworth’s Country Music Festival in January, Louise Frampton finds she greatly under-estimated the size of the Australian event.

With 50,000 visitors, 2800 events, 700 performers and 120 venues, the statistics are mind-boggling.

For 10 days in January, Tamworth's population nearly doubles as country music fans don their cowboy hats, warm up their vocal cords and flock to the annual festival.

The Golden Guitar is probably the most-photographed sculpture in Tamworth, where visitors queue...
The Golden Guitar is probably the most-photographed sculpture in Tamworth, where visitors queue to take selfies.

A "must see'' on country music fans' calendars, the Toyota Country Music Festival has been running for 46 years.

The Peel St shopping hub of Tamworth is the heart of the festival, where buskers line the streets greeting visitors with a lively potpourri of sound.

Here is where you find the young and the old, the experienced and the novices, the pop country artists and the traditional artists, the yodellers and the didgeridoo players. It's an eclectic collection which broadly sums up the diversity of the festival.

Unlike other large music festivals, where you pay an entry fee and watch the shows for free, at Tamworth there's no registration fee, but there is a charge at certain venues, so buy your tickets early.

The line-up isn't chosen by a festival committee; instead most venues arrange their own artists and performance programme.

The choice of which acts to see is overwhelming. The official guide has 48 A4 pages listing daily events.

Gore District Ambassador Tyler Dowling takes a break on the shady deck at the  Dag Sheep Station...
Gore District Ambassador Tyler Dowling takes a break on the shady deck at the Dag Sheep Station in Nundle, after watching songwriters, including Gore’s Jenny Mitchell, perform.
I must admit I was a little naive. It took me a long time to "tune-in'' to how things worked. I presumed I would be able to wander around the venues, see who I liked and then sit in and listen.

The problem with this approach was the venues were well spaced out - at sports clubs, pubs, churches, shopping centres, schools and stations - and it was hot. Really hot. Forty-one degrees in the shade. Therefore, centrally-located air-conditioned indoor venues were popular and filled quickly.

Jody Direen, of Wanaka, performs an evening gig at the Imperial Hotel, Tamworth, on January 20....
Jody Direen, of Wanaka, performs an evening gig at the Imperial Hotel, Tamworth, on January 20.
As well as the free concerts in the park every night, there were two to three smaller central stages and festival buses to take patrons to outlying venues.

Apart from individual artists, there were other shows such as the Star Maker grand final, Americana in the Park, the Bush Ballad Show, Busking Championships and Battle of the Blue Grass.

There was also a New Zealand Showcase concert, which was a shame to miss. Many performers from the lower South Island took part, including MAC, a trio made up of Dunedin siblings Campbell (14) and Alyssa Landrebe (12), and Michelle Hendriks (18), of Gore, which was named the winners of the Senior Aristocrat Country Entertainer of the Year award.

And, of course, the be-all and end-all to attend is the Golden Guitar Awards, fondly known as the "Grammies of country music''.

It is the pinnacle of the festival, held in the $6million Tamworth Regional Entertainment & Conference Centre in front of 5000 fans. And it pays to get your ticket early.

Although not able to attend all of these in my short visit, I was able to venture out to hear the songwriters at the "Friends of the

New Zealand trio MAC, Michelle Hendriks (left), of Gore, and Dunedin siblings Alyssa (12, second...
New Zealand trio MAC, Michelle Hendriks (left), of Gore, and Dunedin siblings Alyssa (12, second from right) and Campbell Landrebe (14) perform with Jenny Mitchell (18), also of Gore, during the New Zealand Showcase concert. While in Tamworth, MAC won...
Dag'' concert at the Dag Sheep Station, about an hour's drive away in Nundle.

It was a quiet easy drive to Nundle, giving an insight into the historic gold-mining town, now home to a woollen mill, trout farm and plenty of antique stores to fossick in.

Originally part of Wombramurra Station, the Dag Sheep Station has diversified and now has a licensed bar and spit roast catering and is a popular venue for weddings, private functions and retreats.

It was the perfect haven away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The Dag has a reputation for introducing new stars to the music scene through its Songwriters Retreats and has housed many well-known acts, so it was only fitting that Gore Gold Guitar Awards winner Jenny Mitchell was one of the eight invited guests.

Tamworth,  in the New England region of New South Wales, Australia, has a population of about 60...
Tamworth, in the New England region of New South Wales, Australia, has a population of about 60,000, which nearly doubles during the 10 days of the country music festival.
She had the capacity audience mesmerised with her rich voice as she treated them to a selection of her songs including one off her soon-to-be released album Wildfires.

It was here I also caught up with Gore District Ambassador Tyler Dowling.

As part of his role as ambassador, Tyler was in Tamworth for 10 days to spread the word about Gore and the New Zealand Gold Guitar awards.

His picks of the Tamworth festival were the Star Maker show, the Dag concert and the Golden Guitar Awards.

Comparing the event with the New Zealand Gold Guitar Awards, Dowling said the Gore event was a lot more intimate than the Tamworth one, "but we still have an amazing level of talent''.

"There is a great showcase of country music in this country [New Zealand].''

The Pig and Tinder Box was one of the bars/eateries which had a stage for performers, attracting...
The Pig and Tinder Box was one of the bars/eateries which had a stage for performers, attracting visitors to its cool deck and indoor dining area.
Where to eat
 • The Glasshouse, Goonoo Goonoo Station

About 20km south of Tamworth,  this glass-walled venue has 180-degree views over the rolling hills of Goonoo Goonoo Station. It is a haven away from the hustle and bustle of the festival hub. Recognised by Opentable as one of the top 50 restaurants in Australia, it was easy to see why. With selections such as grilled New Zealand scallops, wagyu ravioli or grilled barramundi with green papaya salad, it couldn’t be faulted. It is also well worth a visit  to view the historic woolstore and accommodation village, which have been immaculately restored.

 • The Workshop Kitchen at Quality Hotel Powerhouse
With menus created by an executive chef who is a three-time recipient of a Michelin Star, you know you have come to the right place. A wood-fired oven and grill are  fired up daily to add a unique smoked flavour to the locally-sourced beef — a highlight of the menu. And, with nearly 200 wines on their list, The Workshop Kitchen achieved a 2-Glass rating for its extensive wine list in the 2017 in Australia’s Wine List of the Year Awards.

 • Pig and Tinder Box
In the heart of Tamworth, this old bank building  has been revamped to a ‘‘boutique bar meets classic pub’’ style. It is a popular choice for visitors, with an outdoor veranda and performance stage for the festival.   It offers craft beers, and wines as well as a tempting selection of cocktails that sound like delectable desserts.  Diners are tempted with popular ‘‘share’’ plates or wood fired pizzas and pub classics.

 

Louise Frampton was a guest of Destination NSW. She flew to Tamworth from Sydney with Virgin Airlines and stayed at the Quality Hotel Powerhouse and used Hertz Rental cars.

 

 

 

 

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