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Voice of Real Australia: Tamworth Country Music festival falls victim to coronavirus pandemic

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The winners at the 2020 Toyota Golden Guitar Awards. Next year the awards will be presented online. Picture: Laurie Bullock

The winners at the 2020 Toyota Golden Guitar Awards. Next year the awards will be presented online. Picture: Laurie Bullock

If ever there was going to be a year that we would have to miss the Tamworth Country Music Festival, at least it's next year.

Maybe it's a blessing in disguise. I'll explain why later.

Tamworth Regional Council this week voted to not go ahead with the events it runs for TCMF, which includes the prestigious Star Maker talent quest, the busking championships which has unearthed more than its fair share of stars. Heard of Keith Urban?

Right now two communities have been hit hard by the news that Australia's best known country music event will not be happening next year.

Firstly, the community of Tamworth, which audaciously held the Australasian Country Music Awards in 1973, is reeling. It is home to some businesses that make the majority of their annual income in January.

Since 1973 the New England city has been home to Australia's national country music awards, and the festival which has continued to grow. And Tamworth has continued to make its name as the country music capital.

The second community devastated by the cancellation is the country music fraternity, which has lost one of the few opportunities it has to all come together.

Country musicians, artists, songwriters, record company executives, publicists, sound crew, stage hands, and most importantly the fans, are found all around Australia. Every January they are found in Tamworth.

It's a place where people meet. I know of one Melbourne band who all live in that city, but who all met each other in Tamworth.

FESTIVAL CROWD: The Tamworth Country Music Festival draws thousands of people to the city. Picture: Gareth Gardner

FESTIVAL CROWD: The Tamworth Country Music Festival draws thousands of people to the city. Picture: Gareth Gardner

It's the festival where people catch up. During the 10 days of the festival, aside from the concerts and the buskers and the awards, there are many times that people who only see each other in January can get together.

Cheryl Brown, the editor of Tamworth's Country Music Capital News magazine, described it as an extraordinary feeling of emptiness on social media, as they head into 2021 with no festival.

She has spent her life around the festival after her father Geoff Brown was the first artist to bring live country music to Tamworth in the 1960s.

Golden Guitar winner Ashleigh Dallas is a Tamworth local who has also spent her life on Tamworth stages.

The singer said she was really feeling for all the people who make up the industry, and Tamworth.

Hers is the only family to have three generations of Golden Guitar winners between herself, father Brett and her grandfather Rex. In 1975 Rex won his first Golden Guitar at the third annual awards.

This week Ashleigh recalled how she grew up with a festival venue on her family's property that welcomed many guests and hosted shows. The festival is where her own dreams began.

FATHER AND DAUGHTER: Brett and Ashleigh Dallas win at the 2018 Toyota Golden Guitar Awards. Picture: Peter Hardin

FATHER AND DAUGHTER: Brett and Ashleigh Dallas win at the 2018 Toyota Golden Guitar Awards. Picture: Peter Hardin

It is not just an economy that's affected, but the two communities I mentioned.

New England teenager Charlie Fittler hasn't finished school yet, but he has been playing at Tamworth over the last four years after starting as a busker. He has expressed hope that virtual concerts could still go ahead in Tamworth, streamed online.

That is what is now planned for the 49th Toyota Golden Guitar Awards. They were still go ahead, but without the red carpet outside the Tamworth Regional Entertainment Centre, and without the fans.

But if there is one thing the fans - and the industry - can look forward to is hope.

In 12 months time, hopefully the 2022 festival will be going ahead, which will celebrate 50 years of the Tamworth Country Music Festival. It will be back with a milestone to celebrate.

So if there was a year we had to miss it, and wait 12 months, I believe it is 2021, when we can start looking forward to what will be an even bigger 50-year celebration.

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