Cowboys and cowgirls have flocked to Tamworth in droves for the Toyota Hats Off to Country Festival star-studded streets.
Akubras, wrangler jeans and a bus filled with Jack Daniel plied partygoers is just the beginning of the mid-year festival firmly cementing Tamworth’s position as the country music capital.
So buckle up, bring your best boots and hop on the Cowboy Crawl bus.
First stop, The Albert Hotel, and Toyota Star Maker winner Brad Cox arrives in his R.M Williams that have seen a little more of the world since he left just six months ago.
He’s performing with 2017 Star Maker winner Rachael Fahim.
“There’s plenty of partying that goes on, I would definitely say me and the brothers [his band members] have embraced the rock and roll lifestyle and much as we can,” he said.
“You can probably hear that in my tracks too, we get around a fair bit.”
The no-bullshit Jindabyne boy shot to fame pretty much immediately when he won the coveted competition.
He remembers a knock at his door at 6am the morning after he was named Star Maker, answering, he found a woman telling him to get dressed and ready to go.
“By that morning I’d done 10 or 11 interviews before 10am,” he said.
“My drummer actually called me and said, ‘Oi, I’ll punch you in the head if you don’t enter this competition’, so that’s how I got to know about it.”
Entries have just opened for next year’s competition, and Cox’s advice to aspiring artists is to come prepared.
Having already finished his self-titled record, he was in a strong position to knuckle-down and start recording.
“I was releasing it this year Star Maker or not, but I would say be prepared with songs that you believe in and are comfortable with so you can get in the studio straight away,” he said.
Has Star Maker changed him? Not that he reckons.
“I’m a pretty normal bloke, you should probably talk to the blokes in the band about whether I’m getting a big head, I’d like to think I wasn’t,” he said.
Alright, finish your drink, get back on the bus.
A short drive down Peel Street and we’re at the Post Office Hotel, inside, a beautifully flower-crown adorned Goldheist, known as Hester Fraser when she’s not performing, moves almost ethereally.
The former-Armidale Presbyterian Ladies’ College student is passionate about the big issues, and she’s got no problem telling you.
“I find the music itself quite easy, it’s always the words I struggle with because it’s trying to find the right way,” she said.
“I spend a lot of time driving writing songs in my head.
“There’s so many ideas and themes that run through country communities, I find the issues really poignant and really real.
“The big issues like drought, mining, mental health, they all tie together because they affect a lot of the communities where I perform,” she said.
“These are the stories that run through the music and my experience.
“Mental health is such a huge thing for regional, rural and remote areas and it affects everybody.”
She takes a swig of her gin.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a country or city person, I find the whole idea of country music challenging because Australian country music has developed a style that’s very American,” she said.
“We have a really genuine understanding of what we’re singing about, there’s an authenticity which is why we have success - people relate to that.”
A few people who started the tour have disappeared, lost to the night or one too many vodka raspberries.
It’s time to head to the headline act, Adam Harvey.
Back on the bus the remaining soldiers sing out of tune on the way to West Tamworth Leagues Club.
Inside Adam Harvey is getting ready to play some of his songs of his new album The Nashville Tapes.
“I love that old school country,” he said.
“Travelling around with Beccy Cole for 12 months I was inspired to write a bunch of classic 70’s country songs.
“That was my favourite era of country music, nowadays these new country acts all look like catwalk models and spend their lives in the gym.”
That was my favourite era of country music, nowadays these new country acts all look like catwalk models and spend their lives in the gym.Adam Harvey
Harvey fondly reminisces on the days of rock and roll, when Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson were at the top of the charts and living dangerously.
“They lived and breathed what they were singing about,” he said.
“I decided if I was going to do this album I wouldn’t do it half-hearted, I booked a famous studio in Nashville where Johnny Cash recorded - I was like a kid at Disneyland.”
Harvey was in Nashville for about 10 days recording his new album, with Kasey Chambers’ brother Nash producing.
He said he always records a few drinking songs, like the aptly named We Have to Drink Our Way Out of This on his new album.
“I wrote a song for my wife – which you have to do every few years to stay in the good books,” he said.
“The first track was all about me sitting around with a mate and he said, ‘Well what is it about that country music that inspires you so much?’ I said, ‘I want to be a highwayman, not a rolling stone’.”
For a full festival program, July 12 to 15, head to destinationtamworth.com.au.