Tamworth Country Music Festival in full flight after two years of COVID-19 disruptions

The strumming of guitars has returned to the main streets of Tamworth without pandemic-related disruptions for the first time in two years as its iconic Country Music Festival returns to a traditional January timeslot.

The 2021 festival had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 and in 2022 it was postponed at the last minute until April.

This year, as many as 40,000 visitors are expected to converge on Australia’s country music capital over the course of the 10-day event.

Tamworth-based country artist and four-time Golden Guitar winner Ashleigh Dallas said she often became emotional while thinking about the festival’s significance to her career.

“You can’t talk to any artist that doesn’t have a story about Tamworth that is a pivotal moment or a change in their career,” she said.

“It starts here. So many dreams start here in Tamworth.”

She said nothing gave her the same feeling as performing in locations at home that she visited with family.

“There’s something about a hometown gig … it’s a rush. It’s such an energetic feeling,” Dallas said.

Four people standing in a park with a stage in the background
Ashleigh Dallas with Kevin Anderson MP, mayor Russell Webb, and festival manager Barry Harley.(ABC New England North West: Patrick Bell)

Plenty of emerging artists have also taken the opportunity to showcase their talents to the wandering crowds.

Queensland duo Brad and Brodie had come to Tamworth for the second time with big dreams for their country music career.

“The first time we came here I think we said to each other, ‘We’re going to headline this place one day,’ so that’s our goal.

“This is only the second time [here] and I’m pretty sure we’re 50 per cent of the way moving here.”

Two people standing on a footpath wearing hats, one holding a guitar.
Queensland country duo Brad and Brodie are in Tamworth for their second country music festival.(ABC New England North West: Patrick Bell)

Inflation affects ticket sales

But while the mood in Tamworth is upbeat, some artists are reporting lower-than-expected ticket sales to their shows.

Festival manager Barry Harley said the event was facing a “perfect storm” due to inflation, high fuel prices, and the ongoing effects of flooding in several states.

“We’d be a bit naive to expect that that’s not going to have an impact,” he said.

But Mr Harley said ticket sales at official venues had picked up, with about 16,000 tickets sold in recent weeks.

“They flattened off over Christmas, but then came back with a vengeance,” he said.

A highlight of the festival’s first few days will be the Star Maker competition on Sunday night, which features 10 emerging artists.

The competition has been a launching pad for some of the industry’s biggest names, including Keith Urban and Lee Kernaghan.

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