Nashville of the Antipodes: Boot-scootin’ at the Tamworth Country Music Festival

The festival has its roots in the work of radio station 2TM, which in the 1960's aired specialist shows to win back audiences who were being wooed away by the advent of television.

Nashville of the Antipodes: Boot-scootin' at the Tamworth Country Music Festival

image: country fans' arsesFestival Essentials

Where: Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia
When: January, culminating on Australia Day – 26th January
Happenings: toe-tappin’, boot-scootin’ and two-steppin’ like a Rhinestone Cowboy
Join In: The world’s biggest line dance – if you dare!

Where it’s at

Tamworth is the country music capital of Australia – the Nashville of the Antipodes – with this unique style of music being the main focus of the town year round. Here, the information centre is guitar-shaped, the town’s entrance is marked by a 36ft guitar and country music stars are represented in a waxwork hall of fame.

But all of the toe-tappin’, boot-scootin’ and two-steppin’ reaches its climax every January, when Tamworth plays host to one of the biggest and best country music festivals in the world. Beginning with a 7-day pre-festival countdown, the 10-day event culminates with the Golden Guitar Awards and, on Australia Day (26th January), a massive outdoor concert set against a backdrop of the Australian summer night sky exploding in a dazzling display of celebratory fireworks.

History of the Tamworth Festival

The festival has its roots in the work of radio station 2TM, which in the 1960’s aired specialist shows to win back audiences who were being wooed away by the advent of television. Hoedown, a show devoted to country music, became so popular that in the space of a few years, jamborees were being held in Tamworth over the Australia Day long weekend and the first Golden Guitar awards were being presented. In the space of 30 years, the event has grown to be the extravaganza that it is today, a lively celebration of Australian country music which annually draws crowds of around 40,000 and stages about 2,500 events in over 100 different venues.

What happens at the Festival

Whether you’re after the plaintive strains of crying-in-your-beer, lonesome cowboy music, the plinkety-plink of the banjo, the rollicking sounds of the country fiddle, or big voices belting out lyrics about big emotions in big landscapes, you’ll find it all right here. Australia’s Anglo-Celtic origins combine with the influences of Australia itself in bush ballads, bluegrass, folky-blues, acoustic sets and wailing harmonicas that provide the context for gritty and smoky vocal performances.

Participants include everyone from country-music stars, to buskers on Peel Street (known as the Boulevard of Dreams due to the many artists who have risen to stellar heights from discovery here), bush poets and rodeo riders. A massive collective of bootscooters join buckles for the world’s biggest line-dance – 6,744 in 2002, proudly maintaining its place in the Guinness Book of Records. A street parade with floats provides a further splash of colour to the crowd who sport big hats, flashy shirts, rhinestones and fringing plus denim, denim and more denim.

However, this is Australia and no mistake about it – so, as well as country music devotees, you’re just as likely to see casual observers cheating the heat in shorts and singlet tops. This ain’t no pale imitation of the trashy commercialism of mainstream American country & western music – not a Dolly or Kenny to be seen – but a distinctly Australian celebration of culture, heritage, identity and the role of country music in all of these. The temptation would be to say Yee-ha.

 

MORE INFORMATION

Australia Country Online
Details of next year’s festival and programme of events care of the Country Music Association of Australia.

Tamworth City Council
Provides information about events and accommodation.

Article By Sarah Rodrigues

main image: Jetty Road playing the Capitol Theatre at the 2010 Tamworth Country Music Festival by By Jetty Road – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24501352

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