SUGGESTIONS that the Tamworth Country Music Festival is dying a slow death have been well and truly debunked after organisers reported staggering crowds over the opening weekend.
Thousands flocked to Peel St’s Boulevard of Dreams to take in the colourful sights and sounds on display during the festival’s first three days.
Ronnie Hammond, publican of the Tudor Hotel, said he was taken aback by the sheer numbers of festival-goers frequenting his pub so early on.
“We don’t know whether it’s because of the heat, but ever since Thursday we have been fairly well hammered,” Mr Hammond said.
“I was predicting it wasn’t going to start getting really busy until Wednesday, in the lead-up to the long weekend, but we have been getting hammered pretty well all the way through.”
Historically, the first weekend is a quieter affair, with numbers gradually building to their peak towards the end of the festival, which coincides with the Australia Day long weekend and the Golden Guitar Awards.
Tamworth Regional Council events and business director John Sommerlad said visitor numbers continued to swell, despite searing temperatures.
“We believe that the Saturday crowd for the first weekend of festival was probably the largest that we have ever seen,” Mr Sommerlad said. “If the heat was a factor I guess they would be somewhere else, it certainly hasn’t been a hindrance.”
It comes after near-record breaking crowds descended on Bicentennial Park on Friday night to enjoy the festival’s officialopening concert and fireworks display.
“There were 11,000 in the park for the opening concert, which is an outstanding result and would be up there with the record,” Mr Sommerlad said. “Everybody I’ve spoken to who have been going to these concerts for a long time tell me it’s probably the best concert they’ve every been to, and certainly the biggest.”
Festival founder Max Ellis said while it was too early to judge, initial observations suggested the 42nd festival was on track to be the biggest yet.
“I think the festival attendances have been extremely good so far,” Mr Ellis said. “There seems to be a lot of people around ... and the streets have been very full indeed. There was a huge, huge audience at the opening concert.”
However, the throngs of early-bird visitors were not completely unexpected.
The number of camping sites occupied at the Riverside Sporting Complex have topped last year’s records convincingly most days since the grounds opened a day early on January 9.
Mr Sommerlad suggested a brighter economic outlook coupled with the launch of an earlier marketing and advertising campaign as possible explanations for the early influx.