Changing faces of Tamworth Country Music Festival

AUTHENTIC: Kasey Chambers brings a unique flavour and style to the industry. Photo: Peter Hardin
AUTHENTIC: Kasey Chambers brings a unique flavour and style to the industry. Photo: Peter Hardin

THEY’RE really not lying when they tell you the Toyota Tamworth Country Music Festival has something for everyone.

There’s more than 2800 acts, more than 700 venues and a new diversity in country music that the event’s organisers are embracing.

Of course there’s still the banjos, the acoustic sets, the hats, the jeans and those shiny buckles that rusted-on country music fans know and love.

YOUNG GUNS: Festival manager Barry Harley said work is being done to bring in the 18-35 crowd.

YOUNG GUNS: Festival manager Barry Harley said work is being done to bring in the 18-35 crowd.

But among the sea of boots and balladeers you’ll also find the tattoos, the long, flowing dresses, the ripped denim vests and jeans. It’s the edgier side of the industry that has seen an increase in festival patronage of fans aged 18-35 years.

It is also no accident that the festival is changing gear.

Festival manager Barry Harley said organisers have long been working to target a younger market.

“Some areas have concentrated on attracting markets in the family area, but you’ll notice in the last couple of years we have been able to attract a younger demographic in the 18-35 age bracket,” he said. “There’s been a dramatic increase in our marketing towards that and our venues are providing a diverse range of music with plenty to satisfy all tastes.”

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It’s telling that nearly half of festival goers have being heading to Tamworth for a decade or more. As Mr Harley put it “we’ve got to be mindful that a good proportion of our audience love things being the same”. But times are changing.

“There’s something like 40 or 50 per cent of our visitors that have been here more than 10 times. It’s an indication they love what they’re seeing,” Mr Harley said. “We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We still have to encourage that.

There’s pop influences in some, roots influences, blues influences to discover and all of those sub genres,

Festival Manager Barry Harley.

“But Tamworth is not what you thought it was from 20 or 30 years ago.”

The change is being driven by country music crossovers on mainstream radio charts. The biggest example of this is Taylor Swift’s transition from country to pop. But it’s also seen in the success of former Toyota Star Maker winner Keith Urban, Australia’s Morgan Evans, and America’s Florida Georgia Line teaming up with dance-pop artist Bebe Rexa on Meant to Be.

Country is more “hip” than “hickville”. 

Mr Harley said the genre was more diverse and popular than ever, with this reflected in this year's festival line-up as venues sign up non-country and cross-over acts.

New blood in the industry is also celebrated at the Live and Loud concert in Toyota Park which showcases the best in emerging country talent.

"There’s pop influences in some, roots influences, blues influences to discover and all of those sub genres,” Mr Harley said.

“Once we have attracted these new people that are not necessarily the rusted-on