Down, Down, numbers are down, but ...

THE one thing Tamworth venue operators agreed about the 2013 country music festival was the diminishing crowd numbers.

In my venue survey on Tuesday afternoon and yesterday morning, that was the common thread – smaller numbers who spent less.

Festivalgoers were being stung by inflated camping and motel costs, increased food and drink prices, over-regulation by the council, the cost of living and bushfires and flooding, they said.

But up in the hills of Nundle it was a different story.

Peel Inn publican Nathan Schofield had an excellent festival and the huge investment he put into it paid off.

“We had a revitalised line-up and did two shows a day,” Nathan said.

“There was always a crowd and when we did have a break between bands, they went somewhere else, so they were here to see the bands.

“It was good to see the buses out here, too. Hopefully next year we will adjust the timetables slightly. And, after a couple of wet years, the rain held off. Whatever you do up here has a lot to do with the weather. If it rains, you don’t have a really good one, but it rained on the Sunday for the poets – and it was huge! 

“A couple of things aligned for us this year. The Queensland school kids went back later, so people stayed here as long as they could before the floods came.”

Nathan said his standout acts were The Re-mains, Gleny Rae Virus and Her Tamworth Playboys and Jeremy Edwards and Dust Radio Band.

“They were all pretty good and all the acts were good mates, so they had these big jam sessions and stayed up here, creating a real atmosphere,” Nathan said. 

“We really took a risk with the amount of acts and the money we spent, but it paid dividends, so all that hard work paid off.” 

Back in Tamworth, things were good in many areas, while the general consensus was of a lack of atmosphere in the street and the “disaster” of the new busking rules.

Des Gilfillan at the Oasis Hotel said he and wife Joyce had never seen buskers at their hotel until now – and, in 20 years, had never heard as much negative feedback. 

“We were on par with last year, and that’s about as good as we could do,” Des said.

“The last three years it’s grown to the stage where we really can’t go bigger, so I have no complaints at all about our patrons or crowds, but quite a few people around town were complaining. The cafés and coffee shops fared badly, from what we heard, and I had a hell of a lot of performers complain about the busking.

“They were so upset, they won’t be back unless things change. It wasn’t just one or two. We would have had a dozen or more complaints from people every day for the entire 17 days (including the countdown) – and that runs into the hundreds. 

“They were very disillusioned and they weren’t whingers. The general feeling was they all had a very sour taste in their mouth – and it wasn’t only the buskers, it was the people who come to watch them.

“They were very dissatisfied with the new set-up. I can understand why they tried to change the system they had, but by all accounts, it just didn’t work.”

Des and Joyce provide traditional country for their patrons year-round.

“We do our own thing out here and it works. On one night during the countdown week, we broke our record by over 60 per cent. Last year everyone was saying they were down by 50 per cent and we were up by 25 per cent, so we must be doing something right.”

Publican Belinda Burgess said she was very happy with patronage at The Central and put that down to a change-around in the line-up.

“We had a very positive reaction to the new acts. People were in here earlier and it was busier, for us,” Belinda said. 

“People were saying it was quiet in the street, but I didn’t feel it was quieter. The artists we had were great and our patrons were well behaved.”

Belinda said there were too many standouts to name but the return of Texas Rose was a highlight.

“We had to shut the doors for her, with one in, one out. It was lovely to see her back. We think all the acts we have here are great,” she said.

Down the road at the Tudor Hotel, Ron and Irene Hammond had good crowds, but Irene said, in general, crowds were down about 20 per cent on last year and the problem was the main street. 

“They just took the life out of the street. There was no noise in the streets, no atmosphere,” Irene said.

“People had to actually go into a venue to grab any sort of atmosphere at all. The carnival atmosphere was taken away and that’s the general opinion of everyone I’ve spoken to.

“Buskers having to set up all their gear and only being allowed to play for two hours and having to move on was just shocking. 

“To me, a busker is somebody that wants to have a go, whether they’re good or not, and it should be their choice where they play.

“There’s a general over-regulation of everything. Council has over-

regulated every single thing. They’re blaming the hotels and motels for jacking up prices and that’s putting all us hotels under that heading.

“We don’t put food or drink prices up. We have had a steak-sandwich stand out front and haven’t put up our prices for three years, yet the council camping grounds costs have increased. I can remember when they didn’t open them up until the caravan parks were full, but that’s gone by the wayside.”

Irene and Ron outlaid $40,000 for entertainment and then had to find an extra $22,000 for security, only to be told they had insufficient security personnel.

“I feel council did cruel it as far as the street went. We have always encouraged young talent. Jetty Road started out busking out the front of our venue and so did Rod Dowsett and many others,” Irene said.

“When one chap was booking out he said he wouldn’t be back. What they’re doing really upset him and he planned to go to a festival on the coast next year – and he’s one of many.” 

Tamworth Hotel publican Roger Rumble said he felt the crowds were “a bit different” this year, but it 

hadn’t had a major impact.

“We had great days and great nights here and some tremendous acts and musicians. We had no trouble and everything ran smoothly,” Roger said.

“Australia Day being the Saturday meant people didn’t go as hard on Thursday and Friday, but the Saturday was massive. It’s going to be great the next couple of years with the timing of the public holiday.”

Things were on par or slightly better than last year at Joe Maguires Pub, according to Natalie Leonard, the daughter of publicans Oscar and Suzanne.

“I think the crowds in the street were down, but we served lots of meals to big numbers of people,” Natalie said.

“Murphy’s Pigs and Simply Bushed were our two standouts. We had good nights here, but overall, the crowds were probably down.”

Post Office Hotel publican Andrew Coutts said the success of the festival was a little difficult to gauge, as it was only their second year at the venue. “People around town seemed to think it was down a bit. Our food was down slightly, maybe because of more street stalls, but drinks were on par with last year,” Andrew said.

“Overall it was a good festival and we had some terrific acts. Jayne Denham and Chris E Thomas were great, and so was Dan Murphy, and Holly Denton and her band.

“8 Ball Aitken always puts on a good show; Troy came in and did three songs with him, and he brought his family here, too.”

Matt Zell, who owns the Imperial and the Locomotive hotels, was pretty happy with both venues.

“It went well at the Imperial. We had probably our best line-up ever,” Matt said.

“Viper Creek and the Perch Creek Family Jug Band were big crowd favourites.

“Australia Day was a big day and big night for us.”

Matt said trade at the Locomotive Hotel was certainly up on last year and this was due to the better 

program.

“Crowds were definitely softer during the week, but the timing of Australia Day on the Saturday helped make it a big day and night,” he said. 

“Wanita was a standout for us at the Loco. She went very well for us again. The Round Mountain Girls and Wanita were the pick of our acts.”

Despite fewer people and a flat spot midweek, takings were slightly up on last year by the end of the festival at The Pub Group of hotels, according to Craig Power. 

“Changing things around and introducing new things was a big contributor to the success of the Southgate Inn,” Craig said.

“The XXXX Gold stage at Southgate went well. It was a new thing for us to do the beer garden shows.”

Standouts at The Pub were Bill Chambers, Pickers’ Night, Catherine Britt and Kevin Bennett and The Flood on the last Sunday.

“Dozzi was the big band at Southgate Inn, and Henry Wagons worked well. Our band of the year was the Hillbilly Goats,” Craig said. 

“They played in every venue and did a great job.

“They market themselves well and sold a heap of merchandise.

“The Perch Creek Family Jug Band had a big crowd that followed them all week.”

At the Longyard, Viper Creek and the Aaron Daniels Band held the late-night crowds, while Bob Corbett brought his following to all shows.

“The Bushwackers have become the must-see act and were selling out consistently,” he said.

“It was the first time we’d had The Wolverines at the Longyard and they went well. The first couple of shows were close to sellouts and their midnight show drew a good crowd, too.

“Our first show to sell out – and 

our most popular – was The 

4 Highwaymen.

“At The Family in the front rooms, Ben Ransom and Stephanie Jansen went well, and in the ticketed area, Cash Only and the Howard Family show drew good numbers.

“At the Goodies, local lad Aaron Bolton kept the crowds there, and Mustered Courage, Harry Hookey and Lonesome Train were other standouts.”

West Tamworth Sports and Bowling Club bar manager Damon Sullivan said, compared to other venues, they had minimal entertainment. 

“We had an enjoyable festival here. The Makeshift Jam was pretty well patronised, but it’s like that throughout the year as well,” Damon said.

“Shaylee Wilde’s Celtic Country Shows got good crowds every day, so we were happy with that.”

Brett Muller from the City Bowling Club said its festival was excellent, with good crowds along each day to Sam Smyth’s brekky shows.

“It was probably a little bit up on last year, if anything. Terry Gordon’s shows went well, but the best show was the Kross Kut Records showcase on the Tuesday night, which drew the biggest crowd,” Brett said.

Kootingal Bowling Club manager Gary Roser said the festival started off in a big way with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter fundraiser on the Sunday of countdown week.

The charity show for disability 

was another biggie and very well 

organised.

“Council always puts it out there that it was the biggest and best year ever, but people acknowledge it was down,” Gary said.

“With the increased cost of living and other factors, like the buskers’ fiasco, it’s all come to a head.

“The council had better watch themselves or a place like Gympie could snavel this festival if they’re not careful.

“They should be researching in their own backyard when the festival’s on, not in Nashville. Mix with the people here. They’re the ones who tell you what they want. It’s all right to pay their events person big money, but they under-delivered.”

Gary said crowds at the bowlo were consistent, but not as well-patronised as previous years and he had figures to back that up.

South Tamworth Bowling Club secretary manager Owen Walker said the festival was OK for the club, “but nothing special”.

“Our bar sales were down and although we had a lot of people here, basically they didn’t spend. The numbers were a bit down, but not anything massive,” Owen said.

“They spent a lot less because they’re getting ripped off in a lot of places. We don’t adjust our prices for the festival.

“With the fires and flooding going on, it might have influenced some not to come and others to leave early, but it was just different this year.

“Last year the first week was huge and the second week was quiet. This year it was pretty steady all through, but nothing special. It was an interesting learning curve for us.”

Owen said he felt people were looking for something different in Tamworth.

“With all the festivals and tours these days, people don’t have to come to Tamworth to see Adam and Kasey. I think the lack of big-name American acts had an impact,” he said.

“The busking was a bit sad, too, I must admit. Having to audition on YouTube, it lost a bit of the character about it.”

Changing the program around and introducing more modern acts had been a big plus for the bowlo, Owen said.

“Reg Poole is always popular, but I’m a bit concerned about the excess water bill we’re going to get from emptying Chaffey Dam,” he said (tongue-in-cheek).

“We went with a few of the more modern acts this time and it worked well. Damian Howard and The Ploughboys on that first Friday was one of our better nights, and Dan Murphy has a good following.

“Doug Bruce got a fair few in during the day, but I’d like to see him doing some night shows here next time.”

Oxley Bowling Club only had a few concerts and they didn’t draw big crowds, according to Bill Baker.

“Clarence Ormsby put on a Jimmy Little tribute show and he was disappointed only about 40-50 turned up,” Bill said.

“Johnny Kaye did four shows here and got about 110-120 for the first one, and he was happy with that, but the numbers dropped to about 50-60 for his other three shows.

“I think the prices they charge around town have a lot to do with the downturn. It’s a disgrace. People can’t afford to come here any more.” 

Chris Morris, who organises the Tamworth Golf Club entertainment roster, agreed that crowds were down.

He said ticket sales this year dropped by about 20 per cent on last year’s figures.

“The numbers were down, particularly on the Wednesday night when they had that big Kasey Chambers free concert in the park, which came out of the blue,” Chris said.

“The First Queens of Country did a show that afternoon and drew about 150 patrons, and their night-time show only about 60, and their shows are always big here. The poets were on five mornings and had great crowds. 

“Our standouts were the poets and the queens.”

Andrew Clermont, who organises the North Tamworth Bowling Club roster, said he did as well as any year and finished on a “motza”.

“It might have been a bit up, even. Camille and Stuie did the Tuesday afternoon show and it was a sellout. They’re coming back with more shows next year, and hopefully, the Feral Swing Katz, too,” Andrew said.

“Lonnie Lee is not likely to come back. He started out OK but lost money in the end.”

Andrew’s International Supper Club nights had some magical moments, as always, with the guitar night and piano night high points of the week.

“On piano night we had The Borderers with Parris Macleod on piano and Karl Pannuzzo and it just rocked out,” Andrew said.

“The table tops will never be the same again. John Muller’s small band was a real hit on piano night. The crowd loved them.”

Andrew said it was the surprise packages that he enjoyed watching evolve, like Marilla Holmes, a classically trained soloist from Melbourne, who sings anything from opera and Irish lilts to Patsy Cline.

“Gregory Page came in and just lapped up the atmosphere like ice cream,” Andrew said.

“He loved having a big band around him and was like a kid in a lolly shop. Brookie Schiemer is a great act, too, and has a great vibe around her. 

“One night we had Mic Conway’s National Junk Band, which was supposed to be a three-piece and ended up with 10 musicians across the stage.”

Wests Entertainment Group chief executive officer Rod Laing said he was delighted to be marginally up – by 2 or 3 per cent on last year.

“You’ve got to be happy with that. Last year we were down on the previous year, so we are very close to getting back to where we were,” he said.

Rod said he could understand why people were spending less, with the  increased cost of living, which affected everybody.

He said the traditional acts were the standouts – Beccy Cole, Adam Harvey, the Sunny Cowgirls and Adam Brand.

“The new acts we introduced this year did OK – like The Beards and Busby Marou – and John Stone’s return was very well received by the public, reflected in good figures every day.

“The early-morning spot is famous for great musicianship and Pete Denahy did not disappoint. His shows reached expectations.

“The Long Lunch is a tradition and went very well every day. Ticketed shows overall were OK, but the ones that struggled were the newer acts, which covered costs but didn’t attract full houses.”

Tamworth Services Club chief executive officer Kristian Brooks said although the numbers were down about town, his roster of acts worked well.

“The highlight of the festival for us was seeing Luke O’Shea win a 

Golden Guitar. It was a long time coming,” Kristian said.

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