Buskers from every state and territory will flood into Tamworth to make their mark on the 'Boulevard of Dreams' – some back after success, some trying their hand for the first time. Carolyn Millet talks to a few.
BUSKING at the Tamworth Country Music Festival is gruelling work.
It’s hot, it’s long hours, it’s daily, the crowds are big, close and constant – and there’s another dozen of you close by, competing for the same ears.
But armed with not much more than courage, an instrument or two, a small amp and some high hopes, for the first time musicians from every state and territory will seek exposure and income on Peel St.
Some of them are in it to win it, some want to put food on the table, and some are just thrilled to be coming here.
A council source says 160 buskers have registered this year, that’s expected to double, that’s not even counting those who won’t register – and for the first time, they’re from every state and territory in Australia.
Mitch King performed at the festival for the first time in 2014. It was “just a quick little busking session”, tagging along with one of his mates.
Two years later, he became the busking champion. He performed at the finals on the last Saturday and then the closing concert the next night.
“After I did that second show … I had a line-up of people. I was selling CDs and doing signings for an hour and 40 minutes, and that was just like, holy shit,” he says.
Mitch will be delivering his multi-instrumental blues/folk sound from outside Optus again this year. He says it’s “definitely hard work” but “extremely worthwhile”.
“After 10 days you’re kind of like, ‘This is definitely a bit of hard work’, but I feel like everyone in the street really appreciates the music a lot, though … Ever since I’ve played there, everywhere I’ve done shows on the east coast, people have come and said, ‘I’ve seen you at Tamworth’ – so it was a great way to get out to a lot of people and be heard.”
Mitch is motorhoming around Australia, living off his music. He released a new EP days ago called Southerly Change.
Queenslander Andrew Cousins busked here for only the last few days of the festival in 2015, but it lit a fire under him.
“I thought, ‘I want to make the main stage for the competition [in 2016]’,” he says. “I came second in the busking championship that year – and this year I want to come first.”
A plasterer and cement renderer by trade, he’s spent the past two years solid realising his dream of making music his full-time living. After a couple of weeks gigging in Adelaide, he’s now resting up to be in top form for the Tamworth festival.
“It’s not easy work; you’re always on show. The more people who watch you, it gives you energy but at the same time it drains your energy, because you’re giving it all to the people watching.”
He said his 2016 festival was “busy, a good vibe, everyone got involved with it and I had a crowd dancing around me. I’m just looking forward to getting amongst the vibe and atmosphere of the festival.”
He’ll play outside MyHouse with NZ singer/songwriter Petar Cirovic, and the Gold Coast’s Ryan Grantham on upright bass.
‘Born entertainer’ comes to mind when speaking with Rory Phillips – maybe because being born was actually not that long ago.
The 10-year-old is already a consummate performer who says his music is “a bit of rock, a bit of blues, a bit of country”.
“I’ve always really loved busking and music, and I met Bill Chambers through a Kasey Chambers concert and he said, ‘Look, why don’t you come up to Tamworth and I’ll put you in my show?’ and I said, ‘Well, sure.’
“That was last year. I played with him and another girl called Catherine Britt, because she had a show as well. I didn’t have gigs on every day and did busking to fill time, and found out that it was really good, there was a really good crowd there.”
This year, around his gigs, Rory plans to spend about eight hours busking over about six or seven days, outside Ammeg Designs.
Last year, he made it into the championship’s top 10 – although he concedes that was because another finalist pulled out.
“There was a very good crowd [in Peel St]; they were all very generous,” he says of busking.
“I hope the guy that tipped me $50 reads this paper, because thanks a lot, mate, wherever you are.
“Lots of them do get very generous and I thank them all for that.”
He’ll quietly launch his new six-track EP, Cars and Guitars, at the festival.
Simon Murray is endearingly excited and appreciative about the chance to be seen and heard at the festival.
He’ll be performing with his wife Dana as Full Circle.
He says it’s been a tough year, and he feels like a good run at the festival could be part of turning that around.
“I learnt this year that a man is not a man without the love of his family, and I have been given a second chance and take every day as a blessing,” he says.
“It’s because of this that I have the belief to follow my dream and head to Tamworth.
“As rookies, I have no idea what to expect. We are both excited and just hope that one or two people will take the time to hear our tunes.”
Simon describes their music as “meat and potato music. It is a staple. We love to sing together.”
He says he loves country music because the stories and lyrics are honest and real.
“We love what Kasey Chambers has always done, and personally, if Troy Cassar-Daley said hello, my trip would be complete,” he says.
“All in all, win, lose or draw, I get to spend nine days singing with my wife, so it’s the trip of a lifetime … So here goes nothing – Tamworth, we can’t wait to see you on Saturday the 21st.”