Campers peg down as Riverside Camping Grounds open | Photos

I'M BACK: Peter Horton is among the first campers to arrive, with mayor Col Murray, Barry Harley and Michaela Stevens. Photo: Simon McCarthy
I'M BACK: Peter Horton is among the first campers to arrive, with mayor Col Murray, Barry Harley and Michaela Stevens. Photo: Simon McCarthy

FOR 17 years, Queenslander Peter Horton has made the annual pilgrimage south for the Tamworth Country Music Festival.

It’d be easy to mistake the singlet-wearing, Akubra-clad retiree as a local.

But the Morayfield man is one of just thousands of visitors who call Tamworth home every January as they converge on the city for the 10-day festival. 

Mr Horton was among the first of dozens to set up their tents, caravans and campervans at the Riverside Festival Camping Ground on Thursday when Tamworth mayor Col Murray declared it officially open. 

Mr Horton is a regular on the country music scene – and he’s got the goods to prove it. 

Queensland camper Peter Horton's sticker-clad car. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Queensland camper Peter Horton's sticker-clad car. Photo: Simon McCarthy

His car and trailer are plastered with stickers from every corner of the country – but it’s a sticker bearing the name “Lee Kernahan”, stretching across the back of his car, that takes pride of place.

Mr Horton’s 17th visit to Tamworth coincides with Lee Kernaghan’s 25th festival appearance. 

Mr Horton gave away camping in a tent years ago, but his prized blue campervan has been put to use as he travels from one country music festival to the next.

He showed up to Tamworth early on Thursday and claimed river-fronting stumps at the makeshift camping ground before it transforms into a sea of tents and vans.

Not only is Riverside Festival Camping a cheap and convenient accommodation option, but it’s the sense of community amongst the happy campers that keeps him coming back.

“It’s the camaraderie,” Mr Horton said.

Queensland camper Peter Horton's sticker-clad trailer. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Queensland camper Peter Horton's sticker-clad trailer. Photo: Simon McCarthy

“Camping is a cheaper option for me and there’s a great sense of community.”

Tamworth Regional Council events manager Barry Harley said opening temporary camping grounds across the city over the festival period ensured visitors all had a place to stay, with more than 50,000 expected to attend.

“2017 won’t necessarily be bigger, but it will certainly be better,” Mr Harley said.

“There’s a great feel, a great magic that it’s going to be a really, really good festival.”

RIVERSIDE FESTIVAL CAMPING GROUNDS OFFICIALLY OPEN

IT MAY still be a week out, but campers in the hundreds are already pitching tents and unhitching vans as Tamworth Country Music Festival’s (TCMF) largest camping site officially opened on Thursday.

HELPING HANDS: Olivia Tirrill, Hailey Lund, Kate Sullivan and Evie Witty, with Tamworth councillors Phil Betts and Jim Maxwell, and TRC business and community director John Sommerlad. Photo: Simon McCarthy

HELPING HANDS: Olivia Tirrill, Hailey Lund, Kate Sullivan and Evie Witty, with Tamworth councillors Phil Betts and Jim Maxwell, and TRC business and community director John Sommerlad. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Tamworth mayor Col Murray opened the Riverside Festival Camping Ground with 141 sites already booked out ahead of the launch of the 10-day festival next Friday.

The temporary camping ground is the largest site for camping during the festival, with up to 5000 people expected to converge on the 1500-site reserve.

For the first time in 2017, festival goers were able to pre-purchase their camping tickets online, with 141 tickets already sold.

It’s a sign Cr Murray said proved the festival brings dollars to the town, with the local economy benefiting from the spending spin-off of campers across the retail, hospitality and accommodation sectors.

“It’s probably one of the major industries in our local economy,” Cr Murray said.

“It certainly gives an enormous spike right across the retail sector, the hospitality sector, and the accommodations sectors.”

TCMF 2017 will see more than 700 artists perform 2,800 shows across 120 different venues.

“In the 45th year, I’m in awe of the founding fathers that developed such a fantastic concept known all around the country and the world," Cr Murray said of the festival.

“More and more people are calling Tamworth home for their country music careers.”

Tamworth Regional Council events manager Barry Harley said campers continued to claim stumps earlier than previous years in a sign the festival was growing in popularity.

“This year, the festival maybe seems to be a week later than it was last year, and there’s a little more space, giving travellers more time to get their act together to come along after their Christmas and New Year activities,” Mr Harley said.

“It’s something we encourage, but its a balance.

“We also have to be fair to our other caravan parks to make sure that they’re full.

“This addition, which will house upwards of 4 or 5000 people, with 1500 or so campsites, seems to grow (every year).”

NASHVILLE STUDENTS HELP OUT FOR FESTIVAL

THEY are our country music-loving counterparts on the other side of the world. 

JUMP FOR JOY: Hailey Lund, 18, Kate Sullivan, 18, Olivia Tirrill, 17, and Evie Witty, 18, are out from Nashville for the Tamworth Country Music Festival. Photo: Simon McCarthy

JUMP FOR JOY: Hailey Lund, 18, Kate Sullivan, 18, Olivia Tirrill, 17, and Evie Witty, 18, are out from Nashville for the Tamworth Country Music Festival. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Meet the city’s newest recruits – Kate Sullivan, Olivia Tirrill, Hailey Lund and Evie Witty – four high school students from Nashville, who are interning with Tamworth Regional Council (TRC) in the lead up to the Country Music Festival (TCMF).

The girls are in Australia’s country music capital on a three-week exchange as part of the Harpeth Hall Winterim Program. This year marks the third time Tamworth has played host, thanks to its Sister City relationship with Nashville.

Kate, a country music tragic and die-hard regular at Nashville’s County Music Festival, is excited to see how Tamworth’s equivalent fares.

“It’ll be good to experience something similar to ours,” she said. 

“We don’t have a lot of buskers, so that’ll be different. We came here earlier so we got to experience a sleepier time before it gets really busy.”

TRC business and community director John Sommerlad said the girls were working closely with staff and venues to put the final touches on TCMF. 

“I think they’ll… appreciate the value of TCMF, which we say is the second-largest country music festival in the world behind Nashville, although there’s only goes for four days, ours goes for 10,” he said.

TRC is liaising with local schools interested in a reciprocal exchange, hoping it takes off within 12 months.

FRIDAY’S LINE-UP

 9:00am   Australian Country Music Hall of Fame opens - Cnr Peel & Murray Street

 9:00am   Tamworth Visitor Information Centre opens - Big Golden Guitar Tourist Centre - Goonoo Goonoo Rd

7:30pm   Friday 13th Rockabilly/Honkytonk Showdown with Marie Hodson, Wendy Phypers and The Cartwheels - Cattleman Steakhouse

8:30pm   Allison Forbes - Wests' Diggers - Diggers Courtyard

8:30pm   Lawrie & Shelley Minson - West Tamworth League Club (Wests) - Legends Lounge

8:30pm   Shane Teinaki - Tamworth Services Club - In The Lounge